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San Pedro de Atacama

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San Pedro de Atacama is a town in Northern Chile. It's a very popular destination among Chilean tourists and international visitors alike. Visitors come in large numbers, to use the town as a stepping stone to the amazing landscapes around it. Most attractions are part of the Los Flamencos National Reserve, perhaps Chile's most varied and amazing national park. Prices in any of the laid back bars and restaurants fare well against Santiago's (Chile's Capital). Still, it's a fairly expensive location, as it's one of Chile's three most popular destinations, along Torres del Paine and Easter Island. Of note, many roads are unpaved, buildings are single story and the town feels a bit like in a Western movie. It is not a resort.


Get in[edit]

By bus[edit]

Several buses per day connect the town with Calama, operated by FRONTERA DEL NORTE, ATACAMA 2000, TurBus and KTUR. The trip takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes and costs 3.000 pesos. Other buses from TurBus travel to and from Antofagasta (4 hours, $6000), Iquique, Arica (12 hours, 22.000 pesos), and Santiago. Bus passes are available from the Green Toad Bus [3] which allow you to travel to San Pedro from Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia and Santiago, and from other websites.


Three bus lines connect the town with Purmamarca, Jujuy and Salta: Geminis, Andesmar, and Pullman Bus. The prices float around 60 USD (30,000 pesos), and all of them leave from San Pedro three times per week. Other choices can be found in Calama, but it might defeat the point a little, since you'll go through San Pedro in any case.

Uyuni, Bolivia[edit]

Frontera del Norte runs direct buses from and to Uyuni. The trip takes approximately 10 hours. Frontera del Norte connects Calama and Uyuni. Ask the office in San Pedro if Uyuni requires a connection in Calama.

By plane[edit]

No airline flies directly to San Pedro. The nearest commercial airport is El Loa in Calama (CJC). Three airlines serve it: LATAM, Sky Airline and JetSMART. Most flights connect Calama with Santiago but a few also fly to Antofagasta and Iquique. There are two flights to Concepcion, two flights to La Serena, and one flight to Lima. A two-way ticket can be had for as little as USD 26.

To travel between the airport and San Pedro you have two choices: taxi airport - Calama (7,000 pesos) and bus Calama - San Pedro (see beginning of section); or 100 minutes hotel transfer with Transvip, Transferpampa or Licancabur, which charge a fare of 12,000. They are online and have booths in the airport.

Beware that, while both Calama and San Pedro are about 2500m altitude, the road between them will lift you up till 3400m! Especially if you just came from a much lower altitude, like flew from Santiago to Calama, there is a real risk for altitude sickness. Consider spending a few days at Calama first.


Chile is well-known as a hitchhikers paradise. Getting to Calama from any other point in the country is simple enough, but reaching San Pedro is a bit trickier. The best chances are to be had at the Topater monolith ("Monolito de Topater"). From there, walk south, beyond the underpass, and hitch a ride to town. You might have to wait for a while, but traffic to and from Calama is fairly consistent. Sometimes, even the vans of tourist agencies might pick you up - it all depends on your luck. Bring lots of water! It is indeed the desert and you could spend a long time out there.

Get around[edit]

Once in the town, nearly all points of interest, restaurants, services, are within walking distance, with the exception of a few outlying hotels. Downtown comprises twelve small blocks, between the streets Domingo Atienza and Toconao from west to east, and Licancabur and Caracoles north to south. This last street is the main one, a pedestrian zone. Be aware that, since mid-2010, it's now forbidden to ride a bike in it. If you look gringo enough, chances are the cops will let you slide-but it's advised not to try. They're fond of ticketing cyclists in the evening. If you can't find what you need in the aforementioned twelve blocks, chances are you won't get it anywhere. Bike rentals are ubiquitous, and prices vary little. Most bike rentals will lend you a headlight if you ask, but make sure the bike also has a tail reflector, and wear a helmet. Ask also an emergency kit for the bikes and a map of the valley. Kilometro 0 has good bikes (Caracoles street). Prices: $3500 for 6 hours, $6000 for the whole day. It can pay to rent a bike to visit the Pukara de Quitor, Aldea de Tulor, Valle de la Luna, and even Laguna Cejar. All of these are described in the next chapter. Taxis charge 2500 CLP to suburbian hotels.

By car[edit]

You can rent a car in San Pedro (~ 75000 CLP for pickup car) or at the Calama airport. An international driving permit is not required, although if your license is not in English or Spanish, it would not hurt to have one. Rentals are cheaper in Antofagasta, but the drive to San Pedro is long (about four hours). Most popular destinations are fairly easy to reach with a good map, though be careful with altitude sickness as many of the roads out of San Pedro de Atacama quickly climb up to above 4000 meters. The main roads between towns are all in good paved condition. Some expeditions around San Pedro de Atacama have poor quality roads, and you will at the very least want a car with high clearance if you want to drive south of Socaire (e.g. to Laguna Miscanti). The road to the Argentine border at Paseo Jama is paved and modern, as is the road to the Valley of the Moon. The road to the Geysers del Tatio is paved but in poor condition (but it is no trouble to drive in a small 2 wheel drive with poor clearance).

Driving offroads, e.g. to Salar de Tara, is ill-advised unless you have a good 4x4 and know how to use it. Cell phone reception is generally good, but you don't want to be caught out of reception with a flat tire and no water.

Always travel with a full tank, since the only gas station in the area is in San Pedro. You may find unlicensed fuel vendors in some of the smaller towns, like Toconao, but they charge outrageous prices. Check the condition of all tires, even the spare; flat tires aren't at all unusual on the many dirt roads that lead to points of interest.

See[edit][add listing]

There are three essential places to visit, plus a host of other very interesting spots. In order of popularity, these are:

Geysers del Tatio[edit]

El Tatio

Located at 4,200m above sea level, and 100km away from town, these are some of the highest geysers in the world. It's also the third-largest geyser site on Earth, with over 80 active ones. Most agencies travel there at 4 AM so as to arrive at sunrise. The spectacle is hard to forget-even if the geysers themselves are smallish, the backdrop, lighting, and sheer variety are astounding. Usually, you get to see them from the first stages of dawn, an hour before the sun rises, until sunlight bathes them completely. The best time to take pictures is at exact sunrise, but other lightings can also create wonderful pictures. All respectable tour agencies include breakfast for their guests. If you book one that doesn't, then you've been scammed. If you have rented a car, please note that the site closes at 17:00 h. On the way back, it's typical to find wild vicuñas, an endangered andean camelid that's highly protected in Chile. They were rescued from the verge of extinction thirty years ago. Vicuñas in the area are accustomed to human presence, and will tolerate tourists coming to some twenty meters away; any more, and they're likely to flee. Be extremely respectful of the regulations, for many guides and drivers might even react in an aggressive manner if you bother the animals in any way. A common stop is the fording of the Putana river, a spectacle that for some even surpasses the geysers themselves. Many different bird species inhabit it, and it's perfectly possible to get very close to them-giant coots (fulica gigantea) are especially indolent. Winter has the most birds, with over ten different species cohabiting the place at peak migration, but temperatures are harsh. There's also the possibility of seeing a vizcacha or two (lagidium viscacia), a funny mix between a bunny, a squirrel, and a kangaroo. They're very shy, though, and if you don't get there among the first visitors, they'll have usually disappeared. In the background, to the east, lies the Putana volcano-an active mountain that boasts seven small fumes. Lastly, there's usually the choice of visiting one of two locations. The first one is Machuca, an abandoned altiplanic village that lived from the mining of sulpher. Most regular tours stop here. Nowadays, you'll find a few locals there, roasting anticuchos made of llama meat. Teas, soft drinks and empanadas are also available. The meat is of questionable origins, with some wild theories as to its origin floating around. Ask your guide for a laugh. It's fairly safe to consume, though, as sanitation's decent. Just after exiting Machuca, it's common to see llamas grazing on a beautiful pasture. After that pasture lies a micro-sized salt pan, where vicuñas and James' flamingos can be seen (the latter only in summer, though). The other location is Puritama (see below). If you plan on going, please consider the following things:

  • Temperatures can be terribly cold: -15ºC is common through June to August, and snow regularly causes the site to close, while in summer it rarely dips below -5ºC. It's paramount to wear gloves, a cap, and preferably two layers of socks, along with a very warm jacket. After sunrise, the cold quickly subsides, and it gets bearable. Once you get to Machuca, the heat can be stifling. Prepare accordingly.
  • The altitude, coupled to a steep and winding road, can easily cause altitude sickness. Almost all agencies claim to carry an oxygen bottle on board; this is false. They do bring a can with air compressed to one atmosphere, but it does little other than acting as a placebo. See the section 'Stay healthy' for advice on preventing and ameliorating the sickness.
  • The road was entirely paved at some point in the distant past, but now some parts are in poor condition, especially from Machuca to the end. Infrastructure improvements are underway to make this route more easily accessible, but as of 2018 it is fine on a 2 WD vehicle, it will just be a bit bumpy.

Valle de la Luna[edit]

Valle de la Luna

Entrance fee: $3000 (2500 if you arrive before noon) Chilean Peso (the tours won't include it).The office opens at 9 am. There is nothing stopping a bike from entering before the offices open, but do support this incredible site by buying a entry ticket.

There is a beautiful mirador (viewpoint) off the paved road to Calama that can be reached by car or bike. This is around km 83. You'll see a small hut off the road. Head towards the rocks that were put there to simulate chairs and tables. There is a bit a climbing with the bike from San Pedro. If the road incline is down for a significant duration then you have passed the viewpoint. This viewpoint is quite a bit after from the turnoff to Valle de la Luna. This is a beautiful viewpoint to see both the sunset and the sunrise. Hardly anybody is there for the sunrise. A little bit of walking away from this point is a spiral maze. I walked in and out the spiral to make a wish.

Commonly advertised as 'Moon Valley' in English, this part of the Salt Mountain Range offers stunning clinal and anticlinal formations in a perfectly barren landscape. Almost all tours include watching the sunset there-you shouldn't miss it. The large stone walls resemble those of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, sans river. There are also huge halite (rock salt) strata that produce a knacking sound all day long. This can be unsettling at first, but it's actually harmless. Among its prime attractions are the Grand Crater, the Salt Canyon, the Three Maries and salt mines, the Salt Caves, the Cari Viewpoint (also called 'Piedra del Coyote'; this location is off the road to Calama and not actually in the Valle de Luna) and Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley). All tours visit a number of these, but it's virtually impossible to know which beforehand. Summer tours tend to be longer, though, and therefore have a greater probability of including more destinations.

It's perfectly possible to ride a bike there, but you should take your time. The full bike tour to the end of the park, a place called 'tres Marias', is 17km. From there you can add another 2km (return) by taking the road to the left to a spooky salt mine over a seriously bad road. The other roads are pretty good: tarmac to the park office, 6km from San Pedro, then 5km on good dirt to the checkpoint. After that the only nasty climb of the day. When biking, it's advised to travel early (think 7-8 AM) in the morning, for afternoon temperatures can be suffocating year-round. You miss the sunset, but also lessen the possibility of heatstroke and the sightseeings won't be filled with tourists. Also, it's easier to find someone to rescue you if you get in trouble. Most drivers and guides are willing to help stranded cyclists, especially if they're female, or if you travel with one. Just don't expect them to carry a retinue of ten or so tired bikers! You should get a flashlight especially if you want to watch sunset (the road can be dangerous when dark) but also because there's a cave you can visit and it's pitch black in there.

If you plan on going, please consider the following:

  • It can get cold immediately after sunset, especially in winter. Bring something warm to wear to enjoy the show to its fullest.
  • Carry water! This is vital. You probably won't notice you're sweating; moisture evaporates at an alarming rate in the Atacama desert. This means you actually sweat more. Most agencies do not include water in the price.
  • This tour usually includes long treks-wear appropriate shoes. There'll be lots of sand, too, which can be excruciatingly hot, and many sharp rocks, so flip-flops are a no-no.

Lagunas Altiplanicas[edit]

Feel like visiting the Atacama salt pan, a picturesque village, and some Alp-lookalikes in a single day? Plus eating some local food? Then this is your thing. Usually advertised as 'Altiplanic Lagoons', the tour varies very little, if at all, between agencies. You'll be visiting the village of Toconao, renowned for its church and bell-tower; Laguna Chaxa, a national reservation which three species of flamingos inhabit year-round, located at the heart of the Atacama salt pan; Miscanti and Miñiques lagoons, located above 4,000m, and home to a variety of local fauna; and Socaire, a tiny hamlet that lives from selling lunch to tourists-it usually includes home-grown potatoes, big beans, carrots, and quinoa, plus a few other things. There are two differents tours, one from 7am to 2pm, with breakfast but no lunch (CH$20,000 to 30,000), or another leaving town at 8am, and returning at 5pm, including lunch in Socaire (CH$30,000 on Sept 2014). If you plan on going, please consider the following:

  • Be wary of the salt pan, as it reflects sunlight in the way that snow does. Wear pants and long sleeves, carry a hat, and wear sunglasses, unless you enjoy the prospect of developing blindness and skin cancer.
  • Miscanti and Miñiques are usually windy... very much so, to be honest. The wind can easily bring perceived temperature down to 0ºC; bring a good jacket at the very least. Also, follow the guidelines closely, for both park personnel and agency employees are strict about them.
  • Again, carry lots of water.
  • The meals in Socaire are deceiving, in that they'll usually leave you feeling quite full. The quality's good; most visitors find them remarkable. Don't forget to try the home-baked bread with pebre, a typical chilean sauce made with tomatoes, onions, coriander, and a bit of chili (ají). It comes included in the meal. It's spicy, but nothing unmanageable.
  • Look for the former Tropic of Capricorn marker. There's one on both of the roads usually taken by tours. On the main road lies a strange white cross that indicates not only the former Tropic, but also the Inca road that used to traverse the area. Most guides ignore this fact (intentionally or not), so you'll have to keep your eyes open. Of note, the current tropic of Capricorn is further north, as it is moving.

Other destinations[edit]

There's still much more to be found in the San Pedro area. From the secluded national reservation at Aguas de Quelana, to the ghastly surface of the Salar de Ascotán, to the most advanced radio-telescopes in the world at ALMA, there's enough sights for half a lifetime. If you are a returning visitor, or someone who loves to see what almost no one else has seen, and you get offered a visit to somesuch place, then take it! Albeit being a tourist attraction for thirty years, San Pedro de Atacama is still full of mystery and wonder.

  • Museo del Meteorito, Tocopilla 299 (North side of town, in a tent), [1]. Very nice display and explanation of meteorites and how to hunt them. Set up by a meteorite chaser and his wife. Both English and Spanish explanations. Nice animations and videos on flat screens. 3500 CLP.  edit

Laguna Cejar[edit]

Entrance fee 15.000 CLP. This is one amazing location... in summer! Set in the northern tip of the Atacama salt pan, this location offers a splendid panorama of the Andes, and the possibility to bathe in waters as salty as those of the Dead Sea. The landscape's also remarkable. It usually ends with sunset, along a simple cocktail with pisco sour. The tour sets off at variable times (since Chile follows DST), but always in the afternoon, around 3-4 PM. Besides the Cejar and Piedra lagoons, excursions usually stop by the 'Ojos del Salar' (Eyes of the Salt Pan), two freshwater eyes very close together, and lake Tebenquinche, a water mirror that offers the absolute best sunsets in the whole area-imagine the mountains slowly changing colors, from yellow to pink, and that same image reflected on the lake's perfect surface! You can get there by bike, but bear in mind that it's a long ride: 50km for the round-trip, with the sun burning your scalp without any mercy. There are shorter paths, but the safest is the main road; to get there, just ask where the customs ('aduana') are, and then travel south until you see a sign that reads 'Laguna Cejar'. The road's paved, and drivers are accustomed to see bikers on it. Wear bright clothing (red, blue and yellow work best), just in case. You shouldn't have any trouble locating it, for there are other signs along the way. If you'd like to visit the other lagoons, besides Piedra and Cejar, you can try asking the employee at Cejar's entry. Spanish is required, though. Unfortunately, no maps show the paths between Cejar and the others, but a simple compass can get you there-ride south, following the tracks of the agencies' vehicles. Again, bring a flashlight. If you plan on going, please consider the following:

  • Sun protection is a must. Cejar's environs are of a pure, perfect white, which tends to obscenely reflect light.
  • The water is cold. From October to March, this will be quite welcome, but not so much in winter. There is an upside to traveling in the latter season-some birds, like flamingos, migrate there (June-August).
  • Always ask whether freshwater's included in the fee. Virtually all agencies carry some, but ask the guide and driver again, just in case. It's necessary to remove the coating of salt that will cover your body after taking a plunge. If not removed, it can cause an unpleasant itch. When desperate, you can always try swimming in the Ojos del Salar.
  • Even if you can't swim, the water of Piedra lagoon ensures you'll never drown. People float like feathers on it. It might be worth a try.
  • Be careful with the pisco sour! Normally, agencies send just enough for two glasses per visitor, but sometimes it can be more. As it's sweet and sour, it can be very misleading-the usual liquor used for this has between 35 and 40 proof alcohol. Unsurprisingly, tourists are quite chatty on the way back to San Pedro.


There are two ways to get here: either by booking a specialty tour, or by taking a different El Tatio Geysers route. They're commonly called 'Hot Springs', but that name couldn't be more of a misnomer. The Puritama (means 'hot water' in Kunza) is actually a warm river, that breaks loose from the stone a few meters away from the actual place. Water temperature usually is around 33ºC. It is amazingly clear and pure, and hosts a budding population of rainbow trout (don't worry, they're tiny and harmless). The "hot springs" are property of Hotel Explora, a five-star brand located in all of Chile's hot spots. The facilities are basic, yet elegant and extremely functional. The entry fee's something to watch out for: 15.000 pesos (25 USD). If you can spare the money, you won't regret it; the landscape's stunning, and the water perfect. Ancient agricultural terraces line the canyon-sides, along with massive stone walls, and even some cacti. The layout of the place is as follows: there are eight artificial pools, cleverly made with volcanic rocks, so that they mesh perfectly with the scenery. Guides and drivers typically recommend the fourth and fifth ones; unless you're there early, forget about them. Go for the seventh. The water's just a little bit colder, but the pool's very large, and has sizable waterfall that doubles as a hydro-massage. If you plan on going, please consider the following:

  • If you're traveling there from El Tatio, you'll be arriving later than the dedicated tours, meaning the place's going to be crowded. In summer, it's not uncommon for the place to simply close down once there's too many people in. Therefore, be careful when visiting between December and February.
  • Also, visitors who take the Geyser route will be forced to follow a stringent schedule; if you want to spend a few hours there, better look for an alternative.
  • Guests at Hotel Explora don't need to pay to enter Puritama.
  • Useful tip: Get there after 2 PM. They'll only charge half the entrance fee from that time onwards, and you still have three hours to soak in the crystal-clear water. No tours leave at that time, though, but a taxi can get you there, and even be less expensive that a typical excursion! Consider this alternative if you have time, and are traveling with at least another person. Consult with the hotel staff.

Archaeological Tour[edit]

In spanish, it's called 'Tour Arqueologico'. It usually comprises three destinations: Pukara de Quitor, Aldea de Tulor, and the R.P. Gustavo Le Paige archaeological museum (closed since 2015, some exhibits can be visited from 15 to 18 hours next to the cemetery). Pukara de Quitor is an ancient fortress, most likely built in the tenth century. Entry is 2,500 and can be reached easily by bicycle before continuing on through Garganta del Diablo. (The Garganta del Diablo by bike is not to be missed. It is an excellent excursion you can do by yourself. Bring fresh legs and plenty of water and you'll be rewarded by beautiful views.)It's quite close to San Pedro, only 4km away by dirt road and fording one creek. The view from the summit is breathtaking. Aldea de Tulor is the oldest village in the Atacama basin, approx. 3,000 years old, and kept in pristine condition. It's part of the Los Flamencos national reservation, and has small exhibits on archeology (worthless) and local flora and fauna (worth a visit). Last, but not least, is the museum. It held a decent collection of original atacameño pieces, along with some acquired by the ancient inhabitants of San Pedro through trade - these were most exotic. The main exhibit was only in Spanish, though. You can visit these places by cycling, or even on foot. Most bike rentals will give you a map of the area; it should clearly point out where the Pukara is. Getting to Tulor, however, is a tad tricky. You must look for signs in the most unlikely places: wall graffiti, stuff hung from trees, and street names. If you plan on going, please consider the following:

  • The so-called 'mummies' were removed from the museum years ago, by request of the indigenous community. If you're obsessed with dessicated corpses (you sicko), there's a nice assortment of them in Salta, Argentina, and La Serena (500km north of Santiago). The La Serena museum of natural history even has a collection of 'cabezas de jibaro' on display, which are miniaturized cranial skins (they're reduced to the size of an orange-go figure!).
  • The hike to the top of the Pukara de Quitor from the ticket office is strenuous, but well worth it. The first path one encounters is shorter, winds through the ruins and offers good views. The second path is much longer but offers commanding views.
  • A taxi is a viable alternative to visit these attractions, especially if you're short on time.


Like most deserts, Atacama has its share of dunes and sand-banks. The most popular is located in Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley). All sandboarding tours will take you there. The dune is almost 100m in height; still, the typical track is barely a fraction of that. Some of them offer also to watch sunset in the Moon Valley-but be aware that you won't visit any of its spots, except the Great Dune or the Cari Viewpoint. If you plan on going, please consider the following:

  • A few bike rentals also rent sandboards, expect to pay around $6.000 for both for 6 hours and another $3.000 to enter the park. Make sure a spare tube/pump, helmet, and boots to pair with the board are included to save your ankles. It might also be worth buying a cheap candle to wax the board. It takes around 45 minutes each way, some of which you will have to walk your bike through sand. If the moon is full, or close to, and rising early, it might pay to ride there later-skipping the unforgiving sun can be of great advantage, especially during warmer months (from October through March).
  • If you're cycling there with company, the traditional axiom is: One board per three people. Remember that there're no lifts in Valle de la Muerte, which means you've to climb the sands by foot. This will be tiring and frustrating! Three people can share one sandboard with ease; while one toils away, the other two can relax and rest. Of course, this assumes you've lots of time, which might not be the case.
  • Many agencies will take you there on a van, and include a board per person in their fare. This leaves you more time and energy to sandboard, plus they'll usually include watching the sunset, and maybe even a photo album of the experience. Depending on your schedule and interests, this could be far better.
  • Sandboarding is absolutely forbidden in Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley)! Expect to be fined if you even try.

Salar de Tara[edit]

It's perhaps San Pedro's best-kept secret. Or not. It really depends on your interests. The road is long, but well-paved, until you reach the entrance to the most remote part of the Los Flamencos national reservation: Monjes de la Pacana (Pacana Monks). The place is well above 4,500m-consider it carefully, as it's not uncommon for people to get altitude-sickness. After that, it's a visit to some peculiar stone formations, obsidian quarries, more stone towers (called 'Catedrales'), and the huge Tara salt lake. Fauna is abundant, and particular to that environment. The landscape is stunning at all times-it's easy to catch glimpses of Bolivia here and there, as well. Traffic is light, as this destination's not really popular. If that matters to you, then taking this tour is the perfect way of saying 'I was off the beaten track of San Pedro de Atacama'. The schedule's a lot more flexible than in other tours, so harass the driver and guide as much as you like. There are a few optional treks along the way, but they're difficult to attempt. You'll be feeling shortness of breath almost at once. If you plan on going, please consider the following:

  • Altitude! The highest point of the excursion is almost 4,900m above sea level.
  • The same nasty winds of Miscanti can be present here, with a vengeance; take warm clothing along.
  • It's not uncommon to get stuck in the sand, particularly when the driver's not really acquainted with the path. It can be fun to push the van out of the mire, though.

Valle del Arcoiris[edit]

Or Rainbow Valley. It features three different parts, all of them interesting. The "Hierbas Buenas" petroglyph site is the first, featuring over a thousand ancient stone carvings from the ancient "atacameño" people. They're from all time periods, from the first caravaners to the Incas. Most tours just visit sites 1 and 2, but that should be enough to afford a pretty nifty panorama of these ancient people's history. The other four sites are of difficult access. Then you've got the village of Matancilla, which is only habited according to season. If you go there in winter, be assured you'll find it deserted. The inhabitants grow a variety of crops, which are easily distinguished all through autumn. Dead wild donkeys are all too common, on the side of the road, while goats and llamas are harder to spot. Finally, you've got the namesake for the place: the ever-stunning Rainbow Valley, a series of hills that display countless colors, from white to black, from blue to red. Usually, all tours visit two of the four roads available, where the best views are to be had: The "cathedrals" and the great valley. Next to the former, to the left side, are some ever-mysterious buildings, made partially of serpentine, which gives them a light green color. They're well-camouflaged, so you'll have to climb to actually see them. On the way back from these "cathedrals", there's a beautiful hill that displays a wealth of colors; if the guide doesn't offer you to walk down the slope, ask for it! It's certainly worthwhile. You can watch a similar spectacle in Argentina, on the "Cerro de Siete Colores", but you'll miss the petroglyphs. It might be worth it to rather book a tour in San Pedro, especially since most tourists are completely oblivious of the Rainbow Valley's existence, so you'll most likely be alone when you visit. Most of the advice given for other excursions applies here.

Mountain Climbing[edit]

The environs of San Pedro de Atacama sport a large variety of mountains to climb, catering to many levels of difficulty. There's a few specialized agencies that offer this kind of service; be sure that they provide all necessaries, not only asking the clerk, but also the driver and guide! An oxygen tank and climbing rods are the least you should expect. The easiest mountains to climb are Cerro Toco (5604m) and Volcán Lascar (5510m)-they're fairly popular, and take no longer than a day to complete. Higher in difficulty are Cerro Pili (6064m), and Sairecabur (5971m). The beautiful Licancabur Volcano, which towers over the town, is a real challenge; although only 5916m high, it takes at least three days to complete, not counting an exacting preparation period. Another choice is the Kimal mountain (4276m); even when its altitude is not that impressive, it's surrounded in myth and legend. According to local folklore, the "princess Kimal" is extremely jealous, and enjoys snatching adventurers away. There's even a supposed season for climbing her, when she's more pleasant; of course, no agency will tell ever you this beforehand. Take the chance at your own risk. Should you attempt any mountain climb, in any case, you ought to be well aware of the potential risks.

Star tour[edit]

Atacama desert is one of the best place on Earth to see the sky. Many tours offer a unique experience in watching them. They start with an explanation of the naked eye sky. What is a constellation, how to learn them, how to read a sky map and recognize the main stars. They explain to you why there are differently coloured skies etc. Then you look through the telescopes. So it is possible to see Saturn, other galaxies and a lot of other phenomenons out there. The tours ends with a warm drink. The tours depart between 20:30 and 23:15 and last 2-4 hours. As you are in the desert and the nights are pretty cold, take warm clothes with you. Go within a week of the new moon (moon phases), otherwise most stars are drowned. Cost: 30-180 US$.

Do[edit][add listing]

Salar de Atacama
  • Visit any of the destinations above.
  • Cycling around San Pedro. Follow the guidelines above to get an idea of the places you can expect to reach. Other destinations, such as Piedra de la Coca, Catarpe, Garganta del Diablo, and Quebrada de Tambores can be accessed only on a bicycle or rented car, as they're not part of the regular tours. If you're planning to go there, then, by all means, purchase the only thorough map of the area, courtesy of the Technische Universität Dresden. It can be found at many souvenir shops and currency exchanges. Otherwise, bring a GPS, or hire a local guide who actually knows what he/she's talking about. Turismo Tekara (across from Toconao 500) rents good quality bikes for $4000 pesos for a half day. Pick it up the night before, leave early before it gets hot and return it in the afternoon. Bring lots of water. Biking on the dirt roads here is safe, cars drive slowly past you, and the scenery is stunning. Be prepared to bike hard and get out of the sun before late afternoon.
  • Horseriding in the area. There's plenty of agencies that offer this service; La Herradura is one of the best. While riding on horseback is not the fastest way to travel, it can be one of the most fun. One you shouldn't miss is the Moon Valley-the horse track around it will take you to places unaccessible to other kinds of tourism, and has enough thrill to send you home satisfied! If you've done the usual circuit, and are ready for some more, then take it in the morning. Watching the sunrise between salt-ridges is a unique experience.
  • A climbing group meets at the municipal gym Monday and Wednesday at 8pm to do bouldering (rock climbing) [as of Nov 5, 2014]. This gym is beside the big space for soccer/football near the station and cemetary. The group is super friendly and it is free to climb during this time. They can help answer questions about natural rock climbing around the area if you are good with your spanish.
  • Be sure to check out the book of complaints in the tourist office on the plaza before handing over cash to a travel agent. While not perfectly accurate, it is especially helpful to choose an agency to travel to Uyuni, Bolivia. As for the ones in San Pedro, standards can vary widely; the best agency of yesterday might be in tatters today, while the best one of tomorrow could give only mediocre service today.

Buy[edit][add listing]

  • Due to the Major's policy in the village, you'll find virtually no indigenous arts and crafts. Whatever you see at the handicrafts' markets, you'll find much cheaper in Peru or Bolivia, even Ecuador! The few really local pieces, namely those of cactus-wood, are actually a crime against nature. The wood comes from a severely endangered species of cactus, the Cardón (Echinopsis atacamensis), which has been subject to extreme predation by locals. While a novelty, and sure to bring curious glances from everyone, it's not worth it-in all likelihood, whatever piece you bring back home will be detained at your customs. Be a conscious tourist, and avoid that trap!
  • Be careful with the peddlers of archaeological findings! There's a few of them. You can be assured that whatever they're selling is the real deal; you can also be assured that whatever you buy will get you in jail. Chilean law punishes the "theft" of archaeological pieces with hefty fines and a stay behind bars. Do yourself a favor, and avoid them. And, if you're still unconvinced, ask a few locals about the curses that befall those who desecrate burial sites...

Eat[edit][add listing]

  • For starters, a piece of good advice: most restaurants have a set meal, called Menú. This is, almost always, the cheapest and best alternative, wherever you go. Only lower-end locales do not carry this.
  • There's a chain of restaurants which are by far the most popular. These are Café Adobe, Blanco, La Estaka, and La Casona. Each one specializes in a kind of food. While very good, they're not the best, and a bit pricey. Adobe caters especially to younger people; expect it to be chock-full at the evening, as its customers prepare to party later. Blanco is the extreme opposite: it has a relaxing, though cold, atmosphere. La Estaka is considered the place to eat; while the food's excellent, it sometimes doesn't live up to its reputation. If you have a large stomach, be prepared for a disappointment. Finally, La Casona carries typical chilean dishes-from Chile's center, that is. It's expensive, but will also give you some insight to the best chilean "parrilladas"-which is to say, the local grill. Expect cow's tongue, blood sausages, and more. All these are located on the main street, Caracoles.
  • A real alternative for vegetarians is Todo Natural, also located on Caracoles. The food's excellent, as is the service. They can be a bit sluggish, though, and the whole restaurant's a non-smoking area.
  • Farther away from the mayhem is Ckunna, a restaurant that can be completely hit-or-miss; it's either superlative or subpar, depending on the occasion. The atmosphere is superb, in any case, and is normally a lot less crowded than the others. It is located on Tocopilla street, two blocks away from Caracoles, and next to Vilacoyo hostel.
  • For people with larger budgets, Paacha and Paacha-Konna are not to be missed. The latter is considered, by local gourmets, the best restaurant in all of San Pedro de Atacama; it routinely combines local produce with more exotic ingredients, to create superlative meals. It's set within Kimal Hotel, in a very homely and secluded atmosphere. The buildings, courtesy of one of Chile's most renowned architects, combined with the talented chefs, and outstanding service, make it the best among the best. Paacha-Konna is the lesser sibling of Paacha, but still one of the better places in San Pedro to eat. It's more affordable, and carries a variety of typical chilean dishes, but always attending to it's parent restaurant's standard of quality. Both are by the lower end (to the west) of Caracoles street. WARNING- it is highly likely that the above was written by an associate of Paacha. The food is good, but not the best, and the service was very poor. Check TripAdvisor before deciding to visit as there are likely to be better restaurants for this price range.
  • Catering to the lower end of the spectrum are countless restaurants. The most famous is Al Paso, a locale that's open 'till 2 AM (some say even later than that!). Al Paso's cheap and quick, and serves a variety of dishes at all times. It can be found at the eastern end of Caracoles. The cheapest, though, is to be had at the "carritos", which lie at the northernmost end of the handicraft's market (that is to say, away from the main square). These are decent, though a bit unsanitary. Another good choice is Solcor, located on Calama street, close to the main street. It's a bit overpriced, but offers a quiet and secluded atmosphere, along excellent food and competitive prices for beer. And then there's El Sol, located on Tocopilla street, which sports the best cazuela in all of San Pedro, along a variety of beers. Another budget option is Portal Andino Lodge, which serves $2000 peso lunch meals (Toconao 500).
  • The absolute best choice, however, is Inti-Sol (or Sol-Inti). If you want proof of this, look at the clientèle: half of them will be locals, the other half being lucky tourists. This restaurant has the best salads and sandwiches in all of San Pedro. Their spaghetti with mushrooms is also remarkable. If they offer meat on the Menú, expect it to be top-notch. The prices are not the cheapest, but more than justified. The waiters are slow, though, so it may pay to press the cashier into sending someone your way, and paying to him/her directly.

Drink[edit][add listing]

  • Due to local regulations, no business selling alcohol may open beyond 11:30 PM on weekdays and Sundays, and until 02:00 AM on Fridays and Saturdays. This applies to both restaurants and liquor shops. So, if you're planning to drink the night away, then be sure to stock up beforehand! There's a couple of illegal places to buy alcohol later at night, but the prices are outrageous.
  • While no discos or actual pubs can be found in San Pedro, the closest to the latter are Café Adobe, Café Export, and 6º Grado. Sometimes, illegal parties (called "clandestinos" or "fiestas clandestinas") are thrown in the houses of locals, empty lots, and even Valle de la Muerte. To find out if and where the action will take place, your best bet is to hang out at any of the aforementioned places. Usually, even the waiters can tell you whatever clandestinos will be open that night. They usually start at the time the restaurants close. Drinks in them are expensive, though! And of course, you're barred from bringing your own booze, as the parties are thrown for profit. If you decide to go, be prepared for hordes of drunk locals, frosty outside air, and unreliable conditions-power almost always comes from a gas-run generator, and drinks are brought beforehand by the organizing people; both are susceptible to running out, which normally kills the party. Also, the cops might rear their ugly heads, which can bring the event to a premature end.
  • There are also legal parties, thrown by the City Hall or other organizations, called informally "mambos". These are, however, mostly frequented by the indigenous people ("atacameños") and are to be avoided. The indigenous men are known for drinking in excess, and staging bar fights, which sometimes evolve into riots. Foreigners (and other chileans) are much disliked by the atacameños; it's not uncommon for them to be assaulted by gangs of drunken indians, and given a sound beating. Of course, not all of them are this way, and it's perfectly possible to visit such parties without harm. If you're absolutely convinced that you must attend a mambo, then the following advice will save you lots of trouble: Get there early, don't bother with the drunken fistfights, stay away from the indigenous women, and leave early. If provoked into a fight, leave! There might be just a lousy drunkard in front of you, but as soon as a fight breaks out, all of his friends will come to the rescue.
  • Chelacabur, Caracoles 212 (a few blocks west from Caracoles y Vilama, on the right side), (56-55) 851576 (). Beer pub; no other drink is served there. Friendly and warm atmosphere. CH$2,500 for a liter of Escudo or Cristal (Sept 2014).  edit

Sleep[edit][add listing]

There are many hostals for all budgets in San Pedro. Note that all are more expensive than in Bolivia and overpriced given how touristic the town is. Be careful of giving your credit card details over the phone to ¨guarantee¨a reservation.

  • Hotel Altiplanico- Situated at a 10 minute walk from town. This walk at night is usually very dark, bring flashlights, but safe. The hotel has excellent rooms with very good bathrooms, plenty of hot water. There are safes in each rooms but they are small. Good early breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is free Internet available in reception although somewhat slow. The staff was extremely cordial and very helpful. Laundry on the premises within 24 hs. Outdoor swimming pool.
  • Hostal Terracota - Tocopilla 517: is a good place with affordable prices and friendly owner. All rooms have private bathrooms. Give it a try.
  • Hotel Licancabur - address unknown: despite short but favorable Lonely Planet writeup, lack of amenities makes it unfavorable. Private rooms, some with private bathrooms. Hot water was rare, even when requested specifically; water altogether was sometimes inexplicably absent.
  • Eden Atacameño, Toconao 592 (from Plaza de Armas' southeast corner, walk 300m south, the hotel is on the right side). checkout: 11.30am. Pleasant courtyard with hammocks, free Internet, usable if not fantastic kitchen, shared showers. Good value for San Pedro. Accommodation in matrimonial, twin and triple rooms, with or without bathroom. Bedrooms slightly chilly at night in the winter. s/d/matrimonial/tr without, with bathroom: CH$10k/16k/20k/24k, 20k/40k/40k/56k (March 2016).  edit
  • Hospedaje Casa de Guias Calle Ignacio Carrera Pinto 658: a small, simple, budget, clean and warm-hearted place to stay. Accommodation in matrimonial, twin and triple rooms, with shared bathroom. Kitchen facilities on request. Bilingual staff (spanish and english).
  • Residencial Casa Corvatsch, Calle Gustavo Le Paine. Free, slow Internet in the lobby. Outdoor, basic kitchen. No breakfast. Staff are extremely rude and unhelpful and enforce a number of strict rules including kitchen closing times at 830pm and internet shutdown at 7pm making the stay uncomfortable. Despite staying 3 nights they refuse to store luggage which is very unconvienient for those with evening buses. NOT recommended if you plan on visiting the geyers and leaving San Pedro on an afternoon or evening bus that same day due to refusal of ANY services or luggage storage upon arrival from the tour, expect to be promptly sent out into the street, luggage in hand. Television in communal reception only available to the child of the family. Dorm bed $5000.  edit
  • Hostel Rural - The life, Calama 257. checkout: 11:00. A quiet hostel with a large central courtyard, small and nice dorm rooms. Includes hammocks, small kitchen and free internet. Lack of water at night time - common in Atacama - and no possibility to store your luggage after checkout, nor stay in the hostel premises. Kitchen closed before 8 am and after 9 pm, no hot water early in the morning. The people working there are polite and helpful. Dorm $8000.  edit
  • La Casa del Sol Naciente, Tocopilla 310 (From the bus terminal, located on the main street Licancabur, head towards the west or north entrance of town, turn down the street cross Tocopilla Licancabur, to the north side and go 100 steps to the intersection, here you will find the Hostal.), [2]. Super friendly atmosphere. One of the cheapest places in town but helpfull staff (not overly fluent in English though). They organize asados (barbecues) from time to time and at most times there are people playing music and having a good time. Kitchen is kinda basic. They have a camping too. Most of the time there's hot water. Wifi speed is decent. 8000 for dorm.  edit
  • Sol de Atacama, Ignacio Carrera Pinto 664. checkout: 12.00. A good budget hostel ten minutes away from the centre. Some complaints about the manager, Alejandro, have been rumored. (07/14) 7000cl.  edit


  • Internet Access-at least 5 or 6 Internet Cafés (called "cibercafé") can be found around downtown, and charge competitive rates for use.
  • Telephone-there's a number of "centro de llamados", places sporting phone booths, that offer decent prices for calls home and abroad. Ask for the fare beforehand, in any case. Also, there are public pay-phones in the plaza and aduana (customs), but they're often out of order.
  • Mail-called "Correos de Chile", and not "Posta" (that's a medical facility), their office is located in Le Paige street, very close to the museum and the plaza. There's also a courier service, Chilexpress, that has an office in Caracoles street, to westernmost end of it. Don't expect any mail to be delivered swiftly, though, since San Pedro is quite isolated from the country's main communications line. Sending a letter or package to Santiago, for instance, takes at least three days.

Stay safe[edit]

You can rest assured, there's virtually no violent crime in San Pedro. Extra care is advised when arriving at the bus terminal early morning as easy targets are spotted by bag thiefs. The theft of bicycles and cars happens every once in a while, so take the normal precautions in that regard. Despite being poorly lit at night, the town is safe to walk around at all times-use your common sense if you see something suspicious. You might hear locals say that the only danger in town are stray dogs (leading even to the nickname "San Perro de Atacama"; perro means dog in spanish), and this is true. San Pedro boasts a huge population of them; most are friendly and harmless, but a few will attempt to bite passing cyclists. Rape is not unheard of in San Pedro, therefore it's best practice for women to exercise caution especially at parties where alcohol is involved.

Stay healthy[edit]


First of all, always remember that the the altitude of San Pedro de Atacama is 2400m (about 8000 feet) above sea level. Many of the tourist attractions are well above 4000m (12000 feet). This especially includes tours to Salar De Uyuni, as it is a multi-day trip where you will be above 3500 meters the entire time, including the first night sleeping at around 4300 meters. Symptoms of AMS (acute mountain sickness) are very common, especially if you only spend a day or two in San Pedro before going on to Uyuni. Symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, loss of appetite and shortness of breath. In particular, sleeping at high altitudes is difficult for most people and you may wake up gasping for breath with a racing pulse. This is normal, albeit unpleasant. Treatment such as oxygen is not readily available, and the guides and drivers have no medical expertise in AMS aside from local remedies. Alcohol exacerbates the headaches caused by altitude sickness, so if you are feeling bad (or feeling fine, in fact) do not drink alcohol! If you are feeling especially bad, ask around if other travelers have acetazolamide (brand name: Diamox). Be aware that this will make you need to pee constantly for hours, but it will take away your headache. Serious side effects of acetazolmide are rare, but if you take other medications please take care and ask a doctor before you go. Therefore the tour is NOT suitable for people who have flown straight in from Santiago or a low altitude. Your body needs 3 days or more in San Pedro Atacama to be ready. It is NOT a matter of age or fitness, and chewing coca leaves will not prevent serious illness. Daytrips at altitude, e.g. to Geysers del Tatio and back, are going to be less stressful on the body than the trip to Uyuni, which will be 3 full days constantly at well over 4000 meters. You're not climbing Mount Everest, so altitude sickness won't be fatal, but it'll be a miserable 3 day experience if you are not at all acclimatized.

In more rare cases a progression of symptoms to persistent vomiting, difficulty breathing at rest, or a severe intractable headache that does not respond to simple pain relief (paracetamol and ibuprofen) indicates a serious medical emergency. There is no cure, except heading to lower ground. If you can, be prepared with the necessary medications (eg acetazolamide if you have access to it) and know how to use them. Consult with your physician before booking a trip, especially if you have any heart or lung conditions.

Solar radiation[edit]

The sun in San Pedro can often emit dangerous levels of UV rays! Especially in summer, using sunblock, sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and long sleeves is essential. In winter, the radiation levels are more tolerable, and you can actually sunbathe. In summer, however, don't attempt it at all! Especially if your skin's white. The bare minimum UPF for sunblock lotion is 45, 60 and upwards being much better. Always remember to reapply it after an hour or so.

Other health concerns[edit]

San Pedro only has a Posta, a small medical facility with an ER and some assorted paramedics. There are several pharmacies in town. If you become seriously ill, or suffer a major lesion, expect to be transferred to Calama, or even Antofagasta, at great expense! While there are no major hazards in the area (such as lethal diseases, poisonous animals, and so on), take twice the care you normally would when hiking, cycling, and doing any other activity outdoors. This applies even more to the geysers, where burn-related injuries aren't that uncommon; the place is virtually disconnected from the world, so be extremely cautious when visiting!



Despite rumors to the contrary, exchange rates in town are decent, but watch out for wild price swings in the currency of your interest-the money exchanges in town usually are lagging behind this info, which can play in your favor... or otherwise. The dollar's very appreciated, and you can routinely get better rates there than in banks. Be mindful, though, that one-dollar and damaged bills won't be accepted. The euro rates are terrible, though, while other currencies' can be found somewhere in the middle. Again, they only accept larger euro bills, and only in mint condition. There are several ATMs in town, some of them in pharmacies. A tip: if an ATM refuses to give you money, it could be because its supply of a certain denomination is spent. Try another ATM or the same ATM with a different amount. For instance, if you wanted 35.000 pesos, round it down to thirty-thousand, or even twenty-thousand, and withdraw money twice (or a higher amount, which actually makes more sense).

Be aware that the ATM money supply is limited. On busy weekends it is not uncommon for all of the ATMs to be empty by Sunday and they are not refilled until Thursday. It is advisable not to show up in San Pedro without cash of some form.

Get out[edit]

You can go direct to Uyuni from San Pedro by jeep/ minibus transfer for 25,000. This can be arranged by a travel agent. However you will also have to pay an extra "park entrance" fee of about 150 bolivianos (21 USD). Not all travel agents will tell you this when selling the ticket. You will not have to pay this fee if you travel Calama to Uyuni.

You have to take attention booking with tour operators in Chile, since all the tours in Salar de Uyuni(Bolivia) have to be guided by Bolivian tour-guides. A handful of agencies offer 3 days/2 nights tours to Uyuni. It does not really matter who you book with, as they mostly join forces (at least in low season) and fill up their Land Cruisers with people from other agencies. The going price (starting at USD 140, March 2011) is some 40% higher here than in Uyuni, even though the itinerary is identical, only reversed. If you want to pay for the entire car yourself it is probably around $750 plus tip. There is the advantage of there usually only being a few Land Cruisers at each site since you see things at different times of day to tours originating in Uyuni, where there can easily be a hundred tourists at each stop. There's also the possibility to return to San Pedro a day later, for a surcharge of USD 20. Accommodations are quite basic, with frequent lack of (hot) water and electricity. Meals are filling but hardly gourmet and vegetarians may find themselves a little lacking in protein - bring plenty of snacks as supplies en route are extremely limited. If your tour agency does not provide water, ignore them when they tell you it is easy to buy on the journey. In our experience it was not, and you are better off bringing it all from San Pedro (at least 2l per person per day, although at that altitude more would be good). A sleeping bag and plenty of warm clothing are essentials. It gets very cold at night. The first night is spent at Laguna Colorada, at 4370m, so it is advisable to spend several nights in San Pedro, to acclimatise before taking the trip. Even then, AMS is a considerable risk-take the usual precautions, and if you have any reason to be particularly worried about altitude consider taking the tour from Bolivia instead, where you will have far more opportunities to acclimatise to high altitude beforehand. It is essential to get a written itinerary from the agency, specifying all the sights in the order they are to be visited, and also meals and accommodation (whether shared or not). Some costs may not be included: Bolivian immigration, entry fees for national parks and museums. Ask about these at the agency. Read travellor reviews of different agencies at the tourist information office. Estrella del Sur has had a lot of good travellor feedback with excellent guides (140 USD, March 2011). Keep in mind that most guides/drivers do not speak English. Choose your tour company wisely. Also keep in mind that whether a tour is good or not often depends on the driver, so even if one person had a good experience with a given company, someone else may have a bad experience with a different driver from the same company. If you know a specific driver from a specific company to ask for, you may have luck, or not, as the trip lasts 3-4 days and a given driver might not be available to leave the dates that you want to go. It may seem a bit like playing the lottery, but in this case most people seem to win and enjoy their trips and bad drivers (particularly drunks) seem to be the exception rather than the rule. All drivers for the trek to Uyuni are required by law to be Bolivian, and most of them do not speak English very well. You will need to tip your driver at the end (usually around $20 per person). This budget is for 6 people per 4x4 (usually range rovers). You can generally book the trip a day or two in advance, although it may make sense to book farther in advance for busy seasons, e.g. holiday seasons. Be sure to check out the book of complaints in the tourist office on the plaza before handing over cash to a travel agent.

Hitchhiking to Argentina can take a while too as there is much less traffic. It may help to start walking into the desert, towards the airstrip.

See also section "Get in" above. Create category

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