The Atacama Desert: San Pedro

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The village of San Pedro de Atacama is the starting point for the exploration of the Atacama Desert. If you’ve decided to make that unforgettable journey across the Earth’s most arid desert, San Pedro is where you will most likely stay.

Getting to San Pedro de Atacama

Thanks to my Chilean friends, who had researched everything in advance, I had an extremely efficient trip in the region. First, we took a flight from Santiago to Calama – the closest airport to the desert. Once we arrived there, we rented a car. The drive from Calama to San Pedro took us a couple of hours. We had a few nights in San Pedro so that we had enough time to explore the surroundings.
Another possible way to make the trip is to use a travel agency. There are no frequent public lines connecting Calama and San Pedro, so unless you rent a car, you need to have a pre-arranged transportation, either by consulting a travel agency or checking schedules online. If you go by bus, once in San Pedro you can rely on organized trips by the local agencies, which will cost you a lot more. Solo travelers, of course, are better off using the tours than driving themselves.
The main street in the village.
The main street in the village.

The village of San Pedro de Atacama

After an hour of driving through the desert, we finally reached a varied landscape to pause and take some photos. The road started ascending around beautiful rock formations, then descending in a way that made us extra careful with speeding up. After no more than another twenty minutes, we started spotting signs pointing to the popular destinations nearby. However, we rushed to our accommodation in the village, because we knew we would have enough time to visit them all later on. Entering the village was quite shocking to me at first. The paved road ended and all I saw was dusty streets with short adobe houses. The lack of colors made a huge impression – the whole village was in the same yellow-orange tones as the desert surrounding it. On the way to our house, I had intrusive thoughts and concerns about hygiene in this place. However, they were soon proved wrong. Our friend, who works as a local tour guide, had booked us a nice little house with a few bedrooms and a common living room, bathroom and kitchen. Luckily, we didn’t have to share it, because no one else was visiting on the same dates. The property was clean and cozy, with fully equipped kitchen and everything we needed for a few days stay. Right next door was our friend, who lived with her husband in a round house. We were invited to have a drink, wind-proof jackets (forever grateful about that!) and instructions on how to get to the places we wanted to get to. I was impressed by their house – there wasn’t a single corner in it, and somehow they managed to fit everything necessary in a tiny space, which still looked spacious. After our conversation, we crossed the mud to get back to our house.
The church on the central square.
The church on the central square.
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Accommodation

San Pedro De Atacama, regardless of its small size, offers accommodation for every taste – from guesthouses with basic amenities to luxurious hotels. Nothing is cheap, but once you get there, you will understand why. Local people thrive on tourism and the harsh environment they live in makes the overpricing of most services somewhat justifiable. I soon realized that there is a lot more behind the third-world look of the village. I had a peek through some of the adobe fences to see the more luxurious hotels. Even though all of them were built in a way to merge with the environment, some were obviously expensive.

Getting around 

As I said, the village is pretty small – about ten blocks – and everything is in a walking distance. There is the main street, full of shops, travel agencies, and restaurants, which leads to the main square with a church on it. Those who love evening walks may be a bit disappointed. Don’t worry, you will be compensated by some extraordinary cocktails, such as borgona and terremoto (necessarily taste those and be careful not to get drunk, which is very easy).
So once you have your dinner and get to know the village, enjoy the clear night sky and have a good rest – you will need all your energy during the next few days to make the best out of the local tours.
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