San Pedro de Atacama is a Chilean Town located in the north and 106km southeast of Calama (remember this place as this has the only airport close to the desert). You can fly here from Santiago however, since I was in Bolivia checking out the Salt Flats, I wanted to cross the border rather than go back on myself (if you want to find out more about the Salt Flats, please read my Bolivia posts).
You’ll notice that there are 3 day Salt Flat that can take you from Bolivia to Chile or visa versa. But I only wanted to spend a day in the Salt Flats rather be driving around for 3 days. So I only did a day tour in Uyuni and then I booked a local coach that took about 12 hours. It literally rushed through the desert and we were breathing in sand – so if you do this option, bring a scarf to cover your nose and mouth. But it was $35 USD compared to a 3 day tour that would’ve cost nearly $200 USD and I didn’t want to be driving on the Salt Flats for more than I needed to.
When you cross the border from Bolivia to Chile, you need some change as you have to ‘pay’ them. Ideally in Chilean pesos but they are hard to get. There is no cash machine at the border but there is a little food shop where I suppose you can pay in Bolivian coins to exchange in Chilean pesos.
ALSO, when you cross the border in Chile, they will give you a tiny piece of paper that you MUST KEEP. You need this piece of paper when you leave Chile otherwise, they will bloody charge you $$$ for losing this stupid and small piece of paper.
So San Pedro Atacama is a very small and walkable town so where you get dropped off, it’s within walking distance to somewhere. Unfortunately, as soon as I crossed the border, my sim cut itself and I actually didn’t know where I was going since I got there at midnight. Luckily, there were some Irish guys on the coach (can always count on the Irish to help) that let me use their phone to figure out where I was going and I took a photo of their screen – then I found my way :).
I’m going to be honest, I didn’t like the hostel I stayed at. I stayed outside the centre of the town (literally a 5-8 min walk and it is safe) however, I just felt that the other travellers there weren’t nice, it was super cold shower water and only trickling in the winter. I mean, San Pedro is the desert so during the day it gets warm but it drop significantly at night. It was freezing for me :|.
But luckily, I was able to change my 3rd night to another hostel that was so much better! I literally walked in, asked if they had availability and just moved my stuff there.
In this place, you can travel to some great outdoor sites by bikes or hire a car (if there is a group of you) or alternatively, book a tour.
There’s literally a strip in the centre where it’s all tour companies and they all charge the same price – so there is not much of a comparison. You just need to pick a company you feel comfortable spending your dollars on.
Stuff you can do there:
- Astronomical tour – it was a cold night… I hear the Southern Lights are beautiful from this exact spot but NEVER did I ever think that I would see planets! I saw Jupiter and Saturn moving,a shooting star, star clusters and much more. It was quite magical and my tour were with couples and lonely Lisa here felt like it would’ve felt better with someone. But hey ho, I still wanted to see the Southern Lights and was worth the experience. I even have a star studded photo to keep the memory :).
- Moon Valley – hire some bikes and cycle here. Or hire a car if there is a group of you. Worth a visit.
- Geysers – Hire a bike and take a visit here.
- ATM – they close for siesta and they charge to withdraw money here.
- Mini Markets around the side streets –
- Apparently, there is a law only in this place that they cannot sell alcohol on it’s own – you have to order food. But the bar tenders are quite aware of this so they let you order a desert or something small with your drink.
- This is such a small town that you will probably see all the lively or hear them in the distance. But there was one hidden breakfast place that I loved which was