Know before you go: San Pedro de Atacama

San Pedro de Atacama is a small town in the north part of Chile. If this is your first stop in Chile, let me say that this town is a wonderful introduction to endless possibilities. If San Pedro is a continuation of your journey throughout Chile, let me say that this small town will not disappoint.

San Pedro de Atacama is built around a rare oasis in the driest desert in the world, The Atacama desert. It’s perfectly located between volcanoes, salt flats, sand dunes, lagoons, and geysers. At night you can witness some of clearest skies in the world and star gaze through some one the biggest telescopes available in the world. So if you’re looking for adventure, you’ve come to the right spot.

On the surface, you might think that San Pedro is just another tourist destination but if you look beyond the main street of Caracoles, you find there is so much history just waiting to be told.

 The town is named after its patron saint, San Pedro (Saint Peter), who are honored each year along with San Pablo (Saint Paul). There is a weeklong festival at the end of June featuring regional music, traditional foods, and a parade that ends with a special mass in the town historic Church. This area is the official archaeological capital of Chile so you can imagine what kinds of fossils, mummies, and hieroglyphics can be seen around the area.

When you compare tourism in Chile to Bolivia and Peru, you will find it can become quite expensive. However, you can find something for all types of travelers from luxury hotels to budget-friendly hostels. You can organize your tours prior to arriving in Chile with several agencies or shop around for the best deal once you arrive.

In my experience in San Pedro, the agencies that allow you to pre-book have been around the longest and provide better customer service and their guides are the most knowledgeable.  The competition runs high between agencies because, at the end of the day, they are all selling the same 4-6 tours. 

I personally recommend using Denomades.comTheir site is super user-friendly and they work with some of the best agencies throughout Chile and surrounding countries. You can book everything you could possibly want all in one place. Sounds easy enough right?

If you’re the kind of person who likes plan the tours once you arrive, I would recommend you go speak with Juan from Vive Atacama Travel Agency. They are really professional, their guides are extremely knowledgeable, and I loved my time spent with them. You can book directly through their site as well or through their offices. I put the location in the map which you can find at the end of this post.

There are four popular tours: Geysers del Tatio and high planes lagoons with or without Red Rocks that can only be done via Van or a 4×4 Jeep. The Moon Valley and Laguna Cejar can be visited via van/bus, 4×4, bike, or hiking if you’re really feeling up to it. At night you must go see the starts with an astronomy tour.  You can also try sand boarding down Death Valley, relax in the Puritamas thermal baths, or hike up the mighty volcano Licancabur.

Most tours are half day tours so you can schedule two in one day or if you want to take it easy, just do one a day and relax within the town.  Most guides and agencies speak English, Spanish, and Portuguese but when it comes to restaurants and shops you’ll find that most people only speak Spanish. So it might be time to brush up on your español if you haven’t already

If you want to learn about the history of San Pedro and how it has evolved throughout the years I would definitely recommend taking a free walking tour with Tours 4 Tips. Tours are every day at 10 am and 3 pm and they meet right next to the church. Tours last about 2 hours and then you just tip them what you feel is correct. Most people tip between 5,000 and 10,000 CLP. 

I’m sure you’ll get hungry and there are countless restaurants that offer great daily menus for lunch. Make sure you try Pataska, a traditional indigenous dish that can roughly be translated into Mother’s Leftovers.

When you want to cool down from the dry desert air you must try the ice cream. It’s fantastic. Ask for Rica Rica, Chañar, or Algarrobo, flavors if you want something from the region. They are quite different than anything else I’ve personally tried and very delicioso

When you get thirsty, you must try a Pisco Sour Rica Rica which is Chile’s national cocktail infused with the Rica Rica herb.

The nightlife here in San Pedro is quite interesting, as it has become against the law to dance. Remind anyone from the story plot of Footloose? The reason behind it isn’t because of religious reasons. The local people of San Pedro don’t want the town to become a huge party destination. Remember, the focus here is the adventure, you can still find something fun to do! There are several places that will play live music and even have karaoke. Come hungry, because you cannot buy a drink without ordering food and make sure get there early because everything closes between midnight and 1:30 AM.

What else can I prep you with? Remember, you are in the driest desert in the world so that means water is scarce. Take your showers quickly and make sure you stay hydrated.  Sunscreen will be your best friend and take the time to get to know the locals. They love sharing their stories of their town with people around the world.  

Want more?

I’ve written two other posts about San Pedro and the Atacama Desert. Check out the 7 things you must do and the best way to get in and out of town.

I’ve also created a Google map with my favorite points throughout the town and surrounding areas which I feel helps you get an idea on how far things really are from each other. 

Remember, when you give good you get good.

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