San Pedro de Atacama has evolved from a dusty desert village into a dusty desert resort town, complete with gorgeous hotels and prices to match. It’s not what you expect from an outpost in the driest non-polar region on the planet, which speaks volumes about the draw of the surrounding area. Volcanoes, mineral lakes, flamingos, strange landscapes – it also serves as the Chilean base for those visiting the Salar de Uyuni. Dry, dirt roads still grid the town, with tall sand dunes nearby. San Pedro is also your launchpad to visit the Valley of the Moon.
Length of Trip : 3-4 days for San Pedro. One day for the Valley of the Moon.
There is a modest entrance fee for the Valley of the Moon (less than US$3 per person). 4-5 hour tours start at about $US19 per person. Given its remoteness, San Pedro is somewhat expensive compared to the rest of Chile, and will feel very expensive if you're coming overland from Bolivia. Bikes cost about US$5-$10 to rent for the day.
Best time to go : October/November and May/June sees less tourist traffic. Winter gets cold, but the attractions sparkle year-round.
Wheelchair friendly : Yes
Family friendly : Yes
Where to eat :
The main street of Caracoles is where you'll find dozens of restaurants and bars. Some good recommendations include Cafe Adobe, Pizzeria El Charrua and Blanco.
Where to Stay :
My favourite desert hotel is Alto Atacama, located just outside of town. Wide, adobe rooms sit beneath the red rocks of a mountain, as if it had been created together with the driest place on earth. Six small pools, a hot spring, spa, lounges, desert gardens and even a yoga field provide tranquil places to escape and unwind.
Another high-end option is Explora Atacama.
Getting There :
There are no airports flying into San Pedro. You'll have to either take a bus from Chile (or Salta in Argentina), rent a car or use a shuttle service. The Valley of the Moon, located in the Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos, is located 13 kilometres west of the town on a paved, mostly flat road. Many travellers rent a bicycle for the day (make sure you start early and carry water as it can get very hot and dry). Local tour operators run daily excursions to the valley, with transfers to and from hotels.
Note from Robin :
If you rent a bike, make sure it's in excellent condition before peddling off. You don't want to be stuck in the world's driest desert with a broken bike, trust me. The sunrises and sunsets in the Atacama are magnificent. In winter it gets very chilly very quickly, so bundle up. If you're going to try sandboarding, take extra precaution to protect your camera from the fine desert dust.
Other day tours around San Pedro include visits to the very active Geysers del Tatio, the Altiplanic Lagoons, and a trip to view the flamingos. If you're up for it, taking a dip in a freezing, salty lagoon is entirely memorable!
Star gazing in the desert at this altitude is exceptional!