San Pedro de Atacama
After passing the Bolivian border at the end of our Salar de Uyuni trip, we passed by a small Chilean customs station. There, our bags were searched for illegal goods such as coca leaves or fruits. The dogs did not find anything, though we later figured out that we actually still had a small amount of coca leaves in our backpack… It then took us around 45 minutes to reach San Pedro de Atacama, going from 4000m down to 2400m!
San Pedro de Atacama is settled inside the Atacama desert and offers many trips to different lakes and geysers, as well as many options for biking around. The temperatures range from hot during the day to cold during the night, but were in general very agreable as long as one brought a decent wind protection. It is a place were many tourists choose to chill a little bit around, though the prices there are really high!! There is no supermarket in the city, only small grocery shops where we could buy a tuna can for about 2€… As we were wondering how locals could afford to pay these prices, we learned that they go once a month to Calama, the next biggest city, to buy most of their supplies. They only buy fresh fruits and vegetables at the local market, where prices are a little bit more reasonnable…
We were unlucky to arrive in San Pedro de Atacama on a Sunday and on the top of it, the chilean National holiday was to be next week. Therefore, most of the hostels in San Pedro de Atacama were fully booked and 2 out of 3 ATMs were out of money! After spending more than one hour looking for a place to withdraw money, we finally manage to get some cash and started our hard search for an affordable accommodation.
Activities around San Pedro de Atacama
If you plan to do the 3 or 4 days tour in the Salar de Uyuni, one advice: don’t do too much around San Pedro de Atacama. Indeed, you will pay A LOT in San Pedro for each individual tour and you will likely see very similar scenerary than during the Salar de Uyuni Tour. Otherwise, if you don’t plan to visit the Salar, you can book many tours from San Pedro going to geysers, laguna, volcanos…
As we had already done the Salar de Uyuni trip, we decided not to book any tour to the geysers or laguna. Instead, we rented bikes in order to visit the Valley of the Moon – or as locals called it, the Valle de la Luna.
Valle de la Luna
The moon valley is located about 5 km outside of San Pedro de Atacama. The landscape there is supposed to be very similar to moon’s landscape: it is an arid and harsh environment, very beautiful to visit.
After taking our bikes at the agency around 8:00am, we cycled to the entrance of the Moon valley and arrived there around 8:45. From here, there are 5 km more until you reach the entrance of a salt cavern. As recommended, we skipped it and continued another 2 km of uphill biking, until a large sand dune. We left our bikes there and went for a small hike to enjoy the amazing landscape and the nice viewpoints. The way goes up until you reach the top of a big sand dune. From there, you can turn left and walk on a small path to reach the edge of a cliff: the view at this place is just stunning. Once again, like in the Salar de Uyuni, I was awed by the beauty of nature…
After taking back our bikes, we biked another 2 km until the amphitheater viewpoint. From here, you will need around 30 minute to walk to the viewpoint, where you can admire the sand dune from the other side – and have a nice lunch break with an amazing view 😉
If you want, you can keep biking for another 7 kilometers until you reach a place called “Tres Madres“. You can see there three stones which supposedly look like three praying women. Everyone we asked told us it was not worth the effort to bike until there: indeed, the ride is quite exhausting as it goes mainly uphill on an unpaved road. Therefore, we decided to skip this part of the trail and went back to San Pedro de Atacama. If you only have time or energy for either the first stop at the dune or the second one at the amphitheater viewpoint, we would advise you to walk up the dune.
On the Way back, we stopped by the salt cave located close to the entrance of the Valle de la Luna. There, we crawled on hands and knees in order to pass through small openings. It was a funny thing to see and do, though Kai hit his head a couple of times against the walls!
Be aware that the sun shines strongly around San Pedro and the temperatures are high in the afternoon. So leave early if you can and bring a lot of water with you 🙂
Star gazing in San Pedro de Atacama
While planning the trip, Kai didn’t really have a place in mind where he absolutely wanted to go. BUT there was one activity he was talking all the time about: observing the stars in the Atacama Desert. Indeed, this place is supposed to be one of the best in the world to observe stars and some planets.
So we booked a tour at 10:00pm with the company “Una noche con las Estrellas“, literally a night with the stars. We were very lucky, as the tour at 08:00pm was cancelled due to clouds, but ours took place as the sky was once again clear. We climbed into a minibus which took us on a 30 minutes ride to a small astronomer’s house. Once there, we first learned a little bit about basics of astronomy and constellations while drinking hot beverages and havong some snacks.
Afterwards, we went to a couple of telescopes to admire the moon, different types of nebulae, twin stars, some very bright stars as well as major constellations visible in the southern hemisphere. As we were quite close to the full moon, the amount of visible stars was reduced but the sight was still amazing. At the end of the tour, we took a nice group picture with the stars in the background 🙂
Although San Pedro de Atacama was not the cheapest place and quite touristy, we enjoyed our time there. The city is a very nice chilling place, as the weather and temperatures are nice. However, if you are travelling on a strict budget, we would recommend to keep your stay there as short as possible! Click here if you want to see all our pictures in San Pedro de Atacama.
How to get to San Pedro de Atacama
If you arrive from Bolivia via a tour through the Salar de Uyuni, you can ask your agency to drop you at the Chilean border. From there, another bus will get you to Atacama. This transfer should be included in the price of the tour.
If you arrive from Santiago, you have two options:
- A 24 hours bus ride – yes, Chile is that big!
- A plane from Calama, the closest airport from San Pedro de Atacama. There are several bus companies offering rides from Calama to San Pedro, it should not take more than one hour and a half and costs around 3.000CP/Person.
We stayed at the hostel Eden Atacameno and had to pay 25.000 pesos per night for a double room. The prices are normally cheaper, around 20.000CP, but every hostel in the city was fully booked and the prices were very very high everywhere… The hostel was nice though – small buildings located in a big garden with many cats 🙂 Showers had all hot water and bathrooms were clean.
Prices of some activities
Bike rental: 3.000CP for 6 hours – we rented our bike in one of the shops located close to the main street. If you rent it on the main street, it’s going to be a little it more expensive.
Star gazing: 20.000CP for a 2 hours tour with the agency Una Noche con las Estrellas.