San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Where do I start? An unknown quantity to most, a hidden gem to the lucky few. 

After the process of getting the entry stamp and bags checked (Chile is strict enough with food/drinks that are brought in from other countries) on the outskirts of the city we, made our way to a more central area that quickly had us realize the charm of the area that I had heard so much about. It was a really picturesque town and had a great vibe about it with so much to do in the area also. I could have spent weeks there I think. Even the views in the backdrop to the down were a sight to behold.

Paul and I checked into our hostel, ‘backpackers hostel’, and checked out all the tours they had to offer. San Pedro is a place you could spend days doing different excursions/trips/adventures/activities. We settled on quad biking as we had our fill of hiking/geysers/hot springs/salt flats etc. from our tour in Bolivia. But when we checked the price – it was 60 dollars US each. That was money I didn’t have to throw around at this stage of the holiday so we opted out. It was a pity as it would have been a nice way to finish out Paul’s last full day but I just couldn’t afford it.

After a bit of a runaround to find an ATM, well actually finding the ATM wasn’t all the hard but understanding it and getting it to work was an issue for a while (we got there in the end), we headed to a lively enough bar for ‘wan’. The bottles were 1 liter in size so needless to say when one turned to two, the rest was history. We were going to have a couple there then have a nice dinner for Paul’s last night but instead we just got steaming and stayed there until closing time. 

The next morning I was hanging. Every time I get drunk in South America I get a hangover. Not like me and it better not continue when I leave South America! Paul had to grab his shuttle bus to Calama for his flight to Rio around midday. It was an amazing couple of weeks but all good things must come to an end as they say! I had set a side the day to plan the Pategonia element of my trip. Also I had to change hostel because ours was full. Over to ‘rural hostel’, which was ironically in the middle of town, I went. I got most of my trip ideas figured out and went back to the scene of the crime for another beer and to watch the United match. They lost, this time in Europe, not a great part of the day but a new beer compensated. 

This hostel also had a lot of tours on offer so for the next day I signed up to go to moon valley. A friend of mine advised me before I came to South America that if I made it to San Pedro that I should “find a chick and do the stargazing tour”, unfortunately I didn’t find the chick or the tour. It was a full moon while I was in San Pedro and most places didn’t do the stargazing tour as the light from the moon somewhat ruins it. My quest for more Milky Way adventures continued.

I spent the morning pricing different flights etc. for Pategonia and getting all that sorted before heading to the moon valley in the afternoon. A strange thing in South America is with many of the airlines if you book your ticket through Spanish you will get a big discount. Thankfully I checked for Pategonia and saved nearly 50%! Here’s is too hoping I booked it right though, my Spanish still needs a lot of work!! After I got that sorted I rented a bike and went exploring to Pucara De Quitor and Plaza Quitor which were old ruins from before the Spanish came and conquered the area. The Europeans were a savage force back in the day, I’m surprised there isn’t more hatred from South Americans to Europeans based on the history but I guess this is how the world worked back then and it’s a lot longer ago than any more recent troubles in the world today. After that I kept going on the bike to Quebrada Del Diablo. This was a winding bike trail in the valleys between the mountains. I’m no mountain biker but it was good fun. 

After my biking expedites I headed back to town to sample some more Chilean empanadas. These things have been snack size everywhere I’ve been so far in South America but one would nearly feed you for dinner in Chile. 

Post empenada, The moon valley tour started off with a trip to a peak that overlooked moon valley. Our guide explained the significance of the surrounding mountain ranges as well as pointing out a space telescope project that is on the nearby hill. It’s a international project and the site was chosen as the Atacama desert is the driest in the world with, on average, over 310 days of blue sky each year. The landscape in the area was like something I’d imagine on Mars.

After this we went to another part of the valley where we hiked through some caves and even had to get down on our hunkers to get through some parts.

After that we went to a site which was formerly known as ‘the three Marys’ but apparently a tourist climbed one and broke it so know it’s the ‘two and a half Marys’ haha. Not that impressive but we only stopped for a short time so it was fine.

Finally we stopped at the place where we would watch the sunset behind the valley. I trekked up to the top of the ridge and walked along until I found a suitable spot and perched up for the show to begin. Just as I thought the show was over with the sunset I turned around to see the shadow casting on the 5,900m volcano behind me. A great ending. The tour took about four hours and was good value too. 

After the tour I had a stroll around the town to find a nice place to eat. On my way I seen a shooting star as clear as you could imagine. I might not have got the stargazing tour but I’ll take that for now! The next morning I had to get a bus to Santiago. Flights from the nearby town of Calama are usually cheap but as luck would have it there was a national holiday coming up…again!!! So flights went through the roof. I had to settle for a 22 hour bus instead of a 2 hour flight. Lucky for me, time I had at this part of the holiday. Money I did not.

Tips and prices:

Bike rental 3,000 CLP for 6 hours or ,6,000 CLP for 12 hours. Bike comes with helmet, hi vis, puncture repair kit, lock and map.

Backpacker hostel per person one night. 10,500 CLP. No breakfast. Cool hostel, highly rated on tripadvisor and books out fast so plan ahead if you want it for few days. Located about 10 minutes walk from center. No issue to walk it at all.

Rural hostel. Per person per night approx 17,000 CLP. Very nice hostel in perfect location center of town. 

Moon valley tour. 8,000 CLP plus 3,000 CLP park entrance fee. 

Endless tours for endless prices available in San Pedro. So much to do. Can book everything when you arrive.

Turbus is the bus company I used. They are reputable and go to a lot of places. My bus to Santiago cost 23,400. semi cama seat. 22hours. No food included until after Antofagasta, so bring snacks if you are feeling peckish, although vendors come on every now and again to sell snacks.

Flights from calama to Santiago can cost as low as 30 US dollars but were near 200 US dollars for when I wanted the flight.

Most hostels can organise shuttle buses that collect you at hostel three hours prior to your flight and bring you to calama airport directly for approx. 12,000 CLP.

Otherwise bus is available to go to calama town for 3,000 CLP and taxi from the town to airport is 7,000 CLP. If you are in a group this option may be better.

When crossing the border into chile it would be wise to eat any open packet foods you have or they will be confiscated. Open bottle of water is ok. An open packet of cookies is not, for example. 

As always, if you can manage it, try booking flights in South America through the Spanish version of the website to get the best deal. It doesn’t alway get a discount but is always worth a look!

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