San Pedro de Atacama is an adventure town located in Chile’s Northern Salt Mountains and is an extreme desert environment. The landscape is very picturesque with snow capped mountains in the distance and desert valleys that glow orange when the sun sets.
Tourists flock to San Pedro to see pink flamingos in the salt flat basin, experience geysers in the geothermal fields, go sand boarding down giant sand dunes and to simply watch sunsets and stargaze in the endless desert.
Prices are high here, since the entire town has retired from the salt mines and all income stems from tourism. There is an unlimited number of restaurants and cafés to choose from but no real supermarket. If you want to prepare your own meal you might find yourself visiting several tiendas to get everything on your list.
As you stroll down the dusty dirt streets in town be prepared to be offered tours, happy hours, meal specials and sand boarding trips. The selling practices are very familiar to those found on the streets of Cuzco and Arequipa. With so many tour agencies it becomes a bit overwhelming to choose a quality tour. We booked all our tours through Cactus Expeditions (Cactus Tours) and were highly satisfied. Ronald was our guide during our Geysers and Cactus tour, and we considered him one of the best guides we have had during our travels.
San Pedro is small with an old American West charm. There are no buildings over 2 stories and no paved roads. Bring lots of sunscreen and a handkerchief or bandanna, sometimes the sand kicks up a lot in the wind. If you are into extreme adventure seek out Volcano Tour Company for a snow capped summit.
For Budget Travelers
If you are on a budget several campsites are available as well as hostels away from the touristy town center. The option also exists to venture into the desert visiting Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) and Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) by bicycle. There are roads leading to the sites, but at some point you will have to disembark your bicycle to walk the giant sand dunes.