Updated May 15th, 2018.
San Pedro is a little haven of peace in the Atacama Desert!
Located in the North of Chile, about an hour away from the Bolivian border, this little hippie town is famous for its spectacular natural sceneries (moon valley, geysers, lagoons, salt flat, etc.), as well as for the positive energy floating in its air.
You will discover landscapes that you probably never saw anywhere else before, landscapes that seem to be from another planet, landscapes that will simply leave you speechless. The picture frame never seemed to be big enough to capture the beauty of the scenery displayed in front of our eyes!
Stay a few days in San Pedro and discover this lovely village made of beaten paths flanked by small houses of sun-dried clay bricks. Wake up each morning with a stunning view on the Licancabur volcano, which peaks at about 5900 meters! Enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and feel the good vibes in the air. The lithium mines from the nearby Atacama Salt Flat are said to create a positive energy which makes people relaxed and happy (we did feel a relaxed and positive energy during our stay!).
San Pedro is a very small village but its main street (Calle Caracoles) is full of travel agencies, restaurants, cafés, souvenir shops, banks, laundries, Internet cafés, etc.
As soon as you get out of San Pedro, you will have a strong feeling to be in the middle of nowhere. You will grasp what it feels like to be in a desert. Incredible landscapes but nothing around, no building, no electric cables, no tree! Just the natural beauty of the place.
San Pedro will take your breath away so pack up and go! Feel the positive vibes and explore the surrounding natural wonders! It is every backpacker’s paradise!
The village of San Pedro
Places to Stay
Most of the Hostels are located on the main street (Calle Caracoles) and you should easily find an option corresponding to your budget. There, you will be staying at the heart of San Pedro and will have everything you need at a walking distance. You will see many backpackers going up and down this lovely little street flanked by adobe buildings.
Though it is a very small town, San Pedro is very touristic. So if you are looking for a cozy place away from the – relative – agitation of the center, we can recommend the Tatais Lodge Hotel where we stayed.
Located at a 10-minute walking distance from the center of San Pedro, this lovely hotel offers quiet and nicely-decorated rooms, with an amazing view on the Licancabur volcano. You will also find a little electrical heater in your room to keep you warm at night as temperatures drop drastically when the sun goes down in the Atacama Desert. Have breakfast each day in the open air with this lovely view and enjoy the nice morning sun.
Things to Do in San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro is the starting point of many incredible excursions in the Atacama Desert. You will find many travel agencies in San Pedro, all offering the exact same excursions for more or less the same price. They will usually offer you a discount if you book all your excursions with them. There are excursions every day, some last a whole day, some only a half day and they usually include meals or snacks, depending on the hour, so even if you have not planned anything, you can easily go on an excursion as soon as you arrive.
We found that everything was very well organised for backpackers. Just be careful with one thing: the entrance fees are not included in the price of the excursions and you can sometimes have bad surprises (like at the Laguna Cejar for instance) so make sure you ask about the entrance fees before booking a tour.
El Valle de la Luna (the Moon Valley).
The Moon Valley is located in the Salt mountain range, in the Atacama Desert of Chile. This vast area full of different textures, colors, reliefs, landscapes is said to be similar to the surface of the moon, thus its name. It is made up of various stone and sand formations which have been carved by wind and water over thousands of years. The tour starts at around 3 pm and ends around 8pm, just in time to admire the sunset over this amazing site, with a glass of pisco sour offered by your guide. You can also take a bike to explore this site by yourself as it is very close to San Pedro. You will be taken to different amazing places: salt mines, great sand dunes, a death valley, etc. This lunar landscape made up of beautiful rocky forms covered by a white layer of salt will leave you speechless!
El Tatio geyser field
El Tatio is a geyser field located at 4 320 meters above sea level, about an hour away from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. You will have to wake up at dawn (around 4 am) to reach the geothermic fields as early as possible, as the geyser eruptions are the most spectacular before the sun rises. Be ready to face the minus 8 degrees to explore this amazing site! Once you get there, you will forget that you were cold and sleepy: you will just be captivated by the natural show being played in front of your eyes! Giant columns of steam will be rising up several meters high in a strange noise of splashing water. You will feel like you have reached another planet again. You will then be taken to a thermic pool where you will be able to swim. You just have to be brave enough to face the below zero temperature wearing nothing but a bathing suit before jumping into the pool… As the sun will rise, the landscape will look even more beautiful.
The Atacama Salt Flat Lagoons
Explore three beautiful lagoons, in the Atacama Salt Flat, only half an hour away from San Pedro. You will be fascinated by the desert landscapes: it looks as if the grounds had been sprinkled with salt. The volcanoes are rising out in the distance. It is beautiful! Your first stop will be at the Cejar Lagoon, famous for its high salt concentration which allows you to float! So don’t forget your bathing suit. You will then reach two little lagoons, or actually two “cenotes”, which look like two eyes, thus their name (“the eyes of the Atacama Salt Flat”). The highlight of this excursion will be the extraordinary sunset on the Tebenquiche lagoon. As the sun gradually goes down, it gives a totally different color tone to this landscape.
How to get there?
You first need to reach Calama, the nearest city, located about 100 kilometers away from San Pedro.
- By plane – You can easily reach Calama by plane from Santiago. There are several flights each day. From Calama, you can easily take a bus that will take you to San Pedro.
- By bus – The ride takes about 24 hours from Santiago and it is not necessarily less expensive than flying (however the landscapes that you will see on the way are totally worth it). There are some very good and safe bus companies like Tur Bus and Pullman. You can split the ride into two if you stay one night in Bahia Inglesa, a beautiful beach located about half way.
Places to head next?
- The Uyuni Salt Flats of Bolivia – From San Pedro you can easily book a tour that we take you to the amazing Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia. The three-day tours will end in Uyuni and they are perfect for you if your plan is then to continue your backpacking adventure in Bolivia. You can also find four-day tours that will take you back to San Pedro if you prefer to further explore Chile. After a few days in San Pedro, this tour in Bolivia will continue to take your breath away… You will see some beautiful lagoons, geysers, salt flats… We highly recommend this tour.
- Santiago de Chile – Another option is to go back to Santiago by bus to explore the beautiful Pacific Coast. The road will take you to amazing landscapes. It will sometimes go by the ocean, and sometimes go into the mountains. You can stop at Copiapo half way and then take a one-hour bus to Caldera and then a 10-minute taxi ride to reach the beautiful beach of Bahia Inglesa.
About the writer:
My name is Aurélie and traveling is my passion! Originally from Bordeaux France, I spent 12 years studying and then working in Paris and I am now a traveler of the world! A few months ago, I made the decision to quit my job and my 20-square-meter Parisian apartment to go and explore the world and here I am! I will share my travel stories with you, in my “petite valise” (“little suitcase”), and I will try to make you feel like you were right there with me, exploring these amazing places! I will also give you travel tips that could be usefeul if you plan on doing the same trips. I will try to inspire you and make you want to travel the world! So, fasten your seat belt, sit back and relax, we are embarking on an amazing trip around our beautiful world! I hope you’ll enjoy it! Check out Aurélie’s blog here.