So this is it, in the dusty desert oasis of San Pedro de Atacama
This is a high altitude (2400 m / 7900 feet) 21st century tourist town. It’s dripping with accomodation, a good variety of local and international eateries, shops and numerous tour companies, and its signature thatched adobe houses add to its character and charmingly relaxed atmosphere.
It isn’t all about the tourist dollar in San Pedro, however, as you’re bound to spot the Atacameños doing what they have been for centuries – farming and breeding goats, llama and sheep. Walking down the street and having to jump out of the way of a drove of goats sure reminds you of this.
Things to do in San Pedro de Atacama.
At the centre of town is Plaza de Armas, a small, block-sized public meeting place that’s shaded by mature pink peppercorn trees, which are native to these parts. It’s a tranquil place bordered by a couple of cafes and the town’s picture postcard 17th century adobe church.
Step past the churches door and check out its simple, yet beautiful interior, its beamed cactus wood ceiling and door, all bound with llama leather.
Over the road from the entrance of the church is San Pedro’s fería, a narrow covered passage lined with local handicrafts as well as some from Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and even China. Can’t escape that made in China tat, even in the desert in Chile.
Haggle your way to purchase hats, ponchos, colourful textiles, crystals, fossils and anything you’d imagine to find in a place like this.
See that guy above? He’s using the sun’s magnified rays to create small artworks on pieces of wood. Clever man! To think that I only used a magnifying glass to zap ants and grasshoppers when I was a kid.
Things to do around San Pedro de Atacama
People don’t come to San Pedro to solely see the town. I mean, there’s actually nothing much to it, and there isn’t a great deal to do other than what I’ve already covered. Eating, drinking and shopping.
There are many day trips to be done that can immerse you in the utter beauty that surrounds it. Yes, it’s all desert, but this is the Atacama Desert, where you can visit salt pools, climb dunes, explore caves, have breakfast on mountains, see some wildlife, geysers and so much more. It pays to get out there.
Walk down the main drag of town – Caracoles – and you can easily lose count of the tour operators that saturate the strip. Go check them out, see what tours they offer and then shop around for the best price and what suits you most. There are plenty of day trips available, so it’s as simple as working out how much time you have, which tours you’d like to do, and they can tailor it all for you.
Lagunas Escondidas Baltinache.
Lagunas Escondidas, or Hidden Lagoons, are located in the Salar de Atacama, a 3,000 km² / 1,864 mi² valley of salt in the middle of the desert. There are seven lagoons in total, but if you’re up for it, you can take a dip in two of them.
The level of salinity in these lagoon is higher than that in the Dead Sea, so you’ll be floating that little bit higher than the folk over in Jordan, Israel and Palestine.
It’s refreshingly cool, fun and your body will be covered in white salt powder once you’ve got out and dried in the desert breeze. There are showers back at the entrance gate to rinse off and there’s an additional 5000 peso entry fee per person when first entering the salt lagoons.