We spent the following morning in San Pedro de Atacama. Truly a traveller’s town, San Pedro de Atacama serves as an opportunity for last-minute purchases of warm clothing, accessories, and snacks. The laid-back town is unassuming and can be thoroughly covered in half a day. The town centre consists mainly of the tree-lined Plaza de Armas, leading down the two main roads, flanked by tour agencies, shops, and restaurants.
The square is adjacent to the Church of San Pedro de Atacama. Built from adobe, the mud-like building material traditionally used in San Pedro, the church is small but elegant; reportedly, it is the second oldest church in Chile.
Our lunch was interrupted by rhythmic drumming and chanting outside the restaurant. Coincidentally, we happened upon the Fiesta de San Pedro y San Pablo, which commemorates the patron saint of the town. The procession, consisting of old and young alike dressed in colourful, traditional robes, ambulated down the main street.
Stargazing Tour: Our final night in San Pedro de Atacama was spent outdoors stargazing. Far too often, our view of the night sky is corrupted by light pollution; those of us who live in big cities may be lucky to see more than a few stars.
We were lucky to have enough people to form a private group, and as such, our host Rodrigo combined aspects of stargazing and astrophotography in the three-hour experience. Rodrigo picked us up at our hotel at around 10 p.m. and drove to a small cottage half an hour away from the town centre. He poured us tumblers of hot chocolate, led us outside into the whipping winds as we huddled in the warm safety of fleece blankets, and switched off the lights.
The view that awaited us was truly beyond description. Thankfully, we were graced with ideal stargazing conditions; the sky was clear and crisp, and there was no full moon. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, our photos barely do the experience justice.
The experience was one of the most memorable of our trip, and the serenity of the night sky was only improved by the knowledge and enthusiasm of Rodrigo. There is no excuse not to join a stargazing tour when you are in the region; I guarantee that the experience you have will be as unforgettable as ours.
The night sky gave us the perfect send-off from the Atacama region and San Pedro de Atacama. San Pedro is truly the travellers’ gateway to fantastically surreal landscapes. While perhaps inauthentic to Chile, the charming and laid-back town is a massive departure from any typical Western town and gives us a tantalising glimpse at life in the Atacama Desert. Partially acclimatised to the higher altitude, we venture higher into the Andes, towards the famous Salar de Uyuni.