1. San Pedro de Atacama

Accommodation: Parina Atacama Apart Hotel: Apartment-style hotel with ample space and kitchen area. Clean, spacious, and located close to the town centre. Approximately 35 GBP/350 HKD per person per night, excluding meals. Payment is required only upon arrival at the hotel. Our hosts did not speak much English, but we suspect that this is the case for most hotels in San Pedro de Atacama.

Food: decent, hearty, and meat-heavy. There is a decent amount of choice, and many restaurants cater for tourists by including items such as pizzas, steak, or pasta on their menus. Most restaurants can be found either on the two main streets which traverse the town centre, or near the main square. The cuisine is ordinary and is apparently expensive relative to other areas of South America. We can recommend La Casona de Atacama and Las Delicias de Carmen. Try llama meat in Machuca, the village visited on the El Tatio tour, as well as empanadas, a pastry often stuffed with beef or cheese which is available in most restaurants in San Pedro de Atacama.

Some struggle to catch up in the rarefied Atacama Desert air. Remember that altitude sickness affects different individuals to varying extents!

General tips:

  • To reach San Pedro de Atacama, you fly into El Loa Airport in Calama, likely from Santiago, the capital of Chile. From there, you can organise transport from the airport to San Pedro de Atacama, which takes approximately one hour.
  • San Pedro de Atacama is a town with many stray dogs. As with all strays, exercise caution and do not feed or touch them. Do not get too attached as some may even follow you to your hotel if you give them attention.
  • In the Atacama Desert region, temperatures vary enormously throughout the day. In general, bring clothing and items that will both shelter you from the sun during the day and the near-freezing conditions at night. Carry lots of water with you throughout the day.
  • When swimming in Laguna Cejar, be sure to avoid water contact above the neck, and rinse off with fresh water after swimming in the lagoon. There is a shower area next to the lagoon for rinsing off.
19 (2)
An almost-Martian landscape in the Atacama Desert between Calama and San Pedro de Atacama.
  • We had planned to visit Valle de la Luna in the afternoon on the second day. We had booked the tour in advance via Viator, but our promised pickup did not appear at the agreed time. While the tour agency agreed to refund our trip, it was too late for us to join another group. Book your tours as you arrive in San Pedro de Atacama to avoid disappointment! Before handing over money to a tour agency, be sure to do your own research, or ask some locals and the hosts at your hotel. Most are happy to give advice regarding tour agencies.
  • There are numerous other attractions in the area. For good day-hikes, opt for Kari Gorge or the nearby Sairecabur Volcano; for otherworldly rock formations, visit Valle de la Luna or Valle de la Muerte. Also look into visiting the highly mineralised Puritama Hot Springs or the Atacama Salt Flats. Some of the headline attractions can be reached by bicycle, but be sure to return to San Pedro before dark.
The sun sets near Laguna Tebenquiche against a backdrop of the distant Andes.

For our next instalment, where we begin our adventures through the Bolivian high plains, click here.

Photo credits: Catherine Yuen, Yinnie Tong, Keith Chan


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