Cute little village, called San Pedro de Atacama, lies on a high plateau of Andes in the northern part of Chile. The area around creates the most outstanding landscape on the planet that includes deserts, volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and salt flats found only in this part of the world. Surroundings make the scenery around San Pedro to be worth seeing at least once in your life. Together with Easter Islands and Patagonia, stands as the top place to visit once in Chile. The area is known to be one of the driest places in the world which leads to the fact that there’s not much green around, yet the unique geology structure creates there something so beautiful that is beyond anything, anything I saw so far. Not even mentioning that you can also easily see a magnificent milk way at night too.
Small town San Pedro, with population just under 4,000, tends to be a very popular destination, so it`s packed with hotels, hostels, restaurants, shops and anything travelers need really. Please be aware that beds are always in high demand, so you really have to book your stay in advance. I did not know about it, and I had to stay longer in Santiago to spend my new year there, not in San Pedro as planned. It happened because all was already booked up. I got there on 3.01.2016, and it was still full of tourists. Once you’re lucky claiming your accommodation, go to look around. Village is very small and feels very cosy. Whoever decided to name the streets wasn’t really in his clear mind, so you can get lost very easily at first, but after some time you will know your way around well. In the center you can have a good meal or just a nice coffee. You can buy some clothes, hats or a tasty local alcoholic drink, called pisco (actually Peruvians are a bit angry, as this drink has been made first by them…or so they say). The prices around main street are not so high, but clearly set for tourists. I have found a very cool little area to eat, in far east that travelers don’t know about (you’re welcome). Meals there cost around 4$, are very local and very tasty. There are a few small restaurants (if you can call it like that) next to each other, and every single one got something different to offer. There`s one internet cafe in the center too, if you needed, and broadband is really not as bad as backpackers complain about! Apart from that, main street is loaded with tourist agencies. You can book loads of amazing trips there at a very affordable price. Please note that you need some spare Chilean pesos with you, as there is always something extra to pay on your trip (usually entrance fee). It’s good to book few. However, for me, the highlight of my stay turns to be cycling around Atacama Desert. Except for 3 days tour I took around all lagoons, geysers and salars, but that was on Bolivian side, so I will write about it in section about that country.
Cycling. You can hire a bike literally on every corner in San Pedro. They are in a very good condition, and you are getting an extra gear with them too (spare tube, helmet, pump and map). Prices are not so high, and they do depend on length of time you are planning to rent your bike for, and the quality of your vehicle. You can hire it from an hour up to 48 hours. Loads of hotels do this service too, which makes it easy to return it and just to go straight to your room after. I used one agency to rent and once my hotel, and prices were very similar. As far as I remember, it was around 6-8$ for the whole day. So, as I mentioned, you will be given a map with routes you can do. It really is easy to find your way around, but please keep your map with you, as you wont be meeting loads of people on the way to ask for directions. Take also loads of water with you. It’s a very hot area, and climate is extremely dry. Stuck up on some snacks too, shops are only in San Pedro! The field is elevated, so better to use sunglasses and sun protection cream. Now…AGAIN! I have lost all my photos from this beautiful place. I realized that while writing this blog. I was devastated, and I almost cried. I really captured such an amazing moments, areas, friends, and I took really great photos! This place is so so special for me. I have only few from my phone left. It is the same situation, I have had with my photos from Mexico and Belize when 2/3 of my pics just disappeared from my SD card, just like that. Did anyone got the same problem? Can I fix it? I still got all my SDs, and they are full, so photos are there, somehow. Help me readers, you’re my only hope!
- Valley of the Moon
Valley of the Moon, or Valley de la Luna, as a part of the Salt Mountain range, is one of the most visited places in San Pedro area.
The name, probably, came from the fact that the place really looks like from different planet. The whole plateau does! The valley is accessible from the town by car or bike. It is only 10 kilometers away, and you will get there via main road. There are loads of signs on the way pointing directions towards valley, so you will easily find your way. You could walk too, but the whole area of the valley is quiet large already, so you might get tired a bit. The valley also got a spot where you can do a sun-boarding. The entrance fee is just 3,000 Chilean pesos, that’s around 4.5$. The ground around is so dry that there are no any living creatures. So again, remember to take plenty of water with you. Well, as far as I remember, there is a little shop by the entrance too, in case you will run out of drinks. With your ticket you will get a map with all highlights on it, so even with no guide you wont miss anything. I don’t even want to start here how things are looking around there, because I know I already use word “amazing” way to often here. Basically, you will see few beautiful canyons, sandy desert, unusually structured rock formations, snow looks-like a ground (minerals under the soil are responsible for the white cover) and caves. Here, I have to say that after the earthquake in Nepal, I was a bit scared to go trough that tiny little dark caves, but I got over the fear while half way trough there. With the tour, you will end your trip watching the sunset over the amazing valley. So, as you know by now, I did book my tour to see the valley, but I also got there one day on a rented bike. Two ways of doing so got pluses. With tour you will go with a nice group and a tour guy. He will take you in some caves too. But while cycling there alone, you will be very flexible.
You will stop anywhere you like, and you will lose loads of calories, as there are loads of hills to climb. The big minus is that after the sunset its dark, and you will have to cycle back like that. The climate, like geological structure, is diverse too, so as soon as the sun is gone, it`s getting very very cold very very quickly. To be honest, sunset over the valley is something you can’t miss. Well, anyway, you will decide! I guess it is worth doing it twice in both ways, if you have a spare time there. Why not to see the magnificent scenery twice.
- Devils Throat
Devils Throat is the name of a cycling path around another stunning valley. The entrance is just little bit further from Pukara de Quitor, on a right hand side. The trial is 18 kilometers long, so with the road back it`s 36. Every company, you will hire your bike from, will give you the map with the road on it. It is a very easy and pleasant path, a bit rocky at times, but mostly flat. Just in few places you will face some hills, but they are not so high at all. The land around is a bit green, with the little river that will accompany you trough the whole trail. You can see some houses on your way (watch out for angry guarding dogs :).
It really is amazing that people lives in such a peaceful and remote area. Just to warn you, that there will be no phone signal, so cycle carefully please. I did this trial with my lovely friend, I’ve met on the top of Pukara de Quitor, Dorit. So anyway, because I was not alone, we let ourselves a bit, and we went way further than the Devils Throat trial. We crossed the river three times, holding our bikes in hands, and we got, probably, where not many tourists go. And really, again, watch your way around. I still have a big scar on my knee as a souvenir from there 😀 The whole experience was amazing, and the hills around your way will make you breathless. Me and my friend both had shoes and pants wet, but who cares. The area is so dry, nothing stays wet for too long. Dryer is definitely not needed for locals there.
- Pukará de Quitor
So what stands behind this funny name? An archaeological site just north of the town. It is so close (3 km from San Pedro) that you can easily do it with Devils Throat in one day. The side is looking interesting even without the ruins. But they do add the ancient vibe to the area. It`s known that it has been structured by precolombian Atacameño people as a fortress against Inca people. The road there is very straight forward, and even I remember it by now, a year after. Just cross the river on the north-east area, to take the road along the bank of the stream. Then after some time, you should already see the signs pointing the direction. The entrance to the park is very affordable at just 3,000 CLP. You can find there also a small museum with some artifacts that have been found in the area, and a brief view of the history of the place and people who lived there and created it. There is also a place to lock your bike. The ruins are all over the little hill, you will hike. To be honest, it is not so spectacular as rest of the valley, but you can learn loads of interesting facts by reading all the descriptions. Once you’re done with it, please hike a bigger hill just next to it. At the top you will find a mirador (viewpoint), that will give you the opportunity to look at beautiful valley beneath. The road to the top, again, is not difficult, takes around 30 minutes, and its build of rocky steps. At the top you can find a little structure and some faces sculpted in the rock. They look pretty cool. When your eyes feel satisfy with the surrounded view, you can start heading back to San Pedro for a tasty lunch to satisfy your stomach now :p