An oasis in the middle of an otherwise seemingly-barren wasteland, San Pedro de Atacama is a commune and small town in the El Loa Province of the Antofagasta Region of Chile. It sits on the edge of the Salar de Atacama, which is the largest salt flat in the country, and offers majestic views of the Andes Mountains, as well as Licancabur, the massive volcano that dominates the skyline, complete with its own crater lake, known as Lago Licancabur. The town has long been a favorite among Chilean natives as a tourist destination for seeing some of the most otherworldly sights in the country, and in recent years the popularity of eco tourism has begun funneling backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world in this direction.
In and of itself, San Pedro de Atacama doesn’t appear to have much to offer at face value. Its infrastructure is there, but it is fairly small, although the prices are more reminiscent of a western European destination, rather than the normally far-cheaper Chilean prices. You can thank the recent influx of foreigners for the rising rates. Still, it’s a fairly affordable city, and it serves as a major jumping-off point for the surrounding countryside. In town, the R.P. Gustavo Le Paige Archaeological Museum showcases the history of the natives, while outside of the town visitors have access to such things as Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) with its massive dunes and rock formations, or El Tatio, which is a massive geyser field with well over 80 active geysers. You can also visit the Los Flamencos National Reserve, the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), or experience one of the local traditional festivals during the summer months. Whether you choose to hike up the volcano or explore the strange rock formations surrounding the town, coming here is an adventure that shouldn’t be missed, and it’s well worth the trip off the beaten path.