The driest desert in the world...
San Pedro de Atacama Travel Blog› entry 25 of 36 › view all entries
... is home to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, a very laid-back tourist town with one-lane dirt streets and abode buildings. It´s supposedly the most expensive place in Chile, and Chile is the most expensive country in South America, which made my 5 nights there a bit of a budget challenge after living it up in Peru and Bolivia. There are probably several things to dislike about San Pedro, including its touristy orientation and jacked up prices, but I really enjoyed my time there. Except for the fact that none of the two ATMs in town had any money in them, and there´s no bank, only a Western Union, so I ended up having to catch a 1.5 hour bus to the nearest big city, Calama, to withdraw money (to pay for all those expensive meals).
Hostal Florida: It had hammocks in the central courtyard, chilled out staff, good music playing during the day, relatively clean bathrooms and a wood fire at night. Although some Irish girls I met told me they had to be evacuated from their room on the first night, as it had filled with smoke from the fire - not very good ventilation, I guess. San Pedro isn´t a very big town at all so it doesn´t mean a whole lot when I say the location was good, but it was on one of the two main streets of town without being too noisy at night.
Sightseeing: On my second day, I rented a bike from the tourist agency next door, grabbed a map and headed off down the highway to the ruins of Tulor and the Valle la Luna (Moon Valley; every country seems to have one). San Pedro and its surrounding area is great for bike riding, as it´s all very flat, and the highway was pretty much deserted. At some points I was the only living thing for miles around - the landscape was so barren and dry, all rock, sand and dirt, spectacularly stark colours. The Moon Valley is a cool place (as above), incredibly desolate and dry, and after walking for about 20 minutes on the road, I climbed (struggled) up a massive sand dune which rewarded me with an awesome view of the valley. I sat and had lunch up the top - everything was so silent, not even a bird in sight. An incredible experience.
I went back there a couple of days later with an Aussie, a Kiwi and a Canadian, to see the sunset. This time we checked out the caves, which takes you on a little route through and under and above the rock formations, very interesting. This wasn´t the first time I wished I knew a little more about geology. There were loads of people hiking up a different (easier) dune, so we followed them to a rocky ridge where you could watch the sun set - a somewhat anticlimatic experience compared to watching the sky change colours as we rode back.
World Cup: Watching Argentina lose was a bit of a bummer, as many travellers were heading into Argentina next and were hoping to party with the Argentinians in the final. (According to someone who was in an Argentinian hostel at the time, it was as if someone had been shot, such was the atmosphere.) And watching England lose was just plain depressing, as I was in a restaurant bar full of English people. There were some tears. I got out of there as soon as the game was over.
Food: Despite how expensive it was, I must say the food in San Pedro was top notch. Gourmet pasta sauces, pesto, chicken, great bread, and every morning I had a bacon, egg, tomato and onion roll (which I made in the hostel kitchen) with juice. And variations of pasta to keep the costs down.
Unfortunately, I missed out on the sky observation tour which was held every other night, but cost 10,000 chilean pesos (around US$10), which was supposed to be fantastic. And I didn´t get to do any other bike rides. I blame this on the World Cup. Anyhow, as an introduction into Chilean food and culture, San Pedro isn´t bad if you can get over the prices and the fact that it seems the only people who live there are those who work there...