I recently spent some time in Chile and was either heading out to the cold out in Patagonia or the burning heat of the desert… On this trip I went for the the driest place in the world and flew out to San Pedro de Atacama which is about an hour away (70$USD flight) from Santiago, Chile. Atacama desert is a 41,000 square mile region west of the Andes and it is the driest non-polar desert in the world with terrains that resemble those of mars (so speculate the pros); due to this resemblance many TV shows and movies film “Mars scenes” here.
There’s over 500 species of flora including one of the most important to the region the llareta which is one of the highest-growing wood species in the world. Not many animals can survive in this climate but you will see many species of birds, flamingos, some llamas and many lizards.
Because of its high altitude, nearly non-existent cloud cover, dry air, and lack of light pollution and radio interference from the very widely spaced cities, this desert is one of the best places in the world to conduct astronomical observations. The desert has 3 main observatories including ALMA which is ran by the USA, Japan, Canada and Chile of course, unfortunately us commoners are not allowed in the premises but just a fun fact!
Where to stay:
You can’t go wrong with this one there’s a hostel every 3 steps you take. Here’s a couple of recommendations for places I saw and stayed:
-Hostal Harickuntur $80USD (private room, private bathroom)
-Hostal Lickana $94 USD (private room, private bathroom)
-Hostal Hultur $20-50 USD (there are private rooms and bathrooms or shared)
-Atacama-adventure wellness & ecolodge $275 (hotel & Spa)
Where to eat:
Most of the hotels and hostels have their own kitchen and cook so they can include your meals in your daily rate and you will eat authentic Chilean food with local ingredients (cheapest option). Otherwise you can head out to the town and walk the main street (there’s about 3 streets total so you can’t go wrong) and find many restaurants or street vendors. Credit cards accepted, wifi everywhere
–Cafe Restaurante Adobe $20 USD
-Tierra, todo natural $15 USD
-Charrua pizzeria $15 USD
-Casa de Piedra $10-20 USD
-El Toconar $25 USD
Things to do:
There are a bizillion tours to take, this is really up to you depending on the days, budget and type of activity you prefer. Here’s a link with all the tours and activities but I can name a few of the ones I experienced.
-Lagunas Altiplanicas; this is most likely included in other tours you take because it’s on the way to the main attractions but it is a great spot to check out.
-Geysers del Tatio/Termas de puritana ; you will head out here at 4:00AM which is the only time you can see eruptions so it will be VERY cold, gloves, beanies, wear everything! This won’t make sense, but take your bathing suit as well, you will get to swim in Termas Puritanas (hot springs)
-Laguna Cejar/Salar de Atacama; do it!! You will get to swim in waters with extreme amounts of salt that you will float, it’s pretty amazing and very very fun. El Salar is also a pit stop on the way to Laguna Cejar but it’s quite the experience.
-Valle de la luna (Moon Valley); You will visit naturally created salt statues and will watch the most beautiful sunset ever from the top of the mountains.
-Sand boarding; My favorite activity of the trip, you can head out to the town and visit many instructors that can take you for a 5- hour boarding day with classes included $50-80 USD
-I know you are thinking it is very hot and you want to take the least amount of clothing but I do recommend covering yourself up, there’s a tear in the ozone layer just above Chile and you will get the worse sunburn and will not stand the heat otherwise.
-You will be walking and walking and walking I am sure you know this but you will also be hiking on rocks and sand dunes so make sure you have comfortable shoes with thick soles (they could potentially melt no joke).
-Chile is very cheap but San Pedro de Atacama is not as cheap as you would think, I would compare it an airport, they know your stuck there with no where to sleep or food and no where to drive out to for the next 3-4 days so .. you get the picture!
-Visit the following link for reservations, more tips and things to do in San Pedro De Atacama