Anyone who wants to visit the Atacama Desert will certainly hear a lot about the small city of San Pedro de Atacama, since that’s the starting point for all the tours to the desert.
San Pedro de Atacama has less than 2,000 citizens, is located at around 2,400 meters altitude and almost everything in the city is aimed towards travelers. All around you can see hotels, hostels, inns and restaurants, all of them with options for people with little money or a lot of it. But the biggest number is of agencies, which offer tours through the desert… There are over 50 AGENCIES registered in the city. Some good ones, some bad ones… some cheap, others not so much. But the subject Agencies in San Pedro is for the next post. Now I’ll talk about the beginning of this amazing trip!
Santiago, capital of Chile
If Chile is your first destination in South America, Santiago is your gateway. If you have the time, it’s worth getting to know the city before going to the north of Chile, where the Atacama Desert is located.
To get to the desert, your next stop will be the city of Calama, located at about 1 hour from San Pedro de Atacama.
To go from Santiago to Calama you can take a bus or go by car, in a trip that lasts over 24 hours… the best option to the ones with a lot of time. For the others, who are short in time, going by plane is the fastest way, although a little more expensive. Two companies provide this trip: Lan Chile and Sky Airlines, and the latter has fewer flights available.
Buying tickets from Santiago to Atacama
I’ve decided to highlight this subject, since this is a good opportunity for you to save some money.
Looking through some blogs, I noticed that it was a good idea to wait until I got to Santiago to buy the ticket. That’s what I did. Even so, I spent more than I thought I would… the round-trip ticket (Santiago/Calama), by LAN, was 150 thousand pesos. The same ticket by Sky Airlines was much more expensive that day.
The best tip is to buy the ticket through the Chilean LAN website. I did that the second time I went to the Atacama Desert, and that saved me quite a good sum of money.
How to go from Calama to San Pedro de Atacama
Well, after getting to the Calama airport there is still another stretch until San Pedro de Atacama. Here you also have more than one option: take a bus or a taxi and go downtown in Calama and from there get a bus to San Pedro, or take a transfer at the airport, which will take you right to your hostel/hotel in San Pedro.
There are many transfers at the airport. I recommend Transfer Pampa, which charges around 20 thousand pesos on the round-trip to/from the airport. It’s a bit more expensive than going by bus to the city, but it ends up being worth it, as it leaves you at the door of your hostel.
Discovering San Pedro de Atacama
Like I said at the beginning of this post, San Pedro is a small town that works around the travelers that visit it. In a few hours it’s possible to know the whole city. The best suggestion is to take the morning of your first day to stroll around, check the agencies with no hurry, get the tour packages and leave to the first one only in the middle of the afternoon. This tour can be the Valle de La Luna (Moon Valley) + Vale de la Muerte (Death Valley), which I’ll give more details about in another post.
San Pedro has a main street, Calle Caracoles, where most agencies are, as well as some restaurants and small stores. Some streets that cross C. Caracoles also have agencies, hostels and restaurants. It’s worth mentioning Calle Toconao, which, besides all of that, takes you to Plaza de Armas, the city square.
Around Plaza de Armas it’s possible to see the police station, the church and the city hall. It’s a pretty cool square to sit under the shadows and watch the travelers wandering around. You’ll also see many kids playing on the streets, a lot (I mean A LOT!) of dogs everywhere and some craftsmen selling their art.
San Pedro captivated me since the very first day. It’s surely not the attraction that brings travelers there – everyone is actually interested in taking the tours through the desert. However, San Pedro is so different to me… with its dirt roads, dirt all around, the adobe buildings… all these things got me feeling I was in an old western movie. Being there was almost like travelling in time.
Do not miss the opportunity to walk with no destiny through the city streets, either under sunlight or at night… I guarantee you’ll have one of the most beautiful views of the sky of your life.
If you’ve been to San Pedro de Atacama or has any questions about it, leave a message on the post