This blog post is a little outdated as I was in San Pedro de Atacama a few weeks ago now. However, I didn’t write any tales from there at the time so I will now, whilst I lie in a hammock on the beach in Ecuador.
San Pedro de Atacama is in the north of Chile and as the name gives away it is in the Atacama desert, the driest non-polar desert in the world, some areas have had no recorded rainfall since records began (note this does not mean since the dawn of time, it means about 400 years). San Pedro is a little tourist town far from anywhere set at an altitude of 2,400 metres. It sits in a dramatic landscape of volcanoes, salt flats, geysers, hot springs and of course- desert. Look, there was a volcano at the end of my street:
The days at the end of February/beginning of March were hot and the nights were cold and we were blessed with clear skies the whole time. The best thing about the clear skies wasn’t the daytime sunshine but the night time stars. Goodness me* I have honestly never seen anything like it. I’ve heard people talk about seeing the Milky Way. However, up there, high up in the cloudless sky hundreds of miles from the lights of the nearest big city the Milky Way is as clear as anything. A band in the sky that is crammed full with billions upon billions of stars. A short look up at the night time sky will guarantee not only the most spectacular vista of the Milky Way but you are sure to see many shooting stars, planets (Jupiter was extremely bright) and- not so exciting- satellites flashing and moving across the sky (I preferred to think of them as alien spaceships). It was a privilege to witness all this in such an amazing location.
A few kilometres away from San Pedro are the dramatic places of Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) and Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley). The story goes that a French speaker first happened upon Moon Valley and imagined it to look like the surface of the Moon and so he gave it the name Valle de la Luna. He then visited another nearby place that to him he imagined resembled the surface of Mars. So naturally he decided to call it Valle de Marte or Mars Valley. Apparently his strong French accent led locals to believe he was saying muerte (Death) rather than marte (Mars). And so the name Valle de la Muerte stuck. I’m imagining a rather frustrated Frenchman with a stripy T-shirt, a beret and possibly a string of onions around his neck waving a baguette in the Spanish speakers faces saying “non, non! Valle de Marte! Marte!”
Two pictures from Valle de la Muerte:
Two pictures from Valle de la Luna:
I was lucky enough to have friends in San Pedro that I had met in Cusco. So I spent lots of time with a wonderful family from the US and a lovely Dutch lady. Our meeting place each day was the square in San Pedro which was approximately a five minute walk from anywhere else in San Pedro. We spent a lot of time there, drinking wine, eating food, chatting, have a good old laugh and making friends with the waiters- one of whom really reminded us of Manuel from Fawlty Towers. We spent four or five days in this manner, I had a really good time and think back on San Pedro with a lot of fondness.
My Dutch friend and I took a whole day tour to see various rock formations, lava flows, lagoons, salt flats and a couple of villages in and around Los Flamencos Nacional Reserve. The tour itself felt a little like being on a conveyor belt of tourist attractions however we didn’t see that many other tourists and what we saw was breathtaking as the following photos declare:
So, all in all I really enjoyed my time in San Pedro and would really recommend a trip to anyone who is in the area. Which unless you are going to San Pedro you are not going to be in the area because it’s really far from anywhere. Everywhere in San Pedro is a bit pricy due its remoteness. I stayed at Hultur Hostal, which if you are on a backpacker kind of budget is a really good, clean, friendly option. I believe there are plenty of 4 and 5 star options in San Pedro for the more discerning clientele, I can’t comment on them though as I only saw the outside walls, peasant that I am.
*to anyone who isn’t British- goodness me is an exclamation of the highest order approved by her Majesty the Queen. I believe the equivalent in the USA is O.M.G 😱