Exploring the Atacama Desert – Getting to San Pedro de Atacama

Last weekend, I got to travel on the Chilean holiday to San Pedro de Atacama to explore the desert around it and its sights.  The flight from Santiago, bought in Chile, was under $250 and I could have gotten it cheaper had I bought it earlier.  Two co-workers were planning to travel with me but one “se rajó” so only two of us ended up going.

To get to San Pedro, we flew to Calama, a mining town, I believe sort of halfway between San Pedro and the coast (where Antofagasta is).  The airport is one of those small nice airports we all dream of flying in and out of but that we don’t want to live close to as it would offer few direct flights…  A $9 bus ride each way based on round trip purchase and one hour plus bus ride and we were in front of our hotel.

Hotels in San Pedro can be quite pricey, relatively speaking and especially on a holiday weekend.  However, I found Casa Don Tomás which at $106/night was quite reasonably priced.  The rooms were basic (no TV) but were clean and adequate with good sized bathroom.  Having no TV was actually quite nice as we had a few early, early mornings so not having TV prevented me being temped to watch it when I went to bed…  The hotel included breakfast but, also, they would make you a take-away breakfast for mornings when one woke up too early to go off and explore.  They also served dinner but I did not try it.  I did try their happy hour drinks and those were a good deal at 2 for 1…  From the hotel, we walked about 5 mins on a residential street to reach Caracoles, the main street in San Pedro.

We were advised to not rent a car and just shop around the various local touring agencies to arrange our trips to the main sights in the area.  This was really good advice for a number of reasons including the routes are not all properly signed and it would have been easy to get lost.  Also, not all the roads are in good conditions so someone more experienced in those roads was going to have an easier time of going around.  I did enjoy getting to meet other travelers along the way so that was another plus of going on these tours which ranged from 10 to 20 people in size.  We used the NOMADE agency whose owner, Mauricio, was very attentive to detail and on time.

San Pedro as a town has few of its own attractions but it is a perfect base  for a large number of places to go see and experience.  While Calama is a larger town with probably more options in terms of accommodation, San Pedro likely has more charm, more of a tourist crowd (in the good sense of that term), and is closer to the places to go see which shaves off a good deal of time.

Main Street San Pedro de Atacama, Chile - gateway to the desert

Main Street San Pedro (with restaurants, shops, tour agents)

There are some really good restaurants intown so just walk up and down the street and check them out.  One even has an inner courtyard with a bonfire going on at night!

More about San Pedro de Atacama:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Pedro_de_Atacama

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