Visiting the Driest Place in the World: San Pedro de Atacama

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The Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth, sees just four inches of rain…… every thousand years. The desert spans over 600 miles from southern Peru to Chile’s central Pacific Coast and perhaps the most renowned town to visit lies somewhere in the middle of all this (aka in the middle of nowhere). It’s a little town called San Pedro.

Nowadays tourism has really taken off, both a pro and a con (a great economic boost for the Atacamanians but of course a less authentic representation of desert life). Regardless, there’s a certain allure to the dusty streets with dogs roaming freely, and people lazily meandering the side streets.

The town itself is quite charming, and deserves at least a day of your travel time, but its the surrounding areas that really draw tourists here to the middle of the driest place on earth. There are the El Tatio Geysers (the third largest in the world), Salar de Atacama (the world’s third largest salt flat), Moon Valley, Death Valley, Cactus Valley, the Milk Way…… diverse is an understatement.

san pedro

Visiting San Pedro

Time Required: 3-5 Days

When to Go: Year round

Budget:  30-60$ a day

Getting Here & Away: To here (or from here) you can go to  the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia, or if you’re continuing your travels in Chile you can catch a bus to Calama (1.5 hours) and catch a flight onwards from there. Buses are available to a variety of other Chile destinations such as Antofagasta, La Serena, and Santiago.

atacama desert

Things to do in San Pedro de Atacama

Salar de Atacama

For about $25-30 you can come to see the third largest salt flat in the world. While it won’t be as impressive as those found in Uyuni, Bolivia, it is still worth seeing (and you get to see flamingoes!!!).

Atacama desert

Tatio Geysers

The Tatio Geysers are the third largest in the world and are certainly a must see whilst in town. You’ll need to be up early, though! The tours start around 4-5am as the Geysers are most active in the morning. You’ll pay anywhere between $35-80 for a tour, depending whether you add the hot springs or a visit to a nearby village to your tour.

Moon Valley

Whether you hire a rental bike or go by tour bus for around $15-20, you simply must do the day trip to the Moon Valley. It’s very close to town and offers the best sunset in town.

Horse Riding

There are a number of tour operators offering horse riding as it is a popular activity out here in the desert. To avoid regrets, pay a little extra and book a tour with Turis Tours – the quality of the tour and the horses is worth a few extra bucks without question.


Star Gazing

If you’re visiting during a full moon you won’t get much of a chance for star gazing (as was the case for me), but if you’re visiting any other time you can’t miss the chance to stargaze at one of the clearest skies in the world!

Atacamanian trinkets

You’ll find plenty of Atacamanian trinkets and treasures here in San Pedro – for tourist prices, of course. Just remember that you’re giving back to the community and your money is well spent!

Iglesia San Pedro

San Pedro is also home to the second oldest church in Chile – Iglesia San Pedro. The bright white church dates back to 1640, and is a true testament to ‘making do’ out in the desert. The church is made predominantly with cactus wood and bound together with llama leather – impressive!


Where to Stay, Eat, and Drink

 I stayed at the all inclusive Explora Atacama lodge – including my room rate, three meals per day, snacks, drinks, professional guides, transfers to and from Calama airport, and evening educational talks on astrology, flora and fauna, etc.

If you’re on a budget there are a great range of hostels and cheaper hotels available on Expedia with dorm beds starting at $20 per night (I still swear by them for my hotel bookings). It may come as a surprise that San Pedro is not cheap – but once you take a look around you will notice it won’t be anywhere near these prices within a decade as tourism here is really taking off.

Chilean food is notoriously bland, particularly in comparison to neighbouring Peru and Argentina. But surprisingly, the food options in San Pedro are superb and plentiful! There’s even a vegetarian/vegan restaurant in town – a rarity in South America!

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    October 2, 2014 at 10:41 am

    First of all, I love your site. Second, I work as a guide in San Pedro and some times even with Turistour and they most definitely do not offer horseback ridding… The most popular may be a guy called “Farolo” who’s quite a character (cactus I think is the name of his agency in Toconao street), and I can personally recommend Bernardo who lends horses to hotels like Tierra Atacama. If you need specifics let me know. Keep up the good work!

    Best holiday destinations
    September 27, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    An amazing place with such natural delights. I will surely plan my upcoming vacation to this place. thanks for posting nice views.

    September 27, 2014 at 12:38 am

    Wow, this place definitely looks different from other places I’ve visited. I love horseback riding!!! And for a quick second I thought the driest place in the world would be Los Angeles right now, too, lol.

    September 26, 2014 at 12:38 am

    Loved San Pedro although did find it rather touristy & expensive compared to rest of Chile, even a year ago… Definitely recommend the Valley of the Moons tour.

    As an aside.. my friends and I are trying to win a trip to Egypt so would really appreciate if you could all please like this photo – the pyramid pic with the most ‘likes’ wins.. it closes tomorrow:


    Wyndham Cusco hotel
    September 25, 2014 at 4:13 pm

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    Jake Ryan
    September 25, 2014 at 2:36 am

    Great Post

    September 24, 2014 at 11:57 am

    Sounds like it would be such an interesting place to visit. I’m not at all good in heat, so I’m sure it would be a challenge, but worth it!


    September 24, 2014 at 10:59 am

    I’ve been loving your posts recently- so interesting and i love hearing about South America.

    Lizzy at Nomad Notebook

    September 24, 2014 at 5:42 am

    I absolutely love all of these photos! They are absolutely stunning! I recenently made a blog post about my travels (and hopefully future travels). If you have time, could you swing by and see if you have been to any of those places?

  • awanderlustblog@OUTLOOK.COM'
    September 24, 2014 at 4:37 am

    looks mad and wonderful – a real find , thanks for the tips

    September 24, 2014 at 12:56 am

    Sounds and looks like an amazing experience! Can’t wait to go south!

    Marie Away
    September 24, 2014 at 12:06 am

    Looks like an amazing place–definitely an addition to my travel bucket list.

    September 23, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    I´ve been there 8 years ago and I felt in love with the place the first morning I was there!
    The bus from Santiago takes 24 hours… not a good idea at all!
    enjoy your trip!

    September 23, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Wow. That full moon photo sold it for me. Definitely adding this to my wishlist!

    Stéphanie | Expeditie Aardbol
    September 23, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Gorgeous pictures, if I ever go to Peru I will definitely visit this place!

    September 23, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    I love your posts about your trip to South America. You always provide such great information and insight. I’ll definitely be bookmarking these posts for my backpacking trip through SA!

    Madeline Fedmont
    September 23, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    So beautiful. Love the post 🙂

    September 23, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    fuiste!!!!!! es hermoso San Pedro, espero hayas visitado la laguna Cejar y hayas podido flotar en aquellas aguas!!!! un abrazoo

    Clipping Path Outsource
    September 23, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    Great post! I like your photos posted here. Excellent!

    September 23, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    I loved this post! It sounds like such a neat place to visit. I’m curious how much your all inclusive hotel was?

    Danielle @ Chits and Chats and Chocolate
    September 23, 2014 at 10:27 am

    4 inches every 1000 years? That’s crazy! This really does look beautiful!

    September 23, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Great post! Bit different to the coastal areas and endless bodies of water back home in Aus huh?

    20 year old traveller with a thirst for adventure

    September 23, 2014 at 8:53 am

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.
    No kidding about vegetarian food in South America! I was in cusco and Manchu picchu pueblo last August, and all I ate was grilled cheese 🙂

    September 23, 2014 at 8:38 am

    I absolutely love hearing about your adventures!!! How do you find these amazing places? Do people recommend them or what?
    Monique xx