San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro de Atacama, being an oasis village, has grown over centuries to a municipality of today almost 5000 inhabitants.
In recent years in particular, the number of tourists – as well as local prices – have increased steadily, making SPDA the most important tourist centre in the Chilean Atacama Desert. Although San Pedro de Atacama with its Adob houses and one of the oldest churches in Chile has retained a pleasant atmosphere, it is mainly the attractions of the surrounding area that attract more and more travellers from all over the world. While nature and desert tourists mostly come to the oasis because of the bizarre landscapes such as the Valle de Luna, the Salar de Atacama and the Tatio Geysiren, or because of the incomparably starry nights above the Atacama desert, more and more archaeologically interested people find their way to the oasis. The “Museo Arqueológico R. P. Gustavo Le Paige”, named after its founder, a Belgian Jesuit missionary, shows a collection of pre-Colombian artefacts that is unprecedented in Chile. It covers a period of 11000 years and is dedicated to the Likanantaí culture called Atacameño. In addition to the museum, San Pedro owes its nickname “Chile’s archaeological capital” to the 12th century fortress of Pukará de Quitor, classified as a national monument (3 km from San Pedro along Calle Tocopilla) and the remains of the settlement of Tulor, which was inhabited between 800 BC and 500 AD and is considered the oldest in the entire region. (Approx. 3 km south).
San Pedro de Atacama has an extremely dry, mild climate. Daytime temperatures are 25-30°C in summer, 18-25°C in winter, but it cools down rapidly at night. Often the mercury column drops to far below zero. San Pedro lies at an altitude of 2400m, which already causes mild forms of altitude sickness in some visitors. In this case, one should not visit the Tatio geysers, as they are located at an altitude of 4321 m and the drive there leads close to the 5000 m limit.
Tours into the Valle de Luna (also possible as a mountain bike tour) and to the Tatio Geysers are offered by numerous local tour operators. The bizarre rock formations and sand dunes of the Valle de Luna, which actually remind one of a moon valley, are most impressive in the late afternoon, when the low sun emphasizes the terrain formations in high contrast. A typical tour to the geysers of Tatio, which are located in the middle of a geothermal field on a high plateau of the Andes, framed by snow-covered mountain peaks, starts around 4 o’clock in the morning, as the vans need at least two hours for the more than 100 km through the night with the road constantly rising to bring the passengers to their destination before sunrise. The geysers, whose hot steam and water fountains sometimes shoot up several meters, were formed by the Tatio volcano. On the spot, one should absolutely follow the instructions of the guides, as the ground in the immediate vicinity of the geysers is very soft and there is a risk of collapse. During the rather uncomfortable ride and before sunrise, the temperatures at this altitude reach extreme depths (-15° to -20°C!!! are not uncommon), warm clothing, appropriate shoes and headgear are essential. The expected cost of a tour is about 60 USD (without entrance fees).
Another and little known tour leads towards the border with Bolivia to the “Salar de Tara”, a part of the National Park Los Flamencos (4×4 vehicle required or tour with guide). On the way you will pass the
imposing stone columns of the Monjes de la Pacana (Monks of Pacana), which are the result of thousands of years of erosion by wind and water.