San Pedro de Atacama
By day the sun is dazzling with high temperatures, after the sun sets dramatically behind the Domeyko mountains it’s time to pop a woolly alpaca sweater on, as it becomes proper desert chilly. Even the dogs in San Pedro de Atacama have bred over time to have fluffy thick coats to keep them warm through the night.
This dusty tourist town in Northern Chile is a leafy oasis situated in the driest desert on Earth – the Atacama. Water running down from the Andes mountain range feeds into the San Pedro river, which runs through the town providing life to the cooling shady trees and shrubs that grow in this dry arid desert.
Volcano Licancábur with its snowy edges sits high at 19,400ft on the outskirts of the town, when the sun sets, the dusky ochre colours reflected below from the desert are mesmerising.
Throughout the area quartz, copper and lithium are mined, along with an altitude at 7900ft there’s plenty of positive energy flowing. It could just be the congregation of world travellers who collectively are in awe at the spectacular scenery or maybe the lithium is giving everyone an extra energising lift.
San Pedro de Atacama is a small town with a selection of cheap eateries for backpackers and gastro restaurants catering to the high-end tour parties. The unpaved rough streets are full of adobe buildings housing tour agencies, bike hire outlets, laundrettes, mini markets and there are some very overpriced outdoor shops where the cost of a pair of hiking boots need an extra bank loan! Hotels and hostels charge way more than they should, but after a long day out exploring, a hot shower to wash your salty skin clean and comfy warm bed are a necessity! We stayed in the pretty Hotel Tulor which was outrageously pricey!
There are plenty of tour trips to choose from – volcanoes fringe the area, steamy geysers bubble up, hot springs can be dipped in, bright blue volcanic lagoons sit high on the Altiplano waiting to be discovered, elegant pink flamingoes live on the seemingly inhospitable salt flats and the valley of moonscape jagged rock formations all seem like you’ve stepped into another world. The landscape is bizarre, beautiful and throughly mysterious.
While Mr E wasn’t struck by the town calling it a ‘sh*t hole’ – he’s known for saying what he thinks…I found the dirty pink colours of the moab style buildings contrasting against the bright blue sky a visual piece of art. The simple church and pretty central plaza were beautiful to view first thing in the morning when it was crisp and peaceful to walk the streets, with only a few sleeping dogs to step over.