A Journey Through Bolivia, Part 5: A Visit to San Pedro de Atacama

Maria Clark January 18, 2014

The Atacama Desert is the largest arid desert in the world. Tucked away in its vast valleys and dusty canyons is a small artisan village called San Pedro de Atacama

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I walked into this town by foot. I had spent the last three days sleeping in cold campouts in the mountains visiting the salt flats and wildly colored lagoons in Bolivia. My shoulders cramped under the weight of my backpack as I walked into this quiet little village. The air was significantly warmer.

The streets all made of packed dirt, with the exception of two intersecting cobble stone roads.

For some reason I couldn’t shake the similarities between the warmth of this town and the way I feel about New Orleans. I could smell food in the air. Music was pouring out of open-air restaurants. Artists of all sorts were selling their work in stores that poured out into the street in a wave of color and awe-inspiring skill.

I sat down at one of the first restaurants I could find, (there are plenty to choose from) and ordered a pisco sour. If you haven’t tried it, it’s a delicious cocktail made with lemon juice, sugar, egg whites and pisco (a liquor native to Peru and Chile).

I had three. I ended up staying in this beautiful little town for three days.

History

Indigenous people began settling and building villages in portions of the Atacama Desert starting approximately 11,000 years ago. In fact even today, it is virtually impossible for non-indigenous people to buy land in the area because it has been legally named indigenous territory.

Atacamenos, the people who began inhabiting the area so many years ago, were known for their artistic abilities, which included pottery, basketry, woodcarving, and sculpting with metals found in the area.

Things to do

A leisurely walk through the town might take up a day. There are plenty of cafes, restaurants and shops to drop in on. The people, both visitors and locals, are incredibly friendly. I felt so comfortable there that I quickly started wondering whether I should make an effort to stay for a longer visit.

Valley of the Moon

Called the valley of the moon because of its similarity to the moon’s surface, this spectacular attraction is located about 10 miles away from town. Plenty of tour companies offer guided tours that go directly to this area.

Salar de Atacama

Much smaller than the Uyuni Salt Flats across the mountains into Bolivia, the Atacama salt flats are still incredibly beautiful especially during sunset. Many of the tours out to the salt flats will take you to some of the lagoons where you can go swimming. “Los ojos del salar”, the eyes of the salt flat, are two perfectly circular small lagoons that lie side by side in the salt flats. They’re freezing, but fun to jump into on a dare.

Tulor Ruins

This is a 3,000-year-old village that belonged to the Atacamenos about 3,000 years ago. The ruins were discovered in 1940. It is located about 6 miles from San Pedro.

Costs

Tour prices will vary depending on how far you will be heading out of town and the time. Do not expect to pay more than 10,000 pesos for most tours however.

For more information visit the town’s website here.