San Pedro de Atacama, Chile - Stein Travel

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Welcome to San Pedro de Atacama

The desert oasis village of San Pedro de Atacama, having been continuously inhabited for 10,000 years, was prized by the Inca and Tihuanaco empires for its mineral wealth and importance as a stopover on the caravan trade routes. It sits at the northern end of the Salar de Atacama, a vast salt lake that is home to a variety of bird life.

Today San Pedro de Atacama is one of the major travel destinations of northern Chile and an attractive, albeit touristy village. A great base from which to explore the astounding natural beauty of the region, the village has few real attractions of its own. There is a small 17th-century church built with local materials and a small well-organised museum with a good gift shop that sells the only true locally-produced crafts in the town. There are a number of restaurants and bars in town, however local restrictions on liquor sales see the nightlife come to a halt at 11:30pm on weekdays and 2am on weekends.

There is plenty to see and do around San Pedro, however. The town is close to archaeological sites, bird life of the salt flats and Valle de la Luna, and lies within easy reach of the nearby Lagunas Altiplanicas and the El Tatio Geysers. Outdoor activities like mountain climbing and sandboarding are popular, or for a relaxing time the hot springs of Puritama are not far away.


San Pedro de Atacama is characterised by a desert-like climate and experiences extremely dry weather with little or no rainfall and weather averaging around 77°F - 86°F (25°C - 30°C) in the summer months from December to January. During the winter months from June to August, the temperature drops to 64°F - 77°F (18°C - 25°C) while average night-time temperatures in winter dropping to below zero and can even reach as low as 14°F (-10°C). Many visitors experience altitude sickness and travellers should take this into account.

The official language is Spanish.

The local currency is the Chilean Peso (CLP), which is divided into 100 centavos. Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club and to a lesser extent, American Express, are accepted in most large shops and hotels. Travellers cheques, particularly in US Dollars, are welcome in major towns, where there are banks and cambiosoffering currency exchange services. ATMs are widely available.

Mainland is GMT -4 (GMT -3 from October to March). Easter Island is GMT -6 (GMT -5 from October to March).

At an altitude of 13,760 feet (4,300m), El Tatio is one of the world's highest geyser fields. Best viewed at sunrise when there are changes in atmospheric pressure, the steaming fumaroles are spectacular, shooting up clouds of steam 35 feet (112m) into the air. Mineral deposits left behind after the evaporation of the boiling water have formed other interesting structures on the thin crust of the geyser field. It is also possible to bathe in the hot geyser water in a small pool, however parts of the field are very dangerous with only a thin crust over nearly boiling mud so it is always a good idea to visit the geysers with a knowledgeable guide.

Within the Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos is the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), a surreal landscape of salt peaks formed by uplifted lake sediments that have been shaped into dramatic formations by wind erosion. With a surreal blend of pastel colours the valley is even more enchanting at sunset. A striking feature of northern Chile's geography is the shimmering and apparently endless salt lakes that are home to many bird species. The Salar de Atacama in the reserve has a lagoon, Laguna Chaxa, which supports three species of flamingos as well as other bird life. The salt lake also affords good views of the volcanoes in the Andean chain of mountains on the near distant altiplano.

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