Sunday, 25 March 2018

San Pedro de Atacama and Moon Valley

Greetings! When I planned my itinerary to explore Chile, I intentionally chose an urban place (Santiago), oceanfront towns (Valparaiso and Vina del Mar), and a more remote destination (San Pedro de Atacama). I was looking forward to seeing some of the natural wonders in Chile, and experiencing the contrast between the destinations.

After taking a non-stop flight from Toronto to Santiago, I headed towards San Pedro de Atacama, 1,674 km (1,038 miles) North of Santiago.

How to get from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama, and to Moon Valley:
  • Direct flight from Santiago (SCL) to Calama (CJC) takes about two hours. Local SKY airline is less expensive than LAN/ TAM airline. My return flights were on schedule.
  • Shared van service from Calama to San Pedro Village, 100 km in distance, about one hour drive, return fares cost 20,000 CLP (US$35). Tickets can be booked online or at airport counter. I booked TransVIP service at Calama airport.
  • Moon Valley is 15 km (9 1/4 miles) from San Pedro Village and can be reached by bicycle or vehicle. The Moon Valley tour is offered daily. Upon arrival, I booked a half-day group tour with an English-speaking guide and transportation. The tour cost 14,500 CLP ($US25). Entry fee to the Moon Valley, which is in a National Reserve, costs an extra 3,000 CLP.
San Pedro de Atacama sights:
  • Licancabur volcano is visible everywhere you go in San Pedro de Atacama. Lican means people, cabur means mountain. 
  • San Pedro de Atacama houses or buildings are mainly made of adobe material. The roads in town are unpaved to retain their originality. 
  • San Pedro's 3-by-4 street centre is small with a casual vibe, plenty of small eateries, mini markets, and tour operators. 
  • Stray dogs are common. They look healthy and are friendly to passers by.
  • There is a street named after Gustavo Le Paige, a Belgian Jesuit priest, who was the first one collecting and searching for archaeological remains in the area. The museum named after him unfortunately has been closed with no scheduled re-opening date.

Licancabur Volcano

San Pedro de Atacama church

San Pedro Main Square

Local street towards Licancabur volcano

Gustavo Le Paige street

San Pedro local market

San Pedro cemetery

Souvenir shops in San Pedro

Moon Valley sights:
  • If you can only go on one tour from San Pedro de Atacama, I'd highly recommend the Moon Valley tour. The scenery is simply spectacular. 
  • We visited the Salt Cave, the Three Marias, The Amphitheatre, the Great Dune, and the Moon Valley itself. Imagine a vast moonscape that is so awesome that it silences everyone! 
  • The Moon Valley tour starts at 4 PM and lasts until sunset so we can see the colour changes as the sun goes down. We sat at the last stop in the Moon Valley to share snacks and fresh melon juice to celebrate a beautiful day's end in a beautiful place on Earth.
  • The Stargazing tour starts at 9 PM. It is very popular so book it in advance to avoid disappointment. If you like to do serious stargazing, this is THE place to do it. Astronomers come here to study. Imagine a deep dark sky with a vast net of millions of stars that no doubt leaves its viewers with a sense of wonder.

Salt Cave

Inside Salt Cave looking out

Three Marias

Moon Valley and Licancabur Volcano

The Amphitheatre/ Stadium, Moon Valley

The Great Dune, Moon Valley

Moon Valley
Moon Valley

Some travel tips:
  • If you're flying from Santiago to Calama, if possible, sit on the right side of the plane as the aerial view of mountain ranges, salt flats, and a vast desert is spectacular! 
  • At just over 2,400 m (8,000 ft.), the altitude in San Pedro de Atacama will slow you down at first. Give yourself time to acclimatize before going to higher altitude.
  • The Atacama desert is the driest desert in the world. Bring bottled water with you at all times. Sun protection is essential as UV Index is very high.
  • Even though there are ATMs in San Pedro de Atacama, bring enough cash with you before you arrive. Many local businesses accept cash only, and in high season, the ATMs might run out of cash.
Tours in and around San Pedro de Atacama:
  • I took two free walking tours in San Pedro de Atacama with Tours4tips. The walking tours run daily, at 10 AM, and at 3 PM, from Plaza de Armas. The first tour had six participants. The second tour had only two participants. Both tours were very good. I was told that March and April are the good time to visit as the weather is good and the tourist crowd is gone.
  • There are numerous tour operators and travel agencies in San Pedro de Atacama to book guided tours. I booked mine from the Hostal where I was staying. 
  • Most of the guided tours are full day as the sights are farther away from San Pedro de Atacama. Book the one with higher altitude last to give yourself time to acclimatize.
It was an amazing adventure. The images of Licancabur volcano, San Pedro Village, and Moon Valley are now etched in my memory. Next, I flew back to Santiago to explore the capital of Chile!

34 comments:

  1. Wow, I'd not heard of a lot of these places, your photos are lovely, I'll have to put them on my bucket list while I'm out here :)

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    1. There are many wonders in the world to explore for sure. Thanks, Katherine, for your comment.

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  2. So much to see and do! Great photos and tips.

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    1. Thank you, Ness, for your kind words. Much appreciated!

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  3. Stunning photos and great travel tips, Natalie. It looks like it was a wonderful trip!

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    1. Thank you, Donna, for your kind words. I greatly appreciate it!

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  4. Beautiful photos, Natalie, and I like your combination of destinations within Chile. A little bit of everything.
    You mentioned that San Pedro's roads are unpaved to retain their originality. Does this mean that the place deliberately markets itself as a tourist destination? Otherwise, there wouldn't be the concern about originality would there?

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    1. Thanks, Karen, for your kind words. According to the local tour guide, San Pedro people actually try to preserve their way of life before tourism grows in their village. Laws are in place to prohibit alcohol consumption or dance parties in most food establishments and by certain hours. House doors are painted white or blue, etc. Tourism has improved some infrastructure for the village such as street lights at night but has also brought in social and cultural challenges.

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  5. Love your travels Natalie and Moon Valley looks spectacular. Can't wait to see where you are off to next! Have a great week! x

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    1. Thank you, Sue, for your kind words. I really appreciate it. You have a great week, too!

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    2. Thanks for linking up at #MLSTL, Natalie, I've shared on social media. Enjoy the rest of your week xx

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    3. Thank you, Sue, for hosting and sharing. Have a fabulous week!

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  6. I just kept saying "wow" as I read your words AND saw the photos. Gosh our world is amazing!
    Thank you for linking up for #lifethisweek 13/52. Next week's optional prompt is "Food I dislike". Do Join in! Denyse x

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    1. Our world is amazing for sure. Thanks, Denyse, for hosting and stopping by.

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  7. Looks as if you had an awesome trip. Moon Valley so remote and spectacular - other worldly in many respects. I've been to Valparaiso - what an interesting and colourful city!

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    1. You're right, Jo, about Moon Valley being so remote and spectacular. Thank you for stopping by.

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  8. What a beautiful place. It looks like a wonderful trip. Thanks for sharing. #MLSTL

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    1. Thanks, Patrick, for your kind words. I really appreciate it!

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  9. What an amazing journey and place to visit. Love the diverse landscape. Thanks for linking up x

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    1. Thanks, Alicia, for hosting, and for your kind words. Much appreciated!

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  10. What an interesting place! So many contrasts - and so clean (which is always a bonus!) It sounds like you had a fantastic trip.
    Thanks for linking up with us at #MLSTL and I've shared this on my SM xx

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    1. I certainly experienced the contrast I was planning for my trip to Chile. Thanks, Leanne, for hosting and sharing.

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  11. Wonderful pictures. This sounds so exciting I haven't heard of most of the places you visited.

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    1. Thanks, Victoria, for your kind comment. San Pedro and the sights in the Atacama Desert are less well known than Patagonia or Easter Island in Chile. I think they will become just as popular as the other destinations in the near future.

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  12. It looks like you had a great trip. I love your photos. My brother spent two years in the Santiago area shortly after he graduated from high school. He loved the people he met there.

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    1. Thank you, Christie, for your comment. I had positive interactions with the local residents in Chile. Your brother's experience in Chile sounds wonderful.

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  13. The photos are fabulous and so are the travel tips. I've shared your post on my social media. Visiting form Midlife share the love.

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    1. Thank you, Kalpanaa, for your kind words. I really appreciate it! The unique scenery and perfect weather in the desert make it easy to get nice pictures.

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  14. What an amazing adventure, Natalie! I have a feeling this trip in the desolate, but spectacular desert will be my most favorite of your whole vacation. :-) Seeing the snow-capped volcanoes remind me of some places in Costa Rica and Guatemala. Keep the stories, info and photos coming! Chili is on our list of RV destinations. :-)

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    1. The Atacama desert is definitely unique with lots to see and admire, Liesbet. It is remote and vast. With a RV, you'll be able to stock up on fresh water, get to the sights, and stay longer. Thank you for stopping by.

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  15. That Licancabur Volcano is magnificent, especially when viewed from Moon Valley.

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    1. Totally agreed, Lisa! The snow on top of the volcano made it look perfect and so striking. Thank you for stopping by.

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  16. My brother suggested I might like this blog. He was entirely right.

    This post truly made my day. You can not imagine just how much time I had spent for this info!

    Thanks!

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    1. Glad my post helped. Thank you for your feedback.

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