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.
- 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.
|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.
|Inside Salt Cave looking out|
|Moon Valley and Licancabur Volcano|
|The Amphitheatre/ Stadium, Moon Valley|
|The Great Dune, 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.
- 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.