I absolutely LOVED San Pedro de Atacama. It’s a small town in the north of Chile, not far from the Bolivian and Argentinian borders. It’s your gateway to the Atacama desert and the Bolivian Altiplano and you could happily while away a week or two here, soaking up the towns abundant charm and exploring the local dramatic scenery by hiking, 4WD, cycling or even horseback! There are so many things to do in San Pedro de Atacama. Read on to find out more!
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What you can expect from this article...
- 1 Prefer to travel with a group? If so, I highly recommend G Adventures having travelled with them extensively. Check out one of their best Chile Itineraries HERE
- 2 A few facts about San Pedro De Atacama, Chile
- 3 Where to eat in San Pedro De Atacama
- 4 Where to Stay in San Pedro De Atacama
- 5 Things to do in San Pedro De Atacama
- 6 How to get to San Pedro De Atacama
- 7 When is the best time to Visit San Pedro De Atacama
- 8 What To Pack for a Trip to The Atacama Desert
- 9 More Useful Resources and Links for Planning your South American Trip
- 10 Further Reading
Prefer to travel with a group? If so, I highly recommend G Adventures having travelled with them extensively. Check out one of their best Chile Itineraries HERE
A few facts about San Pedro De Atacama, Chile
San Pedro de Atacama population: 5000
San Pedro De Atacama Altitude: 2100 metres
Language spoken in Chile: Spanish
Currency in Chile : Argentinian peso (£4.30 = 100 peso)
Visa requirements for Chile: There are no visa requirements for most countries. Australians need to pay a reciprocity fee of $117 if entering via Santiago airport. The Chinese have to get a visa which is free.
Where to eat in San Pedro De Atacama
San Pedro is not cheap so if you are on a budget you will need to look around and find the best deals – they are there to find. You will, however, find an abundance of great restaurants in San Pedro De Atacama covering cuisines from all over the world. Eating out is definitely one of my favourite things to do in San Pedro de Atacama! If you have space after your main course, I recommend stopping at one of the numerous ice cream shops! Here are a few of my favourite restaurants:
The Burger Garden, San Pedro
– Best for hanging out with locals
Basically, just a no-frills burger bar found on a side street in a little courtyard lit up with fairy lights. There are a few long tables to sit around and a great sociable atmosphere. Frequented by lots of locals it’s a great place to get to know some of the people who know San Pedro best! The burgers are also delicious and a decent price – around 6000 pesos (£7-8.)
Laestaka, San Pedro
- Best for fine dining
Not the cheapest of places but the food is delicious, the staff helpful and friendly and the atmosphere is great. The food is also well presented – the chicken curry came inside a coconut! Dinner will set you back about 12-14000 pesos. I’d recommend the Carne pasta – like a lasagne but with shredded beef instead of Bolognaise. The chicken in a mustard cream sauce was also a hit.
Cafe Peregrino in San Pedro
- Best for people watching
Found in the main square and with tables outside to sit and people watch and soak up the sunshine, this was a great find. The food was delicious, portion sizes VERY generous and they also make amazing cakes – I recommend the chocolate cake! The fruit juices are also huge and absolutely delicious – I had strawberry and banana and it was so good! We ate quesadillas with some yummy homemade guacamole which cost about 5000 pesos. They will also do takeaway if you wish.
Cafe Esquina in San Pedro
- Best for takeaway
Here you can get absolutely huge and really tasty empanadas to take away. This will keep you full for most of the day and only costs 3800 pesos!
Where to Stay in San Pedro De Atacama
There is a huge choice of hostels, campsites and hotels in San Pedro De Atacama as it’s such a popular place to visit. I usually use booking.com as it allows you to search based on requirements e.g below a certain price or only with a swimming pool or wifi.
The place I stayed at I can highly recommend. Camp Campestre is primarily a campsite but there are also some dormitory rooms if you prefer a bed! There’s a kitchen to cook in, a nice area to hang out in outside including a hammock and chair swing and they are in the process of building a swimming pool. More importantly, the showers are hot, the toilets are clean and there is wifi (sometimes.) It’s a 2-minute stroll into town but it can get dark at night so take a torch with you when you go out for dinner!
Things to do in San Pedro De Atacama
There are so many things to do in San Pedro De Atacama that you will be spoilt for choice. Here are a few options!
- People watch in the main square. There are several cafes dotted about the square where you can enjoy a coffee and some people watching. There are so many things to do in San Pedro De Atacama, make sure you don’t forget just to enjoy soaking up the atmosphere!
- Do some shopping. You will find everything from souvenir markets selling all things alpaca to high-end jewellery in boutique shops. Prices are a little more expensive in San Pedro so bring plenty of Chilean pesos!
- Enjoy the nightlife in San Pedro De Atacama. San Pedro is bustling at night, especially for such a small town! But you will find everything from traditional Chilean pubs selling nowt but beer to swanky bars for Pisco Sours.
- Arrange a day trip to Moon Valley in the Atacama desert. This is probably the most popular thing to do in San Pedro de Atacama so definitely don’t miss a trip to Moon Valley. Marvel at the rock formations (see if you can spot the witch and the dinosaur.) Climb to the top of a sand dune for amazing 360-degree views of huge rock formations and salt planes which looks like a snowy winter wonderland! Then find a rocky cliff to sit on to watch the sun go down. Don’t forget a jumper – it’s super hot in the day but the temperature drops quickly in the desert!
- Organise a 4WD trip across the border to the Bolivean altiplano. Here you will find incredible views of snow-capped mountains, colourful lakes, spouting geysers and bubbling pools of sulphur. You can even stop for a soak at some natural hot springs overlooking a beautiful lagoon. Keep your eyes peeled for flamingoes, llamas and vicuna! The short journey back over the border is also pretty spectacular!
- Organise a star watching trip in San Pedro but be warned, they don’t run for about a week around the full moon (sadly when I was there!) But apparently it’s one of the best places in the world to stargaze. And even with a full moon, they looked pretty incredible from San Pedro.
- Relax at the Puritama Hot Springs after a beautiful trip through the Andes Mountains and visit Puritama Gorge!
- There are countless other things to do near San Pedro de Atacama and more places to visit with lagoons, rainbow valley, other rock formations, geysers and hot springs. You can arrange to cycle, hike or horseback ride to see the sights. Sadly it was a flying visit for me so I didn’t get to sample all the things to do in San Pedro De Atacama, but I hope I’ll be able to go back soon.
How to get to San Pedro De Atacama
We arrived by truck from Bolivia on my dragoman tour. However, there are various ways to get to San Pedro de Atacama. The closest airport is Calama and there are fairly regular flights from Santiago. Bus companies such as BusBud supply San Pedro or you could hop on a group trip like I did.
When is the best time to Visit San Pedro De Atacama
The busiest month is January and April so avoid these months if you want to avoid the crowds!
If you like it hot, visit in the summer between December to February where it will be hot and dry with temperatures rarely dropping below 25 degrees Celsius. Be warned in December, it can get very windy.
For moderate, dry weather, your best bet is to visit between March and May.
Remember even in the Summer, whilst it may be extremely hot in the day, the temperature can drop considerably at night so make sure you pack some warm layers.
What To Pack for a Trip to The Atacama Desert
The most important thing is that you pack lots of layers as it can vary between boiling hot and utterly freezing in just a few hours.
You will want to have some sturdy walking boots as the desert can be tough underfoot at times. Choose boots with high ankles so that they don’t get filled with sand when you go hiking up sand dunes! I’m a huge fan of Salomon boots. The sizing is accurate and they have in-built orthotics to keep your footsies comfy all day! These ones are my trusty favourites.
A scarf with a hidden pocket is must have for your Atacama desert packing list. The pocket is a great way of securely carrying your valuables without attracting attention and it will help to keep you warm when it gets cold at night. I love this one.
Make sure you bring a headtorch with you as street lighting isn’t the best in San Pedro! I’d have been lost (literally) without mine!
But most importantly with all this stunning scenery in the Atacama Desert and the possibility of doing some star gazing, you will want to have a bloody good camera! Currently, I am using my trusty Nikon D5500 (all my photos in this article are taken with this camera) but I am totally lusting after the Sony A6500 as its lightweight and takes beautiful photos!
Perhaps even more important than your camera is your lens. Especially for photographing stars in the Atacama desert. You’ll want a wide angle lens to fit in lots of scenery, with a wide aperture (or a low F Number) to help it out in low light. Here are some great affordable lens options all under $300:
Another must-have photography essential for the Atacama desert is a tripod. It doesn’t have to be a fancy one (unless you’re travelling in October-December when it can be windy.) Usually, though, a Gorillapod will suffice. The best thing about the Gorillapod is that it is are small, lightweight and can be wrapped around fences, trees etc as well!
I would also advise that you use a polariser filter to make sure you cut the glare from the sky and the salt in the Atacama desert. This cheap device will make the difference between an okay photo and an Instagram-worthy photo!
San Pedro is definitely a place I’d like to go back to see more of! Have you been before? Maybe you got the chance to stargaze? I’d love to hear about your experiences!
More Useful Resources and Links for Planning your South American Trip
- G Adventure Tours in South America (my personal favourite tour company.)
- Intrepid Tours in South America another great tour company I’ve sued many times.
- Dragoman overland tour. (cheaper option for tours as long as you don’t mind camping.)
- Other South America Tours
- Bamba Experience – a hop on hop off trip. A cheaper option for the budget conscious.
- Skyscanner – a great tool for booking your flights to and from and within South America.
- Day Tours in South America and other day tours
- Accommodation via Booking.com or Airbnb
- Useful tips for travel in South America
- South America packing list
- G Adventures Peru review
- G Adventures Galapagos review
- Iguazu Falls Guide
- The Lares Trek, Peru.
- Lake Titicaca, Peru
- Estancia Los Potreros – Argentinian Ranch horseriding holiday.