San Pedro de Atacama is a small village located in the middle of a 6000 foot tall Plateau in the North of Chile, very close to the Bolivian border. The Atacama region is the driest place on Earth and its natural wonders are countless. No matter if you are in the Altiplano Lagoons or the Salt Flats, it is easy to think that you are not on Planet Earth.
At Keteka we connect you with the best activities and tours in San Pedro de Atacama run by local guides and operators. Scroll down to see them all.
The Village of San Pedro de Atacama has undergone a profound change in the past 20 years. From being a fertile oasis in the driest desert on earth to becoming a world class tourism destination for both Chileans and foreigners. This has transformed San Pedro de Atacama from being the quiet ancient Andean Settlement it used to be, to the service-oriented village it is nowadays.
Located in the confluences of the rivers San Pedro and Vilama, at an altitude of 7972 feet, the oasis has very fertile land, surrounded by the driest desert on Earth. With these special characteristics, it is understandable that humans have settled here for thousands of years. The earliest evidence of permanent human life in San Pedro de Atacama is reported in the north-eastern area of the oasis, in Puripica around 2000 BC. From this point on, the human settlements are continuous. From 1000 BC to 400 AC, several settlements were set in the oasis and adjoining areas. During this period these settlers substantially change their way of life and go from being nomads to start Camelid grazing and also the collection of Algarrobo (Ceratonia siliqua) and minor agriculture that led to growing human interaction and exchanging activities.
These pioneer settlers were always in contact with foreigners, specifically with smaller societies from what today is the northwest of Argentina, and also with more advanced societies like the Tiwanaku People in Bolivia. These relationships were as equals, not as colonialists. Right after the fall of the ‘Tiwanaku civilization’, the number of settlers decreased due to the violent invasion of several foreigner groups.
During the XIII century, the Inca Empire started its expansion, taking over not only the San Pedro de Atacama Oasis, but also hundreds of kilometers down south. Even though the Inca’s imperialism wasn’t violent, their interaction with the ‘Atacameños’ (the local people from San Pedro de Atacama) was in an imperialistic way; they built paths with ‘mandatory stops’ and they occupied a settlement north of the oasis and turned it in an administrative district. The Incan occupation was short, because a few years after, the Spanish conquerors arrived and took over the village and the surrounding area. The Spanish weren’t especially interested in Chile, since copper and lithium weren’t valued resources at the time, instead, they were highly interested in Peruvian Gold, so Chile was a strategic settlement to protect this gold from pirates that sailed the southern waters of Chile. In San Pedro de Atacama and other villages of the area, like Toconao, the Spanish Colonialism influence is very palpable. For example, you can see the typical ‘Plaza de Armas’ and the white colonial buildings around it.
Nowadays San Pedro de Atacama is a melting pot of all these different cultures, and you can see that in the architecture, the local gastronomy, and the crafts in the little markets. In San Pedro de Atacama, there is a big Bolivian immigrant population, so their Quechua culture is also very present. At Keteka we offer an array of Tours San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni, check them out here.
San Pedro de Atacama is now the base camp that travelers from all over the globe use to visit this beautiful area wonders; Snowcapped Volcanoes in the desert, the Andean High Plateau, Salt Flats, the Death Valley, Geysers.
In terms of lodging or accommodation there is a wide variety to choose from.
There are a lot of hostels and B&B in San Pedro. We recommend to stay closer to the Caracoles street since most restaurants are there and the activities that don’t pick you up usually depart from downtown locations. However, if you want a nicer option, further from ‘caracoles street’ it’s not an issue at all, San Pedro de Atacama is a very quiet town and you can walk even at night without having any problem. You just have to watch out for the street dogs, they are not dangerous, but they can follow you all over until they find another person or group to follow. Just a piece of advice: don’t feed them.
Many members of the Keteka team have traveled to San Pedro a number of times and stayed at different hotels and hostels in the area. Check out our list of recommendations for San Pedro lodging.
The best moment to Tour San Pedro de Atacama based on our experience is from March to October, since it is less busy, and it’s not going to rain (It only rains 5 days a year, most of them in February) allowing you to do all the activities. When it rains, even if the rain is short, lots of activities are canceled due to floating and mud slides.
Austral Autumn (End of March to mid May) and Summer (October to March) are ideal if you want to check out, and float in the waters of the Cejar Lagoon. In winter the lagoon is too cold to experience it.
We highly recommend to check out the moon calendar in order to be able to stargaze and be able to take an astronomic tour. When the moon is full these kind of tours are not available and stargazing is complicated due to the moonlight.
The most iconic meal from the ‘Atacameños’ culture is the ‘Pataska’, a spicy stew made of corn, chilli peppers, jerky beef, potatoes, cow intestines, sliced lamb and several spices. However, it isn’t easy to find in the restaurants in San Pedro, where they do offer other typical stews, adapted to the tourists tastes.
Caracoles street is the heart of the life in San Pedro,there are lots of touristy restaurants and little ‘tiendas’ where you can buy ’empanadas’ to go. They are always a good option if you are in a hurry.
At night we recommend ‘Barros’, a local restaurant out of Caracoles touristy hustle, they have sandwiches, pizzas, quesadillas, Chilean traditional Chorrillanas, etc. They usually have live music. Be aware that it starts getting crowded around 9pm, and you may have to wait in line up at the door for more than an hour to get in.
Another local tip for the lunch time is the ‘picadas’ you will find next to the soccer field, very close to the bus station. The Picadas are small, local restaurants where you can eat good amounts of local food for 5 or 6 bucks. You will notice that one has more people eating and that it has a ‘Fanta’ flag on the roof–it is by far the best.
What you can do will depend on the time you will spend in San Pedro. If you are wondering how long should you stay, 5-6 days are enough to see everything around San Pedro. If you also want to go to Uyuni in Bolivia you will have to plan 9-10 days minimum.
As we already mentioned, the main attractions in San Pedro de Atacama are:
Information Sources we used in addition to our own experience: Universidad Católica Library and Scientific Electronic Library Online Chile