We only had 24 hours in San Pedro De Atacama, as the tiny desert town was just a short stop off on our way from Salta, Argentina to the Bolivian salt flats. Turns out that it was one of the busiest – and best – days of our trip and that San Pedro is absolutely packed with amazing things to do. We’ve been meaning to write about it for ages but have only just got round to it, so here goes!
The town of San Pedro has an awesome vibe, nestled into the Chilean desert just across the border from Argentina, it’s full of single storey white painted homes, shops and restaurants. I’d estimate that at least 78% of its residents are artsy, hippy types and it lends the whole place a relaxed and fun atmosphere. If you want to imagine something similar think Byron Bay on a tiny scale or perhaps the desert version of Ilha Grande in Brazil. If you’re not into touristy places then it’s probably not for you, but if you don’t mind being around plenty of fellow travellers while you explore some of the most stunning and unique landscapes in South America then you’ll probably have a pretty awesome time.
Luckily because the area is fairly small and the tourist hot spots very accessible, there’s a lot you can do with 24 hours in San Pedro De Atacama. We chose to head to the desert for some sandboarding before taking a sunset tour of the Valley of the Moon, and finally spending a couple of hours stargazing. Sadly a full moon prevented our stargazing expedition but we’ve still included the details if you want to have a go on your trip. Just remember that if you visit during a full moon these tours won’t be running – we had no idea this was the case until we arrived!
I must also mention that our 24 hours in San Pedro De Atacama was where I had the best spaghetti bolognese I’ve ever eaten. Not the best in South America, or even the best whole travelling, just the all time best one ever. If you want to try it out for yourself I’m afraid you’ll have to search the main road as I have no recollection of what it was called or what it looked like. Rubbish blogger, I’m sorry.
First up, we headed for our sandboarding lesson, which was to take place at the ominously named Valley of Death, just a couple of km outside San Pedro. You can expect to pay around £20 for a 3 hour sandboarding lesson, which isn’t cheap but well worth it. We drove in our jeeps up to the bottom of a frankly enormous sand dune and got strapped into our kit, waxed up our sand boards and were ready to go. This meant walking up the enormous dune in the crazy footwear we’d been given, with our heavy and unwieldy sandboards in hand. I’ll be honest, we were all questioning whether it was worth the effort as we reached the top, dripping in sweat and frankly exhausted.
Luckily it was easy to get your head around the basic principles and boarding down the sand dunes, half standing half falling, was hilariously good fun. Even the 20 minute walk back up to the top of the dune was pretty enjoyable if you focused on how many calories you were burning as well as how much fun it was going to be to make your way back down. And that was pretty much it – 3 hours of walking up the dune and sailing back down on our boards! Way better than some of the sandboarding we did later in our trip (in Huacachina, Perú) and one of the highlights of our 24 hours in San Pedro De Atacama.
After relaxing and recovering back at the hostel for a couple of hours it was time for our tour of the Valley of the Moon. Named for its weirdly otherworldly landscapes, this area is famous for its many caverns, rock and sand formations and for being one of the driest places on Earth. There are lots of tours of the valley running daily, which cost around £18 and include a tour of some of the most impressive caverns as well as a short hike across a sand dune with some incredible views. You’ll then pick the perfect spot to take in sunset across the Atacama desert and can enjoy a few beers if you’re organised enough to bring them along with you.
When it comes to stargazing, if you do have the chance to do this as part of your 24 hours in San Pedro De Atacama you’ll be able to enjoy one of the clearest night skies in the world. Stargazing trips run several times a night and cost £20+ per person for around 2 hours guided stargazing. Using strong telescopes you’ll be able to pick out stars, constellations and even galaxies, for a truly amazing night sky experience.
These are just some of the reasons to take in San Pedro De Atacama on your adventures in South America. Even if you only have a day to spend there you’ll be blown away by some of the most striking and beautiful landscapes in the world. A well organised tourist infrastructure means there’s a huge amount of choice when it comes to tours and activities and there’s something for everyone whether you’re an adrenaline seeker or are looking for something more laid back.