San Pedro de Atacama, or San Pedro for short, is a desert town. What pulled us to this remote place was their legendary observatory, starry nights and the valley of the moon. In the end we only admired the free starry nights and skipped the other two.
The observatory is one of the best on this planet, but we can’t go in because the governmentally run building doesn’t allow regular peasants like us. For those who don’t know, my travel partner is mesmerized by stars and was stoked at the potential of visiting such a prestige observatory. We did contemplate about trespassing and sneaking our way into the place, but we were just at the beginning of Chile and didn’t want to be exiled from the country just yet. Some agencies do offer tours with standard telescopes, but we decided to glance and the stars for free. Very spectacular view of the milky way with the naked eye.
The other site that pulled us there, which I’ve already mentioned, was the valley of the moon. The area surface, similar to the moon but multicolor, might be the destination for a person who wants to larp (live action roleplay) a space sci-fi episode. The $50 tour price scared us away. We didn’t think the valley would be worth that judging from the pictures they had displayed. But we did discover another tour. A salt lake! This was particularly awesome since we wanted to see the renown salt lake in Bolivia, but the $240 visa fee for Americans was too much for my wallet. (This is one of the times I wish I would have taken my Swiss passport with me.)
The salt lake (laguna) tour had three stops. Two of which had an additional entry fee. At the agency we tried to see if we could skip the first stop. At no prevail. Yes, Laguna Cejar would be cool, but not at the additional entry fee price, we reckoned. We could have even swum in the lakes, which is why the guide suggested to wear a bathing suit, but he should have said to wear 10 layers instead because the temperature was freezing out there! I wouldn’t have been surprised if the other tourists would have returned to the van with icicles on their noses. Lucky us, because of the windy, sand-in-your-face weather the park entry lady said that tourists didn’t have to pay the entry fee as long as we did not exit the bus. For those who paid, no refund. This allowed us to get a glimpse of the water and not having to pay. Just what we wanted to do originally.
The second halt was at an oasis, Ojos del Salar. The guess is that humans made a small hole to access the water, but over time hole expanded to what it is today (see picture). Interesting story, but our final stop is what I was waiting for: Laguna Tebinquiche. This bigger body of water had a walkway around a good stretch of the lake. The land was compromised of clumps of crunchy dirt that has bonded with the salt over time. The lake had salt clots nearby the shore which looked like ice. Due to the wind the water was wavy and the background mountain didn’t reflect in the lake, but the view was still marvelous. Glad I went.
A recommendation for this town is to wear sunglasses and a bandana/face shield. The desert town had stronger winds during our visit, which meant that we got to taste plenty of sand. This made the trip little more annoying, but if you have cover, the sand shouldn’t bother you as much. Also, bus tickets are pricier than in Ecuador or Peru. So you might want to contemplate if you want to take bus out this far for the tours they have to offer. Agencies do ask for more money in comparison as well. Bellow I uploaded a standard price listing we got from an agency for various tours in the area (which might not include the entry fees, like our salt lake tour). The prices are in Chilean pesos. We cross reverenced these prices with other agencies and they seemed similar. Keep in mind that prices can change over time. The final price is written in the right column, we talked ours down a little, but that might only be possible during low season. Sorry for all the red scribbles by agency while explaining the tours. If you have questions, write me in the comment sections!
Cost breakdown of San Pedro in USD:
- Hostel: $11.64 (1 night)
- Transportation: $28.68 (initial transportation to the city)
- Food: $4.66
- $3.20 meals
- $1.46 groceries
- Activity: $24.75 (Laguna Salt Lake)
Daily Average Cost: $34.87