Riding into Chile in a bus from my tour from Salar de Uyuni was such a treat. I couldn’t stop smiling thinking to myself how I had unexpectedly made my way to Chile. To Chile!
During the whole bumpy and AC-blasting bus ride in I couldn’t stop pressing my face against the window in admiration of the sky and all its cloud formations.
Here’s a little funny tidbit though.
So, the first thing that happens once you get into San Pedro is that you are taken to the immigration station. Apart from reviewing paperwork and all that fun stuff your bags are also scanned. Coming out of Uyuni and having traveled for some time I was not the most organized person at this time. My 80-liter pack was overflowing with clothes, bananas and toys (from the salt flats), which gave it a very unique shape (some serious sugar coating is going on right now, by the way). The immigration officers cast a curious eye on my bag while I thrusted it onto the band. Coming out of the x-ray machine the officers stared at me and starting laughing. “Oh, they must’ve found Oscar (my pet dinosaur) among that mess” I realized. It’s nice how Oscar has a tendency to brighten anyone’s day. It’s one of those great qualities he has that makes him quite the catch.
Getting into San Pedro you will notice what a small and quaint city it is. I immediately (along with some travel buddies) take into Hostal Tatai’s which was the cheapest one I could find. WIFI and kitchen included of course.
Surrounded by canyons left and right, San Pedro has some amazing miradores (lookout points). After checking out the tourist information in the main square I set out to rent a bike to hit up a few spots. Mind you, there are heaps of tourist attraction offices offering tours to many viewpoints. Check the map first, if they’re within biking distance you’re better off doing them on your own. It will save you both time and pesos.
Below is a map of the town’s miradores all accessible by bike. I managed to squeeze in four of them in two days. Keep on reading to see how…
Day 1: Pukará de Quitor
Cost: 1,500 CLP (with student ID)
This baby is only about 30 minutes outside the city by bike. On the way up to the lookout point you’ll be able to see some ruins (I’m always a fan). It’s a steep but easy walk up (around 20 minutes) and there are not many people there. Once you get to the top there is a religious statue, a grill (not for use) and a table to eat. The top offers a 360-degree view of canyon lands and desert and is absolutely stunning.
Make sure to get there well before sunset as that is when it closes, the actual trail to the mirador closes even an hour earlier. Oh, and if you have a student ID make sure to bring it for a discount!
Day 1: Valle de la Muerte
Cost: 1,500 CLP
Tip: if you’re cheap but have some strong hamstrings, enter through the north part and bike your way down, that way you won’t have to pass the one and only check-in point.
This valley, though not-so-fun to bike through is a great place for sand-boarding. For some reason I didn’t end up doing that (I really can’t remember why actually, doesn’t sounds like me…)
Anyway, after forcing the bike through the deep deep sand (it takes a good while) you reach another lookout point. Luckily here you’re able to bask in the glory of the shade coming from a little (emphasis on little) house set up on top. It gives you a great view of the dunes surrounding San Pedro.
Day 1: Valle de La Luna
Cost: 1,700 CLP
One of the main tours people try to push on tourists is for Valle de la Luna. My tip? Don’t. Just don’t. It’s only a bike ride away. So after you realize that DIY is the only way to go, bring your pack with water, some snacks and a headlight for the ride back and make sure to get there well before sunset. Once you get to the entrance of the park it’s another couple of kilometers to the actual mirador. My travel buddy and I were lucky to get a ride from a sweet German couple otherwise we would not have made it. Oh, but how happy was I that we made it! That was one magnificent sunset. The light formed halos around the mountain tops and for some reason it felt as thought the sun set quicker than usual.
Day 2: Katarpe/ Gargante Del Diablo
Cost: no idea
So this is a tricky one to write about. Why? Because I never found it. Instead, I decided to get lost in the desert for three hours biking around aimlessly. When the fourth hour started to creep in and we realized that the one apple and half a liter of water left in our packs would not sustain two hungry and tired wanderers overnight, we decided to shoot for the highway once we heard a car. And success! Made it back. Alive. So even though I didn’t make it to the actual mirador (I strongly encourage you to bring a well-designed map as no trails are marked), I still managed to get some nice shots!
The download on San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro is a small town, sure, but even in small towns you may need a tip or two on how to best get a round etc. :
- Get around using bike. This is the easiest and cheapest way to check out any spots close to town. Just make sure to bring a lot of water and sunscreen.
- Couch surf. This is a laidback and slow town and people are very approachable. I was lucky to stay with Juan Pablo, who lived close to the center. I was amazed to find a good friend in him so quickly. We would sit up until the wee hours of the night talking about life, death, art and all things in between.
- Cook, cook, cook. Coming in from Bolivia, you will be amazed at how much prizes surge when you enter Chile. Your best bet is to cook and the fruit and vegetable market by the parking lot is your new BFF (closes at noon).
“Cool story, bro. But how much did it cost?”
Bike rental: 3,000 CLP per half day
Hostal 1 night: 7,000 CLP
Lodging: I couch surfed the rest of my time here
Food and snacks for two people (4 meals for the two days): 7,000 CLP
Valle de la Muerte: 1,500 CLP
Valle de La Luna: around 1,700 CLP (prices vary depending on the time of day you go- sunset is more expensive)
Pukará de Quitor: 1,500 CLP with student ID
Total: 24,700 CLP