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- 20 Apr 2021, 3 nights
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The oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama is located more than 1,600km from the Chilean capital of Santiago, in the driest desert in the world. While it's home to just 2,500 inhabitants, it's one of the most popular destinations in Chile. Many travellers use it as a launchpad to explore the surrounding sandstone valleys, salt flats, boiling geysers, and lagoons dotted with bright pink flamingos. The snow-capped volcanic mountains in the distance only add to the allure of this mystical landscape.
Staying comfortable in the desert means finding a place that's cool during the day and cosy at night. Try a San Pedro de Atacama hostel that has outdoor hammocks for lazy sun-drenched afternoons, as well as a cave area for when you need to escape the heat. Some San Pedro de Atacama hostels have ping pong tables for friendly tournaments, while others organise nightly bonfires or barbecue nights, where you can share stories with fellow travellers. Enjoy refreshing cocktails at an on-site bar, or whip up your own dishes in a communal kitchen.
The centre of San Pedro de Atacama is compact, with a few unpaved streets lined with traditional white-painted adobe houses. Here, a handful of restaurants and shops cater to visitors. Shaded by tamarugo and carob trees, and filled with street musicians, the bustling Plaza de Armas is ideal for people-watching. If you fancy a day trip, it's worth heading to the village of Toconao, which lies 38km south of San Pedro de Atacama, for a taste of rural life.
A short distance from the centre of San Pedro de Atacama are Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna) and Mars Valley (Valle de Marte). Both are among the best places in Chile for trekking, mountain biking and sandboarding, or even a romantic evening under the stars. About 90 minutes from San Pedro de Atacama lies El Tatio, a spectacular geyser field 4,200m above sea level. Nature lovers will want to visit Los Flamencos National Reserve, which is filled with native flora and fauna including chinchillas, grey foxes and hawks.
San Pedro de Atacama is easy to navigate on foot thanks to its small size, although you can also hire a bike to explore the town centre and its surrounds. To reach San Pedro de Atacama from Santiago by bus or plane, visitors need to go via the city of Calama. From there, the bus journey takes around 90 minutes. Buses arrive at the local terminal, which is located about a kilometre south-east of the Plaza.
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