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Located in the middle of the Atacama desert and a two-hour bus ride from the nearest city of Calama, San Pedro is, as you would expect, full of dust and sand. There are also a lot of dogs. Like, a lot. They roam the streets and they hunt for food in the bins, but I could never quite tell if they were stray or domestic. It’s really weird because the majority of them are quality breeds – Labradors, German shepherds and golden retrievers were plentiful – and seem well groomed and well fed. I started to think that maybe they were all domestic, and because it’s such a small town could easily find their way home at the end of a hard day’s annoying tourists, just like a homing pigeon. But then I asked a shopkeeper and he said most are stray. And so the confusion began again.
Due to the overwhelming number of dogs, on my second morning there I made what I thought at the time was an original joke – that the town should be renamed San Perro de Atacama (perro meaning dog in Spanish). I won’t lie, I cracked myself up. I began to consider a career in stand-up… then I heard the joke repeated at least once a day and my dreams of being the next Ellen DeGeneres were shattered.
Anyway, the main part of the town is basically nothing but one big (okay, small) tourist hub. You can’t take a step in any direction without being asked if you’re looking for tour information or accommodation or a restaurant or money exchange – as is with most tourist-oriented South American towns and cities really. The restaurants are, as expected, over-priced by local standards but still relatively fair in the eyes of a Westerner. Hostels in the main part of town are definitely over-priced for what they are! Extremely basic and normally super cold at night because all the rooms lead out into the courtyard, due to the fact that you are quite literally in the middle of a desert they can get away with charging whatever they like. There are some cheaper options in the other part of San Pedro – but trust me when I say a 30 minute walk in the blistering heat with all your bags will make you wish you’d paid the extra $5 to stay closer to town!
For such a tiny town, San Pedro de Atacama undoubtedly has so much to offer. But none of it in the town itself. The only real points of interest in the town itself where the church and a museum, which was indefinitely closed, apparently due to a dispute between the government and the university who had a say in the museum.
You don’t come here just to relax or to enjoy the scenery (although the landscape is incredible), but for the wealth of tours they have on offer, or maybe even as a starting point to head over the border to Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. Four days is more than enough to stay in town – in fact I’d even say a jam-packed three days would be enough to see and do everything on offer!