Hello everyone! I’m a little sunburned and I have a cold but I had a blast in the desert! We spent four days in the Atacama desert in the north of Chile, only about three hours from the Bolivian border. It is the world’s driest desert, with some parts only receiving an average of about 4 inches of rain EVERY THOUSAND YEARS. Wow.
We did tons of awesome stuff in Atacama, so I’m going to have to split it up into several posts and I have tons of bacán (awesome) pictures. Good things come to those who wait! So this post is going to just talk about the town where we stayed so that you can have some context! Don’t worry, I’ll tell you all about the altitude sickness and salt lagoons and flamingos and such soon.
My adventure started at 5 am on Thursday, May 9th, when a van came to pick us up and take us to the airport. I slept over my friend Rebecca’s house the night before to make it easier to gather us all up. Our flight from Santiago left at about 8am and we landed about 2 hours later in Calama, a desert city. After a pit stop in the local UniMarc (Chilean supermarket chain) we piled into another van and drove for an hour and a half to San Pedro de Atacama.
San Pedro de Atacama is a tiny desert town of about 2,500 inhabitants but it has a long history and a huge historical and archeological significance. Well over 11,000 years ago the area was a cultural center for the Atacameños, a pre-Colombian culture that at its height had advanced trade relations with the Incans and Mapuche cultures. Pedro de Valdivia brought Spanish conquistadors with him in the middle of the 16th century.
We settled into a beautiful bed and breakfast called Incahuasi (House of the Inca). It was small, with three separate sections with their own kitchens, bedrooms with bunk beds for four, and bathroom. Every morning the family who own the place would make us breakfast, with coffee, tea, milk, butter, jam, granola and raisins with yogurt, home-made integral bread with seeds, cheese and ham. Across the street there was a minimart owned by an adorable old couple where we could buy bread and fruit; they would always say “sí mi hijita” (yes my little daughter). There were bikes that we could use whenever we wanted, or we could make the ten minute walk downtown.
Downtown San Pedro was tiny and often full of tourists, but with a very laid back and relaxed atmosphere. Local parents had no problem letting their children play while they tended their little shops, even toddlers were perfectly safe in the plaza. The town was never in any rush, so it seemed that even the dogs were just strolling around at their leisure. The plaza and the streets around hosted an artisan fair every day where you could buy homemade jewelery, soaps, honey, leather works, alpaca wool hats and scarves, and of course the usual tourist trinkets. I bought myself an alpaca sweater because at night boy oh boy was it chilly! About a two block radius around the central plaza were many more shops, bars, restaurants, adventure tour businesses, hostals, hotels, bike rentals, anything a tourist might want to enjoy the desert. Everyone was in a great mood, and at any given moment one could hear Spanish, English, French, German, Chinese, and many other language being spoken.
The other main attractions of downtown is the church, with its ceiling made entirely of cactus wood, and the R.P. Gustavo Le Paige Archeological Museum that features many artifacts of the Atacameño culture. In the past it also showcased a few mummies that were discovered, but as a result of an ongoing struggle between archeologists and surviving atacameños they are not available for public viewing out of respect but are in climate controlled storage for preservation and study.
There is also the local cemetery, which deserves its own post just because I like cemeteries and I have a ton of pictures!
Here is a slide show of my pictures of the town and Incahuasi, and below are links for web pages with more info and better pictures. The Incahuasi one sadly isn’t in English, but they do have a French page! Tomorrow I will tell you all about the Valle de la Muerte and Valle de la Luna (Valley of Death and Valley of the Moon). Remember to click the full screen button in the top corner of the slide show so you can see my descriptions!
Links! For the technologically impaired, just click the blue text!
Incahuasi Bed and Breakfast (Sorry it’s only in Spanish and French, but there are great pictures!