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How To Discover San Pedro De Atacama On A Budget


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Brinna Blythe



Welcome to San Pedro de Atacama, a captivating destination nestled in the northern part of Chile. Known for its stunning natural landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and fascinating geological formations, San Pedro de Atacama is a must-visit for travelers looking to immerse themselves in the beauty of Chile. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, an adventure seeker, or a history buff, this charming town offers something for everyone.


Despite its growing popularity as a tourist destination, San Pedro de Atacama can be explored even on a modest budget. With careful planning and a bit of insider knowledge, you can make the most of your visit without breaking the bank. From affordable accommodation options to budget-friendly dining choices and low-cost activities, this article will guide you through the best ways to experience the wonders of San Pedro de Atacama without emptying your wallet.


In the following sections, we will share essential tips and recommendations to help you discover San Pedro de Atacama on a budget. From the best time to visit to transportation options and money-saving tips, you’ll learn how to make the most of your trip while keeping your expenses in check. So, let’s dive in and uncover the secrets of exploring this enchanting region without compromising on the unforgettable experiences it has to offer.


Best Time to Visit San Pedro de Atacama

When planning a visit to San Pedro de Atacama on a budget, it’s essential to consider the best time to experience everything this region has to offer while avoiding peak tourist seasons.


The ideal time to visit San Pedro de Atacama depends on your travel preferences and the activities you wish to engage in. However, the months of March to May (autumn) and September to November (spring) are generally considered the best times to explore this enchanting town.


During these shoulder seasons, you’ll find milder temperatures, fewer crowds, and more affordable accommodation and tour options compared to the popular summer months.


In autumn, the temperature begins to cool down after the scorching summer, providing a pleasant climate for outdoor adventures. The landscapes are still vibrant with colors, making it a perfect time for photography enthusiasts to capture the stunning scenery.


Spring brings a similar climate to autumn, with comfortable temperatures and beautiful blossoms painting the desert landscape. It’s an excellent time for outdoor activities such as hiking and stargazing.


If you’re a budget traveler and don’t mind the extreme temperatures, consider visiting San Pedro de Atacama during the winter months (June to August). While daytime temperatures may be chilly, the clear skies offer exceptional stargazing opportunities, and you’ll find more affordable rates for accommodation and tours during this off-season.


Avoid visiting San Pedro de Atacama during the busy summer months of December to February, as tour prices may be higher, and popular attractions can be crowded with tourists. However, if you do plan to visit during this time, booking your tours and accommodations well in advance can help you secure better rates.


Keep in mind that weather patterns can vary, so it’s advisable to check the forecast closer to your trip and pack accordingly. Regardless of the season, San Pedro de Atacama’s natural beauty remains awe-inspiring, and with some flexibility in your travel dates, you can make the most of your budget-friendly adventure.


Getting to San Pedro de Atacama

Arriving in San Pedro de Atacama is an adventure in itself, as the town is located in a remote part of Chile. However, there are several transportation options available to suit different budget preferences.


The most common way to reach San Pedro de Atacama is by flying into Calama El Loa Airport (CJC), which serves as the gateway to the region. Many domestic airlines offer regular flights to Calama from major cities in Chile, such as Santiago. From Calama, it’s a 90-minute drive to San Pedro de Atacama.


If you’re on a tighter budget, consider taking a long-distance bus from Santiago or other major cities to San Pedro de Atacama. The bus journey may be lengthy, but it offers a more affordable alternative to flying. The bus terminal in San Pedro de Atacama is located conveniently in the town center, allowing for easy access to accommodations.


Once you arrive in San Pedro de Atacama, getting around the town is relatively easy. The town is small and can be explored on foot, with most attractions and amenities within walking distance. You can also rent a bicycle to navigate the streets and nearby areas, providing a budget-friendly and eco-friendly mode of transportation.


If you plan to venture beyond the town and explore the surrounding natural wonders, such as the Tatio Geysers or Valle de la Luna, organized tours are the most convenient option. Many tour operators in San Pedro de Atacama offer a wide range of tours catering to different preferences and budgets. It’s advisable to compare prices and read reviews before booking to ensure you get the best value for your money.


For those seeking a more independent and budget-friendly option, shared vans or collectivos are available for certain routes. These are shared transportation services that operate on fixed routes for a lower fare than private transfers. It’s important to note that collectivos may have specific departure times and limited availability, so it’s advisable to inquire at your accommodation or the local tourism office for more details.


Overall, getting to San Pedro de Atacama is possible on different budgets. Whether you choose to fly or take a bus, getting around the town and exploring its surroundings is relatively easy with the various transportation options available.


Affordable Accommodation Options

When it comes to finding affordable accommodation in San Pedro de Atacama, there are plenty of options to suit various budgets. Here are some recommendations to help you find comfortable and cost-effective places to stay:

  • Hostels: San Pedro de Atacama is home to numerous hostels that offer budget-friendly accommodation options. These hostels provide dormitory-style rooms or private rooms at affordable rates, making them a popular choice among backpackers and budget travelers. Additionally, hostels often have communal areas where you can meet fellow travelers, exchange travel tips, and create lasting memories.
  • Guesthouses and Bed & Breakfasts: Another affordable accommodation option in San Pedro de Atacama is guesthouses and bed & breakfasts. These establishments typically offer comfortable rooms with shared facilities or private bathrooms. They provide a more personalized and intimate experience, often run by friendly local hosts who can offer valuable insights into the region.
  • Apartments and Vacation Rentals: If you’re traveling in a group or prefer more privacy and independence, renting an apartment or vacation rental can be a cost-effective option. These accommodations usually come equipped with kitchen facilities, allowing you to prepare your meals and save money on dining out. Additionally, booking a vacation rental in advance can often lead to more affordable rates.
  • Campsites: For nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts, camping can be a budget-friendly accommodation choice. San Pedro de Atacama offers various camping areas where you can set up your tent and immerse yourself in the stunning desert landscapes. Most campsites provide basic facilities such as toilets and showers, and some even offer communal kitchens and dining areas.

It’s important to research and book your accommodation in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons, to secure the best rates and availability. Online travel platforms and websites dedicated to hostels and vacation rentals can be valuable resources for finding affordable options.


Regardless of the accommodation type you choose, staying in San Pedro de Atacama provides a unique opportunity to connect with fellow travelers, share experiences, and create lasting memories. Remember to read reviews and check the amenities and proximity to attractions to ensure that your chosen accommodation meets your needs and preferences.


Budget-Friendly Dining Choices

Exploring the culinary scene in San Pedro de Atacama doesn’t have to break the bank. There are several budget-friendly dining options that offer delicious meals without compromising on taste or quality. Here are some recommendations to help you enjoy great food at affordable prices:

  • Local Market: One of the best places to find affordable and authentic food in San Pedro de Atacama is the local market. Here, you can find a variety of fresh produce, traditional dishes, and local snacks at reasonable prices. Look for small food stalls or vendors offering empanadas, humitas, or completos, which are Chilean-style hot dogs. Sampling the local cuisine at the market is not only a budget-friendly option but also a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture.
  • Set Menu Lunches: Many restaurants in San Pedro de Atacama offer set menu lunches, known as “menu del dia,” which typically include a starter, main course, dessert, and a beverage at a fixed price. These set menu lunches are often more affordable compared to ordering à la carte and are a great way to try different dishes while sticking to your budget. Look out for local eateries that offer these daily lunch specials.
  • Street Food: Exploring the streets of San Pedro de Atacama is an adventure in itself, and you’ll find various street food stalls and stands offering tasty treats. From freshly made empanadas to delicious grilled meats, street food is a budget-friendly option that allows you to indulge in local flavors without breaking the bank. Take a stroll through the town’s main streets and keep an eye out for these hidden culinary gems.
  • Self-Catering: If you’re staying in an apartment or vacation rental with kitchen facilities, consider preparing your meals. Visit the local market or grocery stores to stock up on ingredients and cook your own meals. This not only allows you to save money but also gives you the opportunity to experience the local flavors in a unique way. Plus, you can enjoy a picnic in one of the beautiful outdoor areas surrounding San Pedro de Atacama.

When dining out, it’s always a good idea to ask locals or fellow travelers for recommendations on affordable and authentic dining spots. They can provide valuable insights and point you in the right direction to satisfy your taste buds without straining your budget.


Remember to consider the portion sizes when ordering at restaurants. Some establishments may serve generous portions, so sharing a dish with a travel companion or opting for smaller plates can help reduce costs while still enjoying a satisfying meal.


Overall, San Pedro de Atacama offers a range of budget-friendly dining choices that allow you to savor delicious meals without overspending. So, don’t be afraid to venture out and explore the local culinary scene while keeping your wallet happy.


Exploring the Town on Foot

San Pedro de Atacama is a small town that can easily be explored on foot, making it an excellent budget-friendly option for experiencing its charm and attractions. Walking through the town allows you to soak in the unique atmosphere, discover hidden gems, and appreciate the local culture. Here are some highlights of exploring San Pedro de Atacama on foot:


1. Main Street (Caracoles): The bustling main street of San Pedro de Atacama, known as Caracoles, is lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes. Take a leisurely stroll along this vibrant street, browse through the handicrafts, and taste local snacks. You’ll also find tour operators and agencies where you can inquire about excursions and activities.


2. Church of San Pedro: Located in the town center, the historic Church of San Pedro is a must-visit. This adobe church, dating back to the 17th century, offers a glimpse into the region’s rich colonial history. Take a moment to admire its simple yet charming architecture and peaceful surroundings.


3. Museums: San Pedro de Atacama is home to several small and informative museums that provide insights into the region’s history, archaeology, and indigenous cultures. Museums like the Museo Arqueológico R.P. Gustavo Le Paige and Museo del Meteorito offer fascinating exhibits and artifacts worth exploring.


4. Plaza de Armas: The central square of San Pedro de Atacama, known as Plaza de Armas, is a great place to relax and people-watch. Sit on a bench, soak up the sun, and enjoy the lively atmosphere. You may even catch a local event or cultural performance taking place in the square.


5. Artisan Markets: San Pedro de Atacama is renowned for its vibrant artisan markets, where you can find beautiful handicrafts, textiles, and souvenirs. Take a walk through Pueblo de los Artesanos or Feria Artesanal, and admire the craftsmanship of the local artisans. Don’t forget to practice your bargaining skills to get the best prices!


Exploring the town on foot also provides opportunities for spontaneous discoveries. Wander through the charming streets, interact with friendly locals, and perhaps find a hidden cafe or shop that captures your interest. Allow yourself to get lost a little and embrace the charm of San Pedro de Atacama.


As you venture out on foot, remember to stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun by wearing sunscreen and a hat, as the desert sun can be intense. Walking also enables you to appreciate the unique beauty of the surrounding landscapes, with the imposing Licancabur volcano as a stunning backdrop.


By exploring San Pedro de Atacama on foot, you’ll not only save money on transportation but also have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the town’s rich cultural heritage and natural wonders. So, put on a comfortable pair of shoes, grab a map, and set off on an unforgettable adventure.


Free or Low-Cost Activities in San Pedro de Atacama

Exploring the beauty of San Pedro de Atacama doesn’t have to put a dent in your wallet. The region offers a plethora of free or low-cost activities that allow you to immerse yourself in its stunning landscapes and rich cultural heritage. Here are some recommendations:

  • Stargazing: San Pedro de Atacama is renowned for its clear skies and exceptional stargazing opportunities. Head outside of town at night, away from the light pollution, and marvel at the breathtaking sight of the stars and constellations. You can join a stargazing tour or simply find a comfortable spot to observe the night sky on your own.
  • Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley): Visit the otherworldly landscapes of Valle de la Luna, a natural reserve located just a short distance from San Pedro de Atacama. While some tours may be costly, you can explore the main areas of the valley on your own for a small entrance fee. Witness the dramatic rock formations, dunes, and salt flats that bear a resemblance to the moon’s surface.
  • Laguna Cejar: Enjoy a refreshing swim in the turquoise waters of Laguna Cejar, often referred to as the saltwater equivalent of the Dead Sea. The high salt concentration allows you to effortlessly float on the water’s surface, providing a unique and invigorating experience. While there may be a small entrance fee, it’s a budget-friendly activity that offers a memorable adventure.
  • Pukará de Quitor: Embark on a historical and archaeological journey by visiting the Pukará de Quitor, a pre-Columbian fortress situated on a hill near San Pedro de Atacama. The site offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes and provides insight into the indigenous cultures that once inhabited the area. There is a small entrance fee to access the fortress.
  • Cycling: Rent a bicycle and explore the outskirts of San Pedro de Atacama on two wheels. Cruise through the stunning desert landscapes, visit nearby attractions such as the Salar de Atacama, or cycle to nearby villages like Tulor. It’s a budget-friendly and eco-friendly way to experience the beauty of the region at your own pace.

Additionally, taking advantage of the town’s natural surroundings, you can go for walks or hikes in the nearby areas, capturing picturesque views and enjoying the serenity of the desert environment. As you venture out, be sure to stay hydrated, wear appropriate clothing, and carry enough water and snacks.


While some activities and attractions in San Pedro de Atacama may have associated costs, there are numerous ways to enjoy the region’s wonders without spending a fortune. By seeking out free or low-cost activities, you can have an incredible adventure while staying within your budget.


Budget-Friendly Tours and Excursions

San Pedro de Atacama is a gateway to some of the most breathtaking natural wonders in Chile. While tours and excursions are a popular way to explore the region, they can sometimes be expensive. However, there are budget-friendly options available that allow you to enjoy the beauty of San Pedro de Atacama without breaking the bank. Here are some tips:

  • Group Tours: Look for group tours or shared excursions, as they are often more cost-effective than private tours. Joining a group allows you to split the cost with other travelers, reducing the overall expense. Many tour agencies in San Pedro de Atacama offer group tours to popular sites such as the Tatio Geysers, the Atacama Salt Flats, and the El Tatio Hot Springs. It’s advisable to compare prices and read reviews to find reputable tour operators that offer competitive rates.
  • Sandboarding and Hiking: Instead of booking specialized tours, consider engaging in outdoor activities such as sandboarding or hiking independently. The vast sand dunes surrounding San Pedro de Atacama provide an ideal setting for sandboarding, and you can rent equipment at affordable rates in town. For hiking enthusiasts, there are several trails and routes that can be self-guided, allowing you to explore the stunning landscapes at your own pace.
  • Explore on Local Transport: Some tours can be costly due to transportation expenses. To save money, opt for using local transportation options to reach nearby attractions. For example, you can take a public bus to the Valley of the Moon (Valle de la Luna) or rent a bicycle to visit attractions closer to the town. This way, you can enjoy the freedom of exploring at a lower cost.
  • Visit Free Attractions: San Pedro de Atacama offers several attractions that can be visited free of charge. Take a walk to the Church of San Pedro, visit the local artisan markets, or explore the archaeological site of Pukará de Quitor. These sites can provide valuable cultural and historical insights without any additional expense.

While opting for budget-friendly tours and excursions, it’s important to consider the quality and safety of the service. Research and read reviews about the tour operators or guides to ensure they are reputable and reliable.


By being selective and planning ahead, you can enjoy the wonders of San Pedro de Atacama without compromising your budget. Remember, sometimes the best experiences come from immersing yourself in the natural beauty of the region on your own terms.


Transportation Options on a Budget

Getting around San Pedro de Atacama and exploring the surrounding areas on a budget is achievable with the variety of transportation options available. Here are some economical ways to move around:

  • Walking: San Pedro de Atacama is a compact town that can easily be explored on foot. Most of the attractions, restaurants, and accommodations are within walking distance of each other. Take advantage of this by strolling through the streets and enjoying the charming atmosphere while saving money on transportation.
  • Bicycles: Renting a bicycle is a popular and cost-effective way to get around San Pedro de Atacama. Many rental shops in town offer affordable rates, and cycling allows you to explore at your own pace. You can visit nearby sites, such as the Valley of the Moon or the Atacama Salt Flats, without the expense of a guided tour.
  • Local Buses: The local bus system in San Pedro de Atacama provides an inexpensive way to travel to nearby attractions or villages. For example, you can take a bus to the town of Toconao or the Rainbow Valley. These buses usually depart from the main street and offer affordable fares, making it a budget-friendly transportation option.
  • Collectivos: Collectivos, small shared taxis, are another affordable transportation option in San Pedro de Atacama. These taxis follow fixed routes and can be a convenient and cost-effective way to reach destinations beyond the reach of local buses. Keep in mind that collectivos have set departure times, so be sure to check the schedule in advance.
  • Car Rental: If you’re traveling in a group or prefer more flexibility, renting a car can be a viable option. Splitting the cost among travel companions can make it more budget-friendly, and having your own vehicle allows you to explore the region independently. Keep in mind that renting a car may come with additional expenses such as fuel and parking fees.

When using any transportation options, it’s important to plan your itinerary in advance and consider the distances and travel times. Additionally, keep in mind that the desert climate can be harsh on vehicles, so be prepared for any potential road conditions and ensure your rental vehicle is in good condition.


By utilizing these budget-friendly transportation options, you can navigate San Pedro de Atacama and its surroundings without overspending. Enjoy the freedom to explore at your own pace while immersing yourself in the breathtaking landscapes that this region has to offer.


Money-Saving Tips for San Pedro de Atacama

Traveling on a budget to San Pedro de Atacama requires careful planning and smart decision-making. Here are some money-saving tips to help you make the most of your trip without compromising on experiences:

  • Visit During Shoulder Seasons: Consider traveling to San Pedro de Atacama during the shoulder seasons of March to May and September to November. During these times, you’ll find lower prices for accommodations, tours, and flights compared to the peak summer months.
  • Book Accommodations in Advance: Secure your accommodations well in advance to get the best rates. Booking early also helps you avoid last-minute price hikes and ensures availability, especially during busy seasons.
  • Choose Budget-Friendly Accommodations: Opt for budget-friendly accommodations such as hostels, guesthouses, or vacation rentals. These options often offer lower rates compared to hotels while still providing comfort and convenience.
  • Cook your Meals: Take advantage of accommodations with kitchen facilities and prepare your own meals. Visit the local market or grocery stores in San Pedro de Atacama to buy fresh produce and ingredients. This not only saves money but also allows you to experience the local flavors in a unique way.
  • Plan and Book Tours in Advance: Research and compare prices for tours and excursions in San Pedro de Atacama. Booking in advance can help you secure better deals and allow you to choose the most cost-effective options.
  • Consider Group Tours or Self-Guided Activities: Opt for group tours or self-guided activities instead of private tours. Sharing the cost with other travelers or exploring at your own pace can significantly reduce expenses while still allowing you to experience the region’s highlights.
  • Pack Snacks and Water: Bring your own snacks and refillable water bottles to avoid purchasing expensive snacks during excursions. Staying hydrated and having snacks on hand can save you money while venturing into the desert landscapes.
  • Use Local Transportation: Take advantage of local buses or collectivos to reach nearby attractions instead of booking pricey private transfers. Local transportation options are generally more economical and offer an authentic local experience.
  • Be Mindful of Souvenir Expenses: Set a budget for souvenirs and avoid impulse buying. Compare prices at different shops and consider supporting local artisans directly to get unique and authentic souvenirs at reasonable prices.
  • Stay Hydrated: Carry a reusable water bottle and refill it at your accommodations or public water fountains. Purchasing bottled water throughout the day can add up, so having your own water bottle will help you save money and reduce plastic waste.

By following these money-saving tips, you can enjoy all that San Pedro de Atacama has to offer without stretching your budget. Remember, traveling on a budget is all about making conscious choices and prioritizing experiences that align with your interests and financial goals.



San Pedro de Atacama is a captivating destination that offers a wealth of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and unique experiences. Traveling to this enchanting town on a budget is entirely possible with careful planning and the right approach. By considering the best time to visit, choosing affordable accommodations, exploring on foot, and taking advantage of budget-friendly dining and transportation options, you can make the most of your trip without breaking the bank.


Whether you’re gazing at the stars, exploring the fascinating landscapes, or immersing yourself in the local culture, there are plenty of free or low-cost activities to enjoy in San Pedro de Atacama. From walking the charming streets and visiting historical sites to venturing off the beaten path and discovering hidden gems, this destination offers something for every budget and interest.


Remember to plan and book in advance, research for the best deals, and make mindful choices to save money without compromising on experiences. By following the money-saving tips and utilizing the budget-friendly options available, you can create a remarkable and memorable adventure while exploring the wonders of San Pedro de Atacama.


So pack your bags, embrace the spirit of adventure, and embark on a budget-friendly journey to San Pedro de Atacama, where every step will lead you to breathtaking landscapes, cultural treasures, and unforgettable memories.