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A Budget-Friendly Way To Experience San Pedro De Atacama, Chile


by Shandra Isaacs



Welcome to San Pedro de Atacama, a small desert town nestled in the northern part of Chile. Known for its breathtaking landscapes, diverse geography, and rich cultural heritage, San Pedro de Atacama is a must-visit destination for budget travelers seeking an adventure of a lifetime. Whether you’re a nature lover, an avid hiker, or a history enthusiast, this charming town offers a wide range of experiences that won’t break the bank.


San Pedro de Atacama is situated amidst the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world. Despite its arid surroundings, the town is surrounded by stunning natural wonders, including salt flats, geysers, hot springs, and volcanoes. The unique landscapes of San Pedro de Atacama provide a mesmerizing backdrop for outdoor activities and exploration.


One of the reasons why San Pedro de Atacama is ideal for budget travelers is the wide range of affordable accommodation options available. From cozy hostels to budget-friendly hotels and guesthouses, you’ll find plenty of comfortable and affordable places to stay during your visit. The town also has a vibrant dining scene, where you can indulge in delicious local cuisine without spending a fortune.


Exploring the town itself is a delight. The narrow, dusty streets are lined with adobe buildings and charming shops selling handicrafts and souvenirs. The friendly locals and bustling markets create a lively atmosphere that is unique to San Pedro de Atacama.


But the real highlight of visiting San Pedro de Atacama is the abundance of breathtaking attractions waiting to be discovered. From the otherworldly beauty of the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) to the mesmerizing salt flats of Salar de Atacama, each attraction offers an unforgettable experience that won’t drain your wallet.


If you’re an adventurous traveler, San Pedro de Atacama has a wide range of activities to keep your adrenaline pumping. From hiking through the stunning landscapes of the Los Flamencos National Reserve to stargazing under the clear desert skies, the possibilities for adventure are endless. And for those looking to take a piece of San Pedro de Atacama home with them, the town’s markets are filled with unique souvenirs and handcrafted items to suit every budget.


In this comprehensive budget travel guide to San Pedro de Atacama, we’ll explore the best ways to get to the town, the different types of accommodation available, the delicious local cuisine, the must-visit attractions, the thrilling adventure activities, and even some money-saving tips to help you make the most of your trip without breaking the bank. Get ready for an incredible journey in the heart of the Atacama Desert!


Getting to San Pedro de Atacama

Getting to San Pedro de Atacama is easier than you might think, and there are a few different options available depending on your budget and preferences. The most common way to reach San Pedro de Atacama is by flying into the nearby Calama Airport, which is serviced by domestic flights from major cities in Chile.


Once you arrive at Calama Airport, you have a few options for reaching San Pedro de Atacama, which is located approximately 100 kilometers away:

  1. Shared Transfer: This is the most convenient option if you don’t want to worry about navigating public transportation. Shared transfers are available at the airport and offer a comfortable and hassle-free way to reach San Pedro de Atacama. The cost is affordable, especially if you’re traveling with a group.
  2. Bus: Taking a bus from Calama to San Pedro de Atacama is a popular choice among budget travelers. Buses are frequent and relatively inexpensive, and the journey takes around 1.5 to 2 hours. However, keep in mind that buses can get crowded, especially during peak tourist season, so it’s advisable to book your ticket in advance.
  3. Taxi: Taxis are available at Calama Airport, but they can be more expensive compared to shared transfers or buses. If you prefer the convenience of a private ride, this option might be worth considering.

While traveling within San Pedro de Atacama, the town is small enough to explore on foot. Most of the main attractions, restaurants, and accommodations are within walking distance. However, if you plan on venturing further out or exploring the surrounding areas, renting a bike or a car is a convenient option. Bike rentals are available in the town, and car rental agencies can be found at Calama Airport.


It’s important to note that San Pedro de Atacama is located at an altitude of 2,400 meters (7,900 feet) above sea level. If you’re arriving from a lower-altitude destination, take some time to acclimatize before engaging in any strenuous activities. Stay hydrated, avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption, and listen to your body to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit.


Now that you know how to get to San Pedro de Atacama, it’s time to explore the various accommodation options available to fit any budget. Whether you’re looking for a cozy hostel, a budget hotel, or a unique guesthouse, San Pedro de Atacama has something for everyone.


Accommodation Options

San Pedro de Atacama offers a variety of accommodation options to suit every budget. Whether you’re a solo traveler on a tight budget or a family looking for a comfortable stay, you’ll find something that fits your needs in this charming desert town.


Hostels are a popular choice for budget travelers, offering affordable rates and a social atmosphere. Many hostels in San Pedro de Atacama provide dormitory-style rooms or private rooms at reasonable prices. These accommodations often include communal areas such as kitchens and lounges, where guests can meet fellow travelers and share stories of their adventures.


If you prefer a bit more privacy and comfort, there are budget hotels and guesthouses available as well. These establishments typically offer simple yet cozy rooms with private bathrooms. Some budget hotels in San Pedro de Atacama even have additional amenities such as swimming pools or communal spaces where guests can relax and unwind after a long day of exploring.


For a unique and authentic experience, consider staying in a local guesthouse or bed and breakfast. These accommodations are often run by local families who provide a warm and welcoming environment for their guests. Staying in a guesthouse allows you to immerse yourself in the local culture and get insider tips from the friendly hosts.


No matter where you choose to stay, keep in mind that San Pedro de Atacama is a popular tourist destination, especially during peak seasons. It’s advisable to book your accommodation in advance to secure your preferred choice and to ensure the best rates.


Some popular budget-friendly accommodation options in San Pedro de Atacama include:

  • Hostel Mamatierra: This eco-friendly hostel offers dormitory rooms, private rooms, and camping facilities. It has a communal kitchen, a bar, and a garden area for guests to relax and socialize.
  • Hotel Takha Takha: Located in the heart of San Pedro de Atacama, this hotel features cozy rooms with private bathrooms and a courtyard area with hammocks where guests can unwind. It also offers a complimentary breakfast.
  • Guesthouse La Casa del Pueblo: Run by a local family, this charming guesthouse provides comfortable rooms with private or shared bathrooms. It offers a communal kitchen, a garden, and a terrace where guests can enjoy the serene surroundings.

With the range of accommodation options available, you can find a place to stay that suits your budget and preferences while enjoying a memorable and affordable stay in San Pedro de Atacama.


Local Cuisine

When it comes to experiencing the local cuisine in San Pedro de Atacama, you’re in for a treat. The town offers a wide variety of delicious dishes that reflect the region’s rich cultural heritage, blending indigenous ingredients with culinary influences from Spanish and Quechua traditions. From hearty stews to unique desserts, there’s something to satisfy every palate.


One of the most iconic dishes in San Pedro de Atacama is the famous Atacama goat. This traditional dish features slow-cooked goat meat that is tender, flavorful, and seasoned with local herbs and spices. It’s often served with hearty sides such as quinoa, potatoes, or corn.


Another local specialty is llama meat, a lean and savory protein that can be found in various dishes across the town’s restaurants. Llama steak, empanadas filled with llama meat, or llama stew are just a few examples of the delicious options available.


Vegetarians and vegans will also find plenty of options in San Pedro de Atacama. One popular dish is the local version of stuffed bell peppers called “pimientos rellenos”. These hearty peppers are usually filled with a combination of rice, vegetables, and spices, creating a flavorful and satisfying meal.


Don’t forget to try some of the indigenous ingredients that are synonymous with the Atacama region. Quinoa, a nutrient-rich grain that has been a staple in the Andean diet for centuries, is commonly used in various dishes, such as salads, soups, or as a side dish. Another unique ingredient is the chañar fruit, which is used to make delicious jams, liqueurs, and syrups.


Exploring the local markets in San Pedro de Atacama is also a culinary adventure. The town’s markets offer a wide range of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs, allowing you to create your own meals if you’re staying in a self-catering accommodation. Additionally, you can find local cheeses, cured meats, and delicious pastries to enjoy on-the-go or for a picnic during your exploration of the desert landscapes.


To complement your meal, be sure to try some of the traditional Chilean beverages. The region is known for its excellent wine production, so don’t miss the chance to sample some local wines, especially the red varietals. Additionally, try the refreshing pisco sour, a traditional cocktail made with pisco, a grape-based spirit, lime juice, sugar, and egg whites.


Whether you’re a meat lover, a vegetarian, or have specific dietary preferences, San Pedro de Atacama offers a wide variety of culinary delights to satisfy every taste. Don’t miss the opportunity to indulge in the local flavors and experience the unique blend of traditional and indigenous cuisine.


Exploring the Town

San Pedro de Atacama may be a small town, but it is packed with charm and character. The best way to truly experience the town is to take some time to explore its narrow streets, adobe buildings, and lively atmosphere.


One of the highlights of exploring the town is visiting the local markets. You’ll find a variety of handicrafts, textiles, and souvenirs made by local artisans. These markets are the perfect place to pick up unique mementos of your trip, such as colorful woven textiles, handmade jewelry, or beautiful ceramics.


Be sure to also explore the charming adobe churches in San Pedro de Atacama. The Church of San Pedro, in particular, is a must-visit. This beautiful church, dating back to the 17th century, is a true reflection of the town’s history and cultural heritage. Take some time to marvel at the intricate architecture and step inside to admire the religious artwork.


As you wander through the streets, you’ll come across numerous small cafes and restaurants. Take a break to enjoy a cup of Chilean coffee or indulge in a traditional pastry. The town has a relaxed and laid-back atmosphere, making it the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely meal or a coffee break while people-watching.


No visit to San Pedro de Atacama is complete without spending some time at the Plaza de Armas, the central square of the town. This vibrant gathering place is surrounded by palm trees, benches, and adobe buildings. Sit on one of the benches and soak in the atmosphere, watch locals go about their day, or simply enjoy the sunshine.


Exploring the town at night is a magical experience as well. San Pedro de Atacama is known for its clear and unpolluted skies, making it ideal for stargazing. Take a night stroll, look up at the stars, and be amazed by the celestial spectacle above.


During your exploration, you’ll also come across various art galleries and museums. From local artworks to exhibitions on the history and culture of the area, these venues offer a deeper understanding of San Pedro de Atacama’s rich heritage.


Whether you’re browsing the markets, marveling at the adobe churches, or simply enjoying the laid-back atmosphere, exploring the town of San Pedro de Atacama is an essential part of your visit. Embrace the unique charm and character of this desert town and immerse yourself in its vibrant culture.


Must-Visit Attractions

San Pedro de Atacama is surrounded by stunning natural wonders and unique attractions that should not be missed during your visit. From breathtaking landscapes to archaeological sites, there’s something to captivate every traveler’s imagination. Here are some of the must-visit attractions in and around San Pedro de Atacama:

  1. Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley): This otherworldly landscape is reminiscent of the moon’s surface, with its vast salt flats, towering sand dunes, and unique rock formations. Take a tour to witness the dazzling sunset over the valley, creating a kaleidoscope of colors against the arid terrain.
  2. Geysers del Tatio: An early morning trip to the Geysers del Tatio is a truly awe-inspiring experience. Located at high altitude, the geysers erupt in a dramatic display, emitting powerful steam against the backdrop of the Andean peaks. Be sure to dress warmly, as the early morning temperatures can be chilly.
  3. Salar de Atacama: This expansive salt flat is one of the largest in the world and offers surreal beauty. Explore the vast white salt plains, marvel at the flamingos wading in the saltwater lagoons, and visit the captivating Chaxa Lagoon. The Salar de Atacama is a photographer’s paradise.
  4. Laguna Cejar: Known for its striking turquoise waters, Laguna Cejar is a saltwater lagoon where you can float effortlessly due to its high salinity. Take a refreshing dip in the lagoon and enjoy the stunning views of the surrounding salt flats and volcanic landscapes.
  5. Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley): This dramatic valley offers incredible rock formations, rugged terrain, and sand dunes. With its arid and desolate landscapes, it’s easy to see why it earned its ominous name. Explore the valley on foot or opt for an adrenaline-pumping sandboarding adventure on the dunes.
  6. Pukará de Quitor: Located just outside of San Pedro de Atacama, this ancient fortress stands as a testament to the region’s rich indigenous history. Take a guided tour to learn about the Atacameño culture, explore the ruins, and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding valley.

These are just a few of the captivating attractions awaiting you in San Pedro de Atacama. From the mesmerizing landscapes to the archaeological wonders, each destination offers a unique and unforgettable experience. Immerse yourself in the beauty of nature and the history of the region as you explore these must-visit attractions.


Adventure Activities

For adventure enthusiasts, San Pedro de Atacama is a playground with a wide array of thrilling activities to get your adrenaline pumping. From hiking through rugged landscapes to exploring hidden caves, there’s no shortage of adventure in this desert town. Here are some of the top adventure activities to experience in San Pedro de Atacama:

  1. Hiking in the Atacama Desert: Lace up your boots and embark on a hiking adventure through the dramatic landscapes of the Atacama Desert. Explore the canyons and valleys, hike up to breathtaking viewpoints, and soak in the beauty of the untouched wilderness.
  2. Climbing Volcanoes: For those seeking a more challenging adventure, climbing one of the volcanoes in the region is an exhilarating experience. The Lascar Volcano, with its stunning views and breathtaking summit, is a popular choice for climbers.
  3. Bike Tours: Rent a bike and explore the surroundings of San Pedro de Atacama at your own pace. Cycle through the desert landscapes, visit nearby villages, and discover hidden gems off the beaten path.
  4. Stargazing: Due to its remote location and clear skies, San Pedro de Atacama is one of the best places in the world for stargazing. Join a guided tour or visit an observatory to witness the splendor of the southern hemisphere’s night sky.
  5. Sandboarding: For an adrenaline rush, try sandboarding down the towering sand dunes of the Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley). Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced boarder, this thrilling activity will leave you with unforgettable memories.
  6. Hot Springs: Take a break from your adventures and rejuvenate in the natural hot springs near San Pedro de Atacama. Immerse yourself in the warm, mineral-rich waters and enjoy the serene surroundings.
  7. Rock Climbing and Bouldering: Test your strength and agility on the cliffs and boulders scattered throughout the desert. With its unique rock formations and challenging routes, San Pedro de Atacama offers a great playground for climbers of all levels.

Whether you’re a seasoned outdoor enthusiast or a beginner looking to try something new, San Pedro de Atacama has adventure activities for everyone. From hiking and climbing to sandboarding and stargazing, these exhilarating experiences will allow you to connect with the stunning natural landscapes in a thrilling way.


Shopping for Souvenirs

Shopping for souvenirs is a delightful part of any travel experience, and San Pedro de Atacama offers plenty of opportunities to find unique treasures to bring back home. From handcrafted artisanal goods to locally made products, you’ll find a wide range of souvenirs that capture the essence of this enchanting desert town.


One of the best places to start your souvenir shopping is the local markets. Here, you’ll find a diverse selection of handicrafts, textiles, and artwork made by talented local artisans. Look for colorful woven textiles, intricately designed ceramics, and beautifully handcrafted jewelry. These one-of-a-kind pieces allow you to bring home a piece of the local culture and support the livelihood of the artisans.


The markets also offer an array of traditional food products that make for perfect souvenirs or gifts. Be sure to check out the shelves filled with delicious spices, herbal teas, and dried fruits, each carefully sourced and handpicked from the region. These culinary delights provide a taste of the flavors of San Pedro de Atacama and make for unique and thoughtful gifts.


When shopping for souvenirs, keep an eye out for products made from local materials and traditional techniques. Many artisans in San Pedro de Atacama use sustainable and eco-friendly practices, making their goods not only beautiful but also environmentally conscious.


If you’re looking for something truly special, consider visiting the studios and workshops of local artisans. These hidden gems allow you to witness the creative process firsthand and even have the opportunity to participate in workshops or classes to learn traditional crafting techniques.


When selecting souvenirs, it’s important to be mindful of cultural sensitivities and responsible tourism practices. Avoid purchasing items made from protected or endangered species, or products that could contribute to the exploitation of natural resources. Opt for sustainable products and support fair trade practices whenever possible.


Shopping for souvenirs in San Pedro de Atacama is not just about acquiring material objects; it’s about finding meaningful reminders of your journey and supporting the local community. Take the time to explore the markets, interact with the artisans, and choose items that resonate with you and reflect the beauty and authenticity of this remarkable desert town.


Budget Tips

Traveling on a budget doesn’t mean compromising on your experience in San Pedro de Atacama. With some careful planning and smart choices, you can make the most of your trip without breaking the bank. Here are some budget tips to help you save money during your visit:

  1. Travel during the shoulder seasons: Consider visiting San Pedro de Atacama during the shoulder seasons, which are the periods just before or after the peak tourist season. This can help you secure better deals on accommodation and activities, as well as avoid large crowds.
  2. Book accommodation in advance: To secure the best rates and have a wider range of options, book your accommodation in advance. Look for budget-friendly hostels or guesthouses, or consider staying in a self-catering apartment for more flexibility and cost savings.
  3. Cook your own meals: Eating out can quickly add up, so make use of the communal kitchens or self-catering facilities in your accommodation. Visit the local markets to buy fresh produce and groceries, and prepare your own meals. Not only will you save money, but you’ll also have the opportunity to try your hand at cooking local dishes.
  4. Pack a refillable water bottle: The desert heat can be dehydrating, so bring a refillable water bottle to stay hydrated. San Pedro de Atacama has clean and safe tap water, and many accommodations and restaurants offer water refill stations.
  5. Take advantage of free activities: San Pedro de Atacama is blessed with natural beauty, and many of its attractions can be enjoyed without spending a dime. Explore the town on foot, take in the stunning views, and enjoy the local markets and lively atmosphere.
  6. Use public transportation: Public buses are a convenient and affordable mode of transportation within San Pedro de Atacama. If you’re planning to visit attractions outside the town, consider taking a local bus or joining a group tour to share the costs. Alternatively, renting a bike can be a cost-effective way to explore the surroundings at your own pace.
  7. Research and compare tour prices: If you plan on taking guided tours to popular attractions, do some research and compare prices from different tour operators. Look for reputable companies that offer reasonable prices and good value for money.
  8. Bring sunscreen and protective gear: Protecting yourself from the sun is not only essential for your health but also for your budget. The desert sun can be intense, so pack sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and lightweight and breathable clothing to avoid sunburn and dehydration.
  9. Check for discounts and promotions: Keep an eye out for discounts and promotions offered by local businesses and tour operators. They may have special deals or offers that can help you save money on activities, accommodations, or dining options.
  10. Connect with other travelers: Engage with other travelers you meet along the way. They may have helpful tips and recommendations for budget-friendly activities or accommodations. Sharing expenses, such as taxi fares or group tours, can also help reduce costs.

With these budget tips in mind, you can make the most of your trip to San Pedro de Atacama while keeping your expenses in check. Remember, sometimes the most memorable experiences come from immersing yourself in the local culture and exploring the natural beauty of the destination, which often doesn’t require a hefty budget.



San Pedro de Atacama, with its stunning landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and budget-friendly options, offers an unforgettable experience for travelers looking to explore the beauty of Chile’s northern desert region. From the moment you arrive, you’ll be captivated by the charm and unique character of this small town.


Whether you’re wandering through the narrow streets, exploring the local markets, or indulging in the delicious local cuisine, San Pedro de Atacama offers a wide range of experiences that cater to every budget and interest. The adventure activities, such as hiking through the desert, sandboarding down towering dunes, or stargazing under the clear night skies, will provide thrills and create memories that will last a lifetime.


With a variety of budget-friendly accommodation options, you’ll find a comfortable place to stay that allows you to fully immerse yourself in the local culture and hospitality. And while you’re here, don’t forget to shop for unique souvenirs, crafted by local artisans, to commemorate your journey and support the community.


As you explore the must-visit attractions in and around San Pedro de Atacama, the beauty and diversity of the landscapes will leave you in awe. From the intriguing rock formations of the Valle de la Luna to the geothermal wonders of the Geysers del Tatio, each destination offers a glimpse into the unique natural wonders of the region.


By following budget tips such as traveling during the shoulder seasons, cooking your own meals, and taking advantage of free activities, you can make the most of your trip while managing your expenses. Remember to stay hydrated, protect yourself from the sun, and enjoy the simple pleasures of this desert oasis.


In conclusion, San Pedro de Atacama is a dream destination for budget travelers seeking an authentic and adventurous experience. With its breathtaking landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and range of budget-friendly options, this enchanting town invites you to immerse yourself in the heart of the Atacama Desert and create memories that will last a lifetime.