Atacama Desert: The Driest Place on Earth

We love a good ol’ dry…hot….isolated desert!

Over the past few years we’ve visited the likes of Death Valley, Nevada, the Queesland outback in Australia, and the Sinai desert in Egypt.

Atacama Desert

The extreme sense of isolation and temperature change coupled with vast landscapes appeal to us. We’ve been saying for a while now that we’d love to live in Death Valley for a few months.

While we were in South America in 2014 we visited Chile as part of our trip. Santiago was our first port of call and it’s a stunningly beautiful city – surrounded 360 degrees by the Andes mountain range.

Atacama desert

Chile is also one of the most expensive countries we’ve ever visited.

After about 9 days in Santiago we decided to take a domestic flight with LAM up to the famous San Pedro de Atacama.

The Driest Place on Earth

The Atacama desert is the driest place on earth! It’s also one of the hottest locations on the planet as well. There are regions of the desert that have never even seen a drop of rain – since record keeping began anyways!

driest place on earth

The desert is so inhospitable that even bacteria cannot survive there.

The flight from Santiago to San Pedro took 1.5 hours as opposed to a 24 hour bus journey. We definitely wanted a break from the long bus trips, so we opted for the flight instead.

Calama

With South America travel so expensive, the flight cost about $250 each, but the price of the bus wasn’t exactly cheap either in comparison.

The views from the plane over the desert were amazing to say the least. The brown, lifeless landscape sprawled out before us and was in stark contrast to the blue sky.

San Pedro de Atacama

Getting from the airport in Calama to San Pedro takes about an hour by bus. You’ll see some absolutely stunning landscapes along the way so you definitely won’t be bored.

volcano in san pedro

The village of San Pedro is like something out of one of those Spaghetti Western movies. It has a population of about 5,000 and is set in the heart of the desert.

san pedro de atacama

Now, for those of you that like to chill out and relax then a few days in a place like San Pedro would be perfect. However, there’s plenty of other activities and adventures to pursue.

llamas in atacama

Things to do and see in the Atacama desert

  • The Valley of the Moon
  • The 3rd biggest salt flat in the world (Salar de Atacama)
  • The 3rd biggest geyser field in the world (El Tatio Geysers)
  • Laguna Cejar – a lake that you can float in just like the dead sea
  • Star watching – the best place in the world for this in actual fact

These are just some of the main attractions that brings visitors from all over the world to San Pedro.

atacama

We stayed for 3 days in a small hostel which was probably one of the cheapest places there. We paid about $25 per night for the two of us.

Keep in mind that San Pedro isn’t a “backpacker” destination – in terms of the high price of everything. Food, accommodation and tours are all very expensive. But since you’re stuck in the middle of a desert, if you choose to go there, then you’ve no choice but to pay these prices.

Cycling Trip

We wanted to go a mountain bike adventure while we were there so we rented 2 bikes and hit off for the day.

Cycling in the extreme heat that day was absolutely crazy – but an awesome experience. The photos’ don’t actually do the place justice.

cycling in the atacama desert

It took us about 2 hours to get to the entrance to one of the parks – when I say parks, I mean just an area where you pay to go past and into the canyons etc.

Our main concern was that we’d have enough water so we stocked up on a few bottles at the pay station.

sand dunes in atacama

Another hours cycle brought us to an area where we had to park up our bikes and walk on foot to get to one of the many view points.

We’ve been to many view points but this one was on a different level – our main image on the homepage of our blog was taken at the view point in question.

viewpoint in atacama

The view at the top was a 360 degree view of barren landscapes.

Not a sight or sound of anyone for literally miles.

isolation in atacama

What would happen if one of us had an accident? This kept floating about in our minds and because we were on our own – we’d no tour guide to help us out.

I kept telling Florence that I’d watched enough of Bear Grylls to get us out of any trouble – which she wasn’t too impressed with!

sand dunes in atacama

We spend a few hours in various canyons and just chilled out drinking bucket loads of water. When the water was running low, we headed back to our bikes which took us longer than we expected.

lost in atacama desert

We ended up getting slightly lost and wasted time backtracking but we eventually found our bikes and started the 3 hour cycle back to San Pedro.

However, by the time we reached the pay station again we were out of water and literally parched with the thirst – and to our absolute horror the pay station was closed!!

dehydrated in atacama desert

This meant a further 2 hours cycle back to the town – with a massive headache from slight dehydration setting in.

hiking in atacama desert

Those 2 hours went extremely slow and the sun baked down on us unforgivingly.

viewpoint in atacama desert

We reached San Pedro just before sunset and badly in need of a jug of water.

blistering heat in atacama

The experience of cycling in those conditions was one that we never had before – but one that we’d love to do again.

Atacama desert

There’s something extremely surreal about finding yourself in a location such as the Atacama desert. It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. A lot of people would hate the idea of being in a desert with the heat and arid conditions.

leaving atacama

But we love it and it won’t be the last desert we visit that’s for sure.

Where to Stay in San Pedro de Atacama

NOI Casa Atacama

NOI Casa Atacama 

This 5-Star modern hotel will provide you with an excellent base to explore both the village and other nearby attractions. It’s located very near Cosmo Andino as well.

Price: $$$

Luxury Option

Eco-Lodge El Andinista

Eco-Lodge El Andinista

You’ll feel right at home in this beautiful little hotel which offers top quality accommodation at very affordable prices. A stones throw away from all the attractions as well.

Price: $$

Mid-Range Option

Hotel Tambillo

Hotel Tambillo 

If you’re looking for an affordable stay in San Pedro, then Hotel Tambillo comes highly recommended by those who have stayed there. There is free Wifi in all rooms.

Price: $

Budget Option

 

Do you like visiting deserts? If so, what was your favourite one?

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About the Author


Carlo and Florence are an Irish couple who left home in 2013 to pursue their dreams of travelling the world while building an online business so that they could work from anywhere. They've both visited over 50 countries together so far. Stay in touch with them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat.

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