San Pedro de Atacama Chile Hotels and Accommodation, and Tours
San Pedro de Atacama is located in northern Chile close to the border with Bolivia and Argentina (where the three countries join) and is considered one of the key destinations in Chile visit. San Pedro de Atacama now offers many hotels and accommodation at a high level. The village of San Pedro de Atacama is 1,667 km north of Santiago, 2,438m above sea level and 106km south-east from the mining city and airport of Calama. It is a tiny, dusty, oasis village with unpaved streets that serves as a base from where to explore the absolutely outstanding, natural, geographic beauty of the area.
The geography in the area around San Pedro de Atacama is what makes this region so incredibly dramatic to view. The landscape is the aftermath of millions and millions of years of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, lava flows and flood-ravished plains all combining to create one of the most incredible places on Earth. The combined result is impossible to describe, but if you can imagine the mind-blowing spectacle of a massive desert plain dwarfed by conical, snow-covered volcanoes reaching heights of 5,916m in the Andean Cordillera; the beauty of the changing colours on the landscape from shades of orange to red to purple as the sun sets; the view of powerful heat vapour rising up from the vast white expanse of the Salar de Atacama salt plain (home to pink flamingos); the moon-surface-like landscape of the Valley of the Moon or the vivid blue and green colours of the high-altitude lakes, the silence of which is only broken by the chirping of birds, then you may just begin to get a picture of what lies in wait here.
The entire area is also steeped in ancient, cultural history dating back thousands of years, with evidence suggesting that the first human arrival was as long ago as 11,000BC.
San Pedro de Atacama village is a simple place with buildings constructed from adobe and other natural materials but at night it comes alive as the many bohemian-style bars and innovative restaurants open up. It attracts the “hippy” crowd and back-packers, but these days a number of older, wealthier visitors are coming to get the “Atacama” experience. The accommodation in San Pedro de Atacama varies from the simple, to mid level to absolutely luxury.
Our suggestion is to book an all-inclusive hotel and excursion package, however, we can also arrange a rent a car so your can do your own thing. If you drive you must be aware of the dangers and take extra water, warm clothes and check that the car does have a spare wheel, a car jack and that you know how to use it BEFORE setting off. People do break down, run out of water and get cold. We personally know of an Englishman who almost lost his life when he became stuck in a dried out river bed. The reality is that you are in a desert and a long way from help.
San Pedro de Atacama Geography
San Pedro de Atacama is, as the name would suggest, in located the heart of the Atacama Desert. Most of the Atacama Desert is a rainless plateau covering the northern sector of Chile from Arica down to just above La Serena. In some areas no rainfall has ever been recorded, making it the driest desert on Earth, although rain does fall in San Pedro de Atacama when, in the summer months, the thermals above the Bolivian side of the Andes form large rain clouds that then drift down back into Chile and deposit heavy, but short, rain showers over the area, often accompanied by loud thunder and lighting. This phenomenon is called the Bolivian Winter, resulting in snow fall at higher elevations. The Atacama Desert covers around 180,000km 2 and is regarded as being in existence for over 15 million years.
The incredibly dry environment of large arts of the Atacama, together with the natural height of the Andes Mountains and the fact that there are vast swathes of land not affected by man-made light pollution, provide an ideal setting for astronomical observatories to be located. The European Southern Observatory administers two radio telescopes in the area: La Silla Observatory and the Paranal Observatory where the Very Large Telescope (VLT) is located and a radio astronomical observatory called ALMA will also be open soon.
The Atacama desert also contains many sought-after mineral deposits such as copper and, consequently, is a sought-after location for mining companies.
Cultural History San Pedro de Atacama
The village was named after its patron saint “San Pedro” (Saint Peter) and Atacama, which originates from the word “Accatcha” from the ancestral “Cunza” tongue and means “Head of the Country”. However, long before the village got this name it was merely an oasis from which early settlers could source drinking water and cultivate crops.
Due to the unique dryness of the air and lack of rain water to help biodegrade alien materials, the environment is ideal for preserving relics from thousands of years ago, including human remains, which has led to San Pedro de Atacama becoming the archaeological capital of Chile. Here, well-preserved mummified bodies, textiles, bones, hunting tools and other items have been discovered in a good state, thus enabling a cultural history to be recorded to a degree of reasonable accuracy.
From the archaeological evidence discovered, it is believed that the first hunter-gatherer inhabitants were in the region as long ago as 11,0000BC, living off natural vegetation found at oasis points and beside the then massive lake, which has since turned into the Salar de Atacama (salt lake). Even today, at oasis villages such as Toconao fruit trees and plants grow due to the supply of natural spring water.
It has been calculated that around 5,000BC these early inhabitants, called Atacameño, started to domesticate some of the wild animals and used fleeces for wool, hide for leather and excrement for fuel and fertiliser. It has been suggested that in the summer months the newly-created farmers would then migrate, with their animals, to the higher plains where there was fresh vegetation and allow the vegetation at the lower altitude, lake-side and oasis areas to regenerate. As the settlers grew in numbers so, too, the settlements grew in size and crops such as beans, pumpkins, potatoes and maize were cultivated.
Between 3,000BC and 1,000BC it is believed that a prolonged drought resulted in the water level of the lower-level lakes to decrease significantly forcing these early human settlers, to seek water elsewhere such as in the ravines and canyons where there was a natural supply of potable water as well as shelter. This, in turn, stimulated the birth of a controlled agricultural system and animal husbandry. One village, called Tulor, has shown evidence that its original inhabitants arrived here in the period around 750BC and that they produced ceramics, weaved, performed metallurgy and introduced irrigation systems. Other historic settlements south from San Pedro de Atacama, between the Andes Mountains and the eastern side of the Salar de Atacama, such as Toconao, Sequitor, Peine and Sociare appear to have been settled between 100BC and 100AD.
However, the oasis at San Pedro de Atacama was the largest in the area and as more people settled here San Pedro village developed into the largest settlement of them all. Over the following two thousand years other cultures came and went, including the Incas, and then in 1540 the Spanish arrived.