There’s a lot not to like about visiting San Pedro de Atacama with kids.
First and foremost, it’s completely isolated even from the rest of Chile. It’s a two hour flight from Santiago or 90 minutes to La Serena then an hour bus ride to even get there.
Moreover, Caracoles, the main drag, is an adobe version of Bangkok’s Khao San Road. The entire street reeks of patchouli oil and other herbal substances. If you need to stock up on ponchos, woven water bottle holders or llama shaped tchotkes, this is your place.
It’s also exorbitantly expensive. Our very basic room- three beds, a bathroom, and a space heater- cost $120. It is also located next door to a disco. Fortunately they’re closed on Sundays so last night we slept. However, It’s fairly priced. If you want a “real” hotel room it’s $300+. If you want 5 stars it gets into four digits very quickly.
To make it worse, bus tours (ugh) are the only way to visit the sights unless you spend $$$ to hire a driver. You really need someone to take you to the right spots, most of which are down dirt and rock roads that I wouldn’t attempt in a monster truck. I imagine they find dried out skeletons of folks who break down up here.
San Pedro also took our breath away. Literally.
Coming straight from sea level was a mistake but we would have felt the 8000 ft altitude either way. Yesterday we were up to almost 16,000 feet in the Andes. I have no idea how these backpackers are partying up here. I’m staying away from alcohol and even limiting my caffeine.
Deal Girl, having the smallest lungs, felt it the worst but I and even iron lunged Deal Kid struggled that high up. Two reputable tour companies flatly refused to take kids to one of the main attractions, the Geyers of Taino, because they had seen too many kids get sick with no way to get help besides being carried. I was fortunate to get some on the ground intel because many companies will sell that tour to kids- in fact I had one reserved until I heard from the experts.
In addition to the altitude San Pedro is also the absolute driest place on earth- take that Sahara Desert. The ANNUAL rainfall is 1/12 inch. Or as Deal Kid put it, 1/2 a shower a year. Even my eyeballs itch from the dryness and dust.
Even with all the physical and social irritants I would urge you to come to San Pedro de Atacama in a (rapid) heartbeat. Wait till the kids are older- I’m not sure I’d bring a 10 year old again even though I’ve seen babies. (I have no idea what those people are thinking!)
In the space of 36 hours we:
Visited landscapes that deserve their names: Valley of the Moon and Valley of Death.
Hiked up a volcanic canyon and sprinted down a 500 ft high sand dune.
Tasted salt that sprung from the ground like snow and saw entire salt covered valleys that in photos look snow dusted.
Drove straight up into the Andes and had breakfast on a frozen lake.
Saw ice crystallize into fantastic sculptures like those you see at a natural history museum.
Found a shade of blue I’ve never seen in a crayon box.
Watched wild flamingos on a (G-rated) “date” and even saw one fly.
Sampled Chile’s favorite snack and tasted native fruits from the tree with A Bite of Atacama.
And that’s just off the top of my head.
If you want to hack San Pedro de Atacama, good luck!
To start, I used a booking.com promo which helped a bit on the room. You could use the CSR portal if you wanted to stay in an expensive room to redeem 1.5 dollars per point. You could also CSR the tours but you’ll save much more here at the agencies. Booking airfare in Spanish saves money as well-try LAN’s Chilean site. I ended up buying round trip tickets to Santiago because it was 75% cheaper than one way. Therefore, Arrival points may be your best/only play.
Have any of you made the trek to San Pedro de Atacama? Had you even heard of such a place? Please share any thoughts or questions in the comments.
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