San Pedro de Atacama
A small oasis town in the middle of Chile's Atacama desert (the driest place on Earth), San Pedro de Atacama is a tiny place with a lot of tourists. It has nearby attractions such as sandboarding on the desert dunes, and seeing the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley). I did the popular route of reaching San Pedro from Bolivia (it's quite close to the border), after finishing my tour of the Salar de Uyuni.
Fairly basic joint in sleepy and touristy San Pedro: has about the same offerings as most other hostels in town, and is also about as overpriced as its peers (even the Israelis can't find a good deal in this rip-off town, much to their annoyance). Hasn't got proper dorms — only rooms of 2 or 3 beds — so it's better if you go in a group. The owners are also really anal about paying in advance for each night (apparently, it's a Chile / Argentina thing — I don't care if it's a legal requirement, it's a gawdamn pain in the a$$), and about not being able to leave your bags in a storage room or to use any facilities for the rest of the day, if you check out in the morning (i.e. they force you to pay for another night, if you're going to just be in town until the evening — how cheap-a$$ is that?). But good nonetheless.
For a nice little spot of adventure, myself, Chris, Leila and Christina went sandboarding today, at the dunes near San Pedro de Atacama. First time I've ever tried sandboarding — or boarding of any kind, really (the girls, on the other hand, are keen snowboarders) — and despite the annoyances and the post-activity aches, it is totally kick-a$$ fun. It's definitely got me inspired to try snowboarding, sometime this year.
I only have three serious gripes with this small, mostly charming little town in the middle of Chile's northern Atacama desert, and they are the following:
- The Internet is really, really slow here — slower than anywhere in Bolivia (and that's saying something)
- The prices are ridiculously high, even for Chile (e.g. some places are charging as much as USD$10 per person for dinner — waaay more than what I've gotten used to lately)
- Despite being significantly lower down than the Bolivian altiplano (a mere 2400m asl), it's still freezing cold here at night
This morning, we finished our tour of the Salar de Uyuni and of south-west Bolivia. We stepped out of our dusty Land Cruiser 4WD, we transferred into a minibus, and we made our way to the Chilean frontier (having already technically left Bolivia two days ago). Our first of many introductions to the differences between these two countries, upon crossing the border: the first sealed, properly signposted road that we'd seen in a month! Chile really is a very, very different place to Bolivia. It's like stepping into another dimension.