Peter Orsel

A Quick Guide to Visiting and Photographing San Pedro de Atacama in Chile

San Pedro de Atacama is besides Patagonia one of the most famous tourist destinations in Chile. The unique landscapes and the dry climate make it a place high on many peoples bucket list. With Valle de la Luna, salt lagoons and a crystal clear sky for stargazing it has something to offer for everyone! I travelled to San Pedro in December 2022 and I’m here to give you my recommendations! Before I get to my favourite spots, some general advices for those travelling to San Pedro de Atacama.

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How to get to San Pedro de Atacama?

Most people arrive either by flight at Calama airport, or from Bolivia after doing the Uyuni tour. Both options work and don’t pick one over the other, just check whatever fits in your travel plan. If you arrive at Calama airport, it’s still a 1,5 hour drive to arrive in San Pedro. Don’t consider staying in Calama, as many people say there’s nothing to see and nothing to do. I rented a car beforehand and got to pick it up right after arriving by plane. If you don’t have a rental car, you can take the shuttle from Calama airport to San Pedro de Atacama. These leave once they are full and it will take you about 1 hour and 15 minutes to arrive at your accommodation. The price is fixed and should be 15.000 pesos (about $18 dollar). I used TransVip once and the journey was quick and smooth.

How to get around in San Pedro de Atacama?

San Pedro de Atacama is a famous destination and tour operators are doing everything they can to earn as much money out of it. Unfortunately this is the reason why many people skip or only decide to stay one or two nights. Half day tours can be somewhere between $35 and $70 dollar and with these prices entrance to the certain sites is not even included. If you want to see just three spots, you’ll be spending around $150 to $200, a whole lot of money if you ask me.

In my opinion, your best option is to rent a car. In San Pedro there’s one agency called West, but they’re not the most reliable and it’s hard to make a booking online. Instead, you could rent a car at Calama airport like I did. It saves you the transfer and there are about 7 companies to choose from. The cars are usually in very good condition and they accept all major credit cards. If you rent a car, don’t pick the smallest one. There are chances that you’ll hit some dirt roads and it’s more comfy in a slightly bigger car. I rented a Volkswagen T-Cross, a medium sized SUV, non 4WD. If budget is not a thing, I would rent a 4WD and have some offroad fun with it. Some companies state in their terms that you can’t hit dirt roads with your rental car, so make sure you are aware of the terms and conditions or you might not be insured. During Christmas I rented the car for about $48 dollar a day.

Chile is a bureaucratic country and they are surely aware of tourists renting a car instead of booking expensive tours. During certain hours it’s even forbidden to enter specific sites as it’s only allowed for touring cars to enter. This is in my opinion one of the stupidest rules I’ve EVER seen in a tourist destination, but unfortunately you have to deal with it if you want to enjoy the stunning landscapes. If you plan to go to a certain sight, always ask the staff of your accommodation if it’s possible to go there at that time of the day. They’re most likely to know as they deal with this problem on a daily base.

Internet connection in San Pedro de Atacama

San Pedro is famous for lots of things, but not for their internet coverage. WiFi is usually weak and it’s better to rely on mobile data. This works best in town, so if you’re staying at the borders of San Pedro your signal can still be weak. I bought a Movistar sim card in Santiago for about 5.000 pesos, giving me 40GB of data for one month. Chile might be expensive, but in terms of sim cards they were very cheap! The best connection in San Pedro is in town and I had 5G coverage around most of the tourist shops and restaurants.

My hostel recommendation in San Pedro de Atacama

During my time in San Pedro de Atacama, I stayed at Hostal Campo Base. The owner Rodrigo takes very good care of his guests, sending loads of voice memos with information about your stay and the breakfast is super good. If you leave early, they even prepare a little take away breakfast for you. There’s always potable water, the showers are hot, the beds very comfy, there’s daily housekeeping (even in dorms!) and they provide free towels. For me, I couldn’t have wished for a better place during my stay!

Food recommendations during road trips in San Pedro de Atacama

There are countless restaurants in town and at most of the places, it’s possible to eat for about 8.000 pesos. Many restaurants have a set menu where you get to enjoy a starter and a main dish for a fixed price, sometimes they even include dessert! My biggest recommendation regarding food is to bring empanadas or sandwiches with you, when you’re doing a self drive road trip. Most of the places you visit won’t have any shops or restaurants. Bring loads of water (more than you need) and enough snacks to survive at least a day!

Drone Photography in San Pedro de Atacama

The last thing I want to mention, is that San Pedro and Chile in general got way stricter in drone usage recently. I don’t really know why as you’re completely alone at a lot of places and you can’t harm anyone. It feels like people just feel unsafe about drones and they decide to ban them. The DJI No Fly map doesn’t count the locations as no drone zones, but I advice you to be aware whether to use it or not. First of all, there’s a strong wind at some locations, making it very hard to control the drone. Besides that, you’re likely to get to high altitudes. Your drone will give you a warning that you’re flying above 3.000m and that your drone probably won’t operate the same as when you’re at lower altitudes. Your propellors have to work harder because of the lower density of the air and your battery could be damaged by using a drone at high altitudes. I got some drone footage at the spots, but don’t be disappointed as they won’t let you fly your drone at most of the locations, especially when you’re joining tour groups.

After all the information about San Pedro de Atacama and Chile in general, it’s time to head to my favourite spots. Here are my favourite places in a random order!

How to find the best photography spots in San Pedro de Atacama

If you’re interested in the best spots to visit during a trip through the beautiful Atacama desert, head over to this post! I visited a lot of great places and the landscapes are some of my favorite landscapes in the world. Enough reason to travel to one of the driest places in the world!

Written by:

Peter Orsel

Peter Orsel

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