The Ultimate 3 Day Guide to San Pedro de Atacama

Hello everyone! I’ve been offline for a short while. Sometimes it’s important to take a break from being online, and actually getting out to explore. So that’s exactly what I’ve done, and I now have new, exciting experiences to share with you all!

A couple of weeks ago, my parents visited Chile (miss you guys already!) and we headed up to San Pedro de Atacama, the driest desert in the world, and famous worldwide for its moon-like appearance. I was almost at a point of worry before travelling here, because I had heard so many great things that I didn’t want to be disappointed. But once I arrived, I didn’t want to leave. Here’s how to explore San Pedro de Atacama and hit all the main spots in just a long weekend.

 

 

Saturday: Getting our bearings and astronomy tour 

 

We booked a flight from Santiago through LATAM Airlines and hopped on a two hour flight to Calama. Arriving in Calama, we booked a round trip bus to San Pedro, the main town of the Atacama desert, around one hour away. On arrival, we checked in to our apartment that a local woman was subletting around the back of her home, and began the search around town for the best tour company and itinerary for the weekend.

Note: Entering San Pedro may be a shock of your senses and you will likely get side tracked with all of the cute dogs, ancient architecture,  delicious and fancy looking restaurants, and above all – the natural alpaca wool sweaters that are the trademark souvenir of visiting here.

 

 

saturn-photo-atacama
Saturn through a telescope at SPACE

We had pre-booked a tour with SPACE: San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations (I advise this as it fills up quickly), and in the evening we met in town to hop on a bus for the tour. This was one of my favourite parts of the trip and definitely set us up for a good weekend. We learned all about the night sky, I took a photo of Saturn through one of the amazingly powerful telescopes (one of the most powerful telescopes with public access in the world – see photo below) and ended the night asking all of our nerdy questions over hot chocolate. Definitely recommend.

 

 

Sunday: Half day tour to Valle de la Luna with Flamingo Tours

What to bring: water, sunscreen, warm clothing layer, a hat and good walking shoes (some small crevices and caves to explore).

Starting at 3pm, we met at the Flamingo office on the main street and hopped into the bus on our way to Valle de la Luna, or Moon Valley. On arrival we explored crevices and caves around the entrance to the park which had beautiful salt formations all around.  From there, we visited the Three Marias, three vertical rocks representing three women (photo below). We also visited the Amphitheatre and completed another mini hike before watching the sunset and heading back to town.

Everyone at the Three Marias
Our hike overlooking the amphitheatre and volcanoes.

 

Stopping for a stretch between mini hikes around the Valle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday: Full day tour to Piedras Rojas

 

This is the ultimate tour we found. Leaving at 7am and returning at 6pm, this is the ultimate tour to see amazing spots in San Pedro de Atacama. We were picked up by the bus around 7:30am and made our way to our first stop, a small historical town named. This town has a beautiful church and bell tower with a door made from a now protected species of cactus native to the area. We also stopped to meet the town’s resident llama who stole the show.

We then hopped back on the bus and arrived at Los Flamencos National Reserve. I had never seen flamingos in the wild before, and we were told it was nearing the end of the season (start of May, going into winter) and that we may see maximum 10 flamingos. We were very pleasantly surprised by the turnout of over 50!

Following this, we arrived at Piedras Rojas and explored the area, and saw a lot of wildlife including Suri which are related to an ostrich, vicuña, and a desert fox. Following this, we ended our trip at Laguna Miscanti and Miniques at an elevation of 4,300 metres (photos below)! On Tuesday we hopped on a flight back to Santiago and my (current) real world life – and work.

 

Piedras Rojas
On the way to Laguna Miscanti.

 

Laguna Miscanti

 

 

 

Have you ever been to The Atacama Desert or planning to go? Let me know below and I can help with even more suggestions.

 

 

x – Jenn, The Redhead Abroad

Top 5 Etiquette Tips: Chile

Interested in Chile and want to learn more about the culture? Chile is a beautiful country rich in deep history and well-engrained etiquette. Here is a list of the top 5 essential etiquette tips to have when visiting Chile – and to fit in with the locals!

 

Tip #1: Permiso!

 

In Chile, saying “permiso” (english: “excuse me”, literally “permission”) is the key to following all polite etiquette in chile. When to say “permiso”:

  • You’re on the metro (train), it’s crowded, and you need to get off, say “permiso” to those in your way. They will politely step aside and allow you to exit.
  • When entering a home or a room. When entering someone else’s space, whether it be an apartment, home, room or otherwise, always announce “permiso” as you enter. This is the equivalent of saying something similar to “permission to enter”.
  • When reaching for something or asking anyone to move ie. reaching slightly across someone to grab something on the table,  or to pass someone in any situation they need to move or you will be in their personal space.
  • When you’re about to eat with your hands. See tip #2 for this one.

 

Tip #2: Fork and knife. Even for “finger food”.

 

If given a fork and knife with your meal, DO NOT eat with your hands. I found this out the hard way while eating pizza. In Canada, we dig right in with our hands. Unless it’s extremely hot or we are in a more formal situation, then we might use a fork and knife. In Chile, it is considered very bad manners to not use a knife and fork to eat, including with what other countries consider finger food (pizza is the biggest one).

A good idea is to wait until someone eats with their hands, ask, or at the very least say “permiso” before picking up something to eat ie. a piece of meat, pizza etc. The only foods I have seen Chileans eat with their hands, and without saying “permiso” first is ice cream cones, empanadas and completos (see my post on these traditional chilean foods if you’re unfamiliar!).

 

Tip #3. Greet (and say goodbye to) each individual.

 

This is a very important tip. It is crucial here in Chile and varies a lot around the world.

In Chile, you individually greet each person. The size of the group, the people, the environment, it doesn’t matter. If you arrive to a party of 20 people and you don’t know half of them, you go around the room and kiss each individual on their right cheek (right cheek to right cheek) and say hello, and your name if you haven’t met before. For women, you greet everyone with this cheek kiss, and add in a hug for people you know well, or whenever you want! For men, you greet with a cheek kiss to women and shake hands of other men- unless he is a close friend or family- then give a kiss on the cheek if you wish. This is common courtesy and is expected of everyone! When you are leaving, you say goodbye in the same manner to each individual. This is very important as you may be seen as cold or impolite if you forget!

Coming from Canada, arriving to a big get together consists of waving and loudly saying hello to everyone, especially if you have recently seen everyone and you are a very casual group. This is seen as very awkward in Chile! Kisses on the cheek are always a good idea.

Extra tip: This form of greeting/departing someone is still valid in an office or interview setting. I learned the hard way!

 

Tip #4. To Tip or Not to Tip.

 

In Canada, we tip everyone. Taxi drivers, waiters, 15% no matter how the service is. Everyone! It’s engrained in our nature now. But in Chile, everything’s a bit more vague.

At restaurants, make sure to check your bill. Usually, the waiter automatically adds the tip into the total, so make sure NOT to tip on top of that! Although this tip has been added in, it is still up to you to decide how much of a tip to give, and it usually depends much more on the service and actual experience you had. Feel free to pay the full tip or discount it a bit.

Do not tip taxis. I haven’t heard of anyone tipping a taxi driver, but if you’re feeling extra generous of course you can.

In other cases, you can tip someone whenever you like, just keep in mind it isn’t necessary and usually they aren’t expecting it.

 

Tip #5. Don’t take your shoes off.

 

Just don’t. Before arriving in Chile, I was used to living in houses where it is very rude if you don’t immediately take off your shoes at the front door. This is usually due to general cleanliness or carpets etc. However, as soon as I started living in Australia with my Chilean boyfriend, my world was turned upside down!

Chileans don’t take off their shoes in their own homes (unless they just rolled out of bed- but they still wear slippers or flipflops), and definitely not in other’s homes. Whenever I don’t have shoes on in the house (I love going barefoot), there is always someone quick to say that I might get sick, even during Chilean summer! So, final word is: keep your shoes on.

 

There are my 5 etiquette tips for Chile! I hope you enjoyed this article and I was able to prepare you in some way for your future South American travels, or that you were slightly enlightened by these cultural differences!

Please comment, share if you like this post, and subscribe for more travel and wellness tips from myself!

For photos of my travels around Chile and other countries, find me on instagram !

x – Jenn, The Redhead Abroad