In many IES Abroad programs, including the summer internship in Chile, you have some time off that’s perfect for traveling outside the city! In my case, we had a long weekend about halfway through our program — so a group of my friends and I decided to take a trip up north to the Atacama Desert. We spent four days exploring San Pedro de Atacama and visiting the surrounding areas, including geysers, massive valleys, dunes, and more. If spending some time in a quaint yet vibrant desert town full of amazing food, views, and karaoke sounds like your thing, keep reading for your handy beginner’s guide to visiting the Atacama!
Getting to the middle of the desert can seem pretty daunting at first, but it’s actually a pretty simple process if you know your options. The most common way to arrive is by flying from Santiago to Calama, then taking a bus from Calama to San Pedro de Atacama. This option is also by far the quickest. You can also take a bus all the way from Santiago to San Pedro, which might be a bit cheaper but is quite a long trip — so hopefully you really like your travel buddies! And whichever option you choose, be sure to book in advance for the best prices & availability. While in San Pedro, most everything is walkable or bikeable, so transportation during your stay isn’t usually an issue.
I’m gonna be honest, the desert is an adventure to pack for, but TOTALLY worth the hassle!! During your trip you’ll likely experience temperatures as cold as minus 10 and as high as 25 degrees celsius. My number one suggestion is to bring layers and things you can rewear. Most days in San Pedro I wore 3 to 4 layers and took them off throughout the day as temperatures and activities changed. I’ll also list a few absolute essentials here that I wouldn’t visit the Atacama without:
- Warm (winter) jacket, hat, gloves, and socks
- A pair of shorts
- Shoes that you won’t mind getting dusty
- Pesos! (Local vendors usually only take cash)
- Power brick & plug converter
- Reusable water bottle
What to Do
As far as what to do in the Atacama, there are endless options, including guided tours and solo adventures! My friends and I participated in a mix of both and really enjoyed it. There is so much to explore just walking around the town, including artisan markets, restaurants & coffee shops, historical landmarks, hikes and more. There will also be plenty of travel services offering you guided tours downtown San Pedro, but it can be much less stressful to book tours in advance if possible. I recommend checking out Trip Advisor for well-reviewed travel services offering tours to places like Valle de la Luna, El Tatio Geysers, and Lagunas Escondidas. Many services will even offer a snack or meal as a part of the tour, which everyone in my group were big fans of.
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I speak four languages (English, Spanish, Arabic, and Pashto), and I LOVE holidays, especially Christmas. I also love watching new shows, specifically fun reality shows like the Great British Bake-Off and Queer Eye.