Cover Picture © Credits to istock/StreetFlash
Cover Picture © Credits to istock/StreetFlash

San Pedro de Atacama, the starting point for a desert adventure

3 minutes to read

San Pedro de Atacama is an ancient small town located in the tableland of the Andes mountains in the north of Chile. Surrounded by volcanoes, salt flats, geysers, and thermal waters, it marks the perfect starting point for tourism in the area. It is a great place to enjoy extraordinary views at both day and night. Well known for its relaxed vibe, clean, vibrant skies and for being the archeological capital of the country, San Pedro is a must for locals and tourists alike. Since San Pedro is your starting point for tourism in the driest non-polar desert of the world, it is the place you have to know before initiating your adventure! I’ll take you through the most important things you should know about this traditional town.

Architecture & the Indian culture of Atacama

One of the town’s most curious characteristics is its architecture because it still uses an old-fashioned way of construction, used in the past by the Indian culture of Atacama. One of those constructions is the adobe. Adobe is a technique that consists of making buildings with sun-dried bricks of mud and glued together with mud. This technique is efficient to keep houses cold at day because it absorbs the outside heat, and warm at night, as it expels the same heat, it absorbed before. This is an essential feature if you live in the desert where temperatures are usually high in the day but fall at night.

As you walk (or bike) through the city, you’ll notice nearly everything in the town has a beautiful shade of brown, which is due to the use of adobe in the constructions. Also, as a plus to ascertain how ancient the history of the town is, I recommend you to ask for la Casa Incaica, the oldest building in San Pedro!

San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro de Atacama, Región de Antofagasta, Chile
Picture © Credits to flickr/Allan_Grey
Picture © Credits to flickr/Allan_Grey

San Pedro's oldest church

The square is the point of reunion for everyone in San Pedro, a beautiful place to rest from the desert’s heat at the shade of typical trees. In front of it, lays one of the must-sees of the town, its church, which located in the center of the city, is one of the oldest churches of the country. Remember the adobe technique we told you about? The super ancient church of San Pedro was made in the same way; what’s different about it and even more amazing is that the roof of the church is made out of cactus wood, covered in mud and branches. I recommend you enter the building and look at the ceiling so that you can appreciate this. Also, keep in mind that it is a holy place where people still go to pray and had been since 1744.

Church of San Pedro de Atacama
Church of San Pedro de Atacama
Caracoles 362, San Pedro de Atacama, Región de Antofagasta, Χιλή
Picture © Credits to istock/anharris
Picture © Credits to istock/anharris

Archeological capital of Chile, Gustavo Le Paige Museum

As previously mentioned, San Pedro is the archeological capital of the country. In its museum, -named after the Jesuit Gustavo Le Paige, founder of the museum and pioneer in the archeological investigation in the region- you can appreciate its glory. The museum holds the most extensive collection of archeological pieces that belonged to the Indian culture of Atacama. Composed of over 380.000 pieces, here, you will find the history of old civilizations, as told by the items in an exhibition which include about 4,000 rakes, weapons, and pottery. Take note that mummies are not in display anymore, since the indigenous communities felt it was disrespectful of their culture and ancestors.   

Gustavo Le Paige Museum, transitory enclosure
Gustavo Le Paige Museum, transitory enclosure
Gustavo Le Paige, San Pedro de Atacama, Región de Antofagasta, Χιλή
Picture © Credits to flickr/Otavio Piske
Picture © Credits to flickr/Otavio Piske

San Pedro is the perfect starting point for an unforgettable adventure in the desert, but it is not just that, it also holds a rich history and an unusual charm. I suggest you tour the city on foot or by bike and fill yourself with the ancient mystical vibe of Atacama and its people. 


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The author

Francisca Pizarro

Francisca Pizarro

Hi, I am Francisca. From the north of Chile and south of the world, obsessed with natural landscapes and museums, I will take you through Chile as if you were a local, hoping you fall in love with this country as much as I am.

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