San Pedro de Atacama and Las Piedras Rojas

San Pedro de Atacama is a hugely popular destination for tourists. It is a dusty little town, reminiscent of 29 Palms (but smaller – everything is within 10 minutes walking distance!). The main and side streets are lined with tour agencies, restaurants and stores selling souvenirs. There’s also a gourmet ice cream shop which I’ve found the opportunity to visit twice already. It’s the best replacement for lunch I can imagine. 😉

The hostel here is also the nicest I’ve ever stayed in. It’s small, quiet and has a lovely courtyard from which I am writing to you now. It has the best stocked kitchen I’ve seen (still no measuring cups – I think they are philosophically opposed to them in Chile), and breakfast is included. My favorite part? Seeing fresh eggs out this morning for breakfast, to cook any way we wanted. I’m paying more than what I paid in Iquique, but it’s so worth it. 

There are no supermarkets here. This I thought might present a challenge, since I’ve completely relied upon fresh fruits and vegetables, quinoa and eggs. (I didn’t know the hostel breakfast would have eggs when I first arrived) The mini markets they have are woefully ill-equipped to serve any reasonable culinary needs. They are more 7-11 than market. I was just beginning to despair, and thinking I would actually have to settle for the sad little vegetables they had, and for bread and pasta for five days. The horror! 😉 

Then I spied something wonderful. As I walked back towards my hostel, I looked into the little nooks and crannies on the main street. What did I find? A lovely open-air food market, complete with all of my favorite fruits and vegetables, quinoa and eggs!! You all know me well enough to imagine my joy. I bought enough for my entire visit. I had no idea how often this market was open and knowing my luck, it would be this one afternoon and would be closed for the rest of my stay. Sure enough, I walked by this morning and the doors were shut and locked. How lucky for me!  

The dorm rooms in the hostels all have bunk beds. I’ve been fortunate enough to get a bottom bunk each time. But something happened my first night here that took me back to my time on ship. Another woman had checked in, and had the bunk above me. Just as I was settling in and ready to fall asleep, she steps on my bed for an instant to reach for something on her bed. 

Suddenly it’s 1998 and I’m a midshipman aboard the USS Carter Hall. Of course, I have the top bunk (of three bunks) in female berthing. I was young, unknowledgable and feeling out of place with the sailors. Then I made the grievous error of stepping on the bottom bunk – just for an instant – to reach for something on my bunk. The dressing down I received from that sailor has stayed with me (obviously!). 

Back to the present day here in San Pedro. My gut reaction to this transgression was to say something fairly unpleasant. Doesn’t she know these rules?! Then I remembered that I was a civilian, in Chile, and that this woman was more than likely an entirely nice person who made a mistake. The rude, mean people don’t generally stay in hostels. So I rolled back and over and went to sleep. Better part of valor and all. 

Really good decision. She was on the same tour as me the next day, and was a lovely woman. She’s from Bazil, and though she spoke no Spanish, she did mostly understand it. Between my Spanish and Google Translate, we had a very good conversation over breakfast. 

The tour was great. We went to several places, including Las Piedras Rojas (literally, The Red Stones) two different salt flats, and two lagoons up above 4,000 meters. I finally got a chance to use that cold weather gear I’ve been carrying around for ten weeks!  It was a long day, but totally worth it. Those are also some of the roughest road I’ve been on since I traveled through the backcountry of Australia.  Many of the roads were just dirt. It’s been interesting to see how pavement just ends abruptly, but the road keeps going, or how a turnoff goes into something I would not normally identify as a road. Fortunately, our guide knew exactly how to drive on them, so no worries. I think I still have all my teeth. 😉

English is prevalent in San Pedro (due to all the tourists). But I was surprised to be the only native English speaker on my tour. Four Germans, one French, two Brazilians one Chileno. My tour guide repeated everything in Spanish for those who didn’t speak English, and I thought did a great job. He really knows the history of the area. He took the time to explain that San Pedro always has after because there are four underground rivers all meeting here in San Pedro. He talked a little about organic farming in the area, due to the availability of water, the altitude and the dry air which generally keep pests away. And he talked about the native population, which he stated had made great strides in reclaiming much of the land they had lost to colonization. So interesting! 

I’ve included a map below which shows the different places we visited, as well as our proximity to Argentina and Bolivia. We crossed th Tropic of Capricorn and got to see part of the Inca Trail (the picture of white posts below).  After learning about the Inca Trail at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), it was. really cool to see the Trail in person and learn more about its history here in Chile. And yes, those are flamingoes. Unlike in Florida, flamingoes are found here above 4,000 meters. 

More tomorrow!  


  1. I have been in school for a week and missed some posts. You are having too much fun. Do I need to contribute to a Beth stays in Vina fund?

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