SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA
San Pedro de Atacama
It is said that it is the driest place on earth…
The Atacama Desert justly evokes an absolute dryness, an un-shakable blue sky and a scorching heat. Sheltered from the ocean breeze by the Cordillera de Domeyko to the West, while on its Eastern side, the Cordillera of the Altiplano isolates it from the snowmelt from the Andean glaciers; this region virtually receives no precipitation. Have you ever met people who have only seen rain on TV? There is, nonetheless, a particularly charming village in the middle of this desert.
San Pedro de Atacama is located in a true oasis, at 2450 meters above sea level, making it a pleasant departing point towards the South of Bolivia and its fabulous laguna and salars. To finish an expedition there is also a treat.
You will soon forget about the harshness of the altiplano. From San Pedro de Atacama, there is also a road that traverses the Andes all the way to Salta and the Argentine North, multiplying the travel options! San Pedro de Atacama, inhabited since over 10 000 years ago, has a nice museum exhibiting numerous archaeological remains. The surroundings are also worth the detour: laguna Meñiques and Miscanti, salar de Atacama, valley of the moon and Tatio geyser…
The Chilean oasis-village of San Pedro de Atacama exists since long before the era of the Inca and was then occupied by Atacama people who had developed an advanced civilization, producing ceramics and distinctive baskets. The Spanish occupied the area as early as the 16th century. The village is the starting point for the expeditions in the Cordillera of the Andes, the Atacama Salar, the Tatio geysers, the village Toconao and the Valley of the Moon.
The first inhabitants of the region arrived about 11 000 years ago. During the thousand years they inhabited the area, they first domesticated the guanaco to give birth to the llama. They practiced transhumance between the Andes and the plateau. Then they became sedentary thanks to the development of an agriculture using plants that could resist the desert climate. Towns and villages were founded, some with fortifications over strategic buttes: the Pucarás. San Pedro de Atacama started being visited by humans between 500 B.C. and 300 A.D. when numerous potters communities elected to live at the mouth of Rio San Pedro in the Atacama Salar.
These populations practiced the deformation of their skulls, using from infancy small planks attached by wool strips around the head, to give their offspring a flat forehead. This civilization was ruled by the local village chiefs, the Atacameños, and stretched between the Chiu-Chiu depression to the base of the Andes to the Salar. A series of mummies were discovered in this area. Among them, the three thousand years old Miss Chile which replicate can be seen in the small museum located near the village central plaza.
Later on, the Spanish conquistadors Diego de Almagro and Francisco Aguirre fought the Incas in the area in 1536. Then Pedro de Valdivia completed the conquest in 1540 and started transforming San Pedro into a colonial village. Between 1890 and 1925, the villages from the plateau had the monopoly of live stock trade between the Salar and Argentina. Then, the population decreased with the diminution of this trade. Today tourism, work of the land the extraction of the salt of the Salar remain the principal activities.
ClimateThe village is located at an altitude of about 2 400 meters above sea level. The climate is extremely dry, with practically no recorded annual rainfalls, but relatively pleasant. The maximum temperature in the summer is between 25 to30 °C (December to February) and 18 to 25 °C in the winter (June to August). Nonetheless the nightly minimum drop bellow zero a good part of the year and can reach -10 °C
Excursions (outside of trekking and mountaineering)- El Tatio: a field of 80 geysers;
- Salar de Atacama: a salt flat of 8 000 km2 in the Atacama Desert;
- Lagon de Chaxas: inhabited by Chilean and James Flamingos, and belonging to the salar’s natural preserve
- Pukará de Quitor (Quitor Fortress): A fortification built in the 12th century;
- The thermal springs of Puritama;
- Laguna Miscanti (Miscanti lagoon): a lagoon at 4 100 meters of elevation above sea level on the Altiplano ;
- Licancabur: the volcano protector of San Pedro de Atacama.
- Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley): a desolate valley;
- Valle de la Luna ("Valley of the Moon"): A desolate valley with lunar landscapes but where are located the remains of some ancient salt mines;
- Llano de Chajnantor radioastronomic observatory.