San Pedro de Atacama

San Pedro de Atacama is a Chilean town located in the Loa Province, II region of Chile called Antofagasta. It is a popular tourist destination. San Pedro de Atacama grew, over centuries, around an oasis in the most arid desert of the world: The Atacama Desert. It is located east of Antofagasta, some 100 km southeast of Calama and the Chuquicamata copper mine, overlooking the Licancabur volcano.

This town is known as the archeological capital of Chile and is located in between the high Lands (Andes Mountain & Altiplano) and the Salt Mountain Range. Situated just on the border with Bolivia this beautiful town is named after its Patron Saint San Pedro (Saint Peter) and the word Atacama, which, according to the ancestors comes from “Accatcha” in the Cunza language and means Head of the Country.

It was conquered by the Incas in 1450 and then by the Spaniards in 1540 becoming a Chilean government seat in 1555.

Downtown San Pedro still preserves the structure and construction of the Spanish colonial influence, antique adobe houses with interior yards and roofs made of clay and hay.

San Pedro’s church is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful churches of the north of Chile. In 1951 it was declared a National Monument.

The town lies at an average altitude of approximately 2,400m (7,900 ft) and visitors can sometimes experience mild altitude sickness. The local climate is extremely dry (with little or no rainfall recorded in the town itself) and mild, with daytime temperatures between 25-30 degrees Celsius (77-86°F) in the Summer (December to February) and 18-25 degrees Celsius (64-77°F) in the winter (June to August). Nighttime temperatures routinely drop below zero and can reach as low as –10°C (14°F) during the winter.

The Atacama Desert is a rainless plateau extending 966 km between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. It was created by the rain shadow of the Andes east of the Desert. Its area is of 181,300 square kilometers, in northern Chile. It is made up of salt basins (Salares), sand, lava flows, and is more than 20 million years old. It is 50 times more arid than California’s Death Valley.

In this desert rain is almost unknown and in some places, it has never rained at all. However, an oasis may be formed thanks to the waters that flow down from the Andes Mountain Range, either through rivers or underground waters and creates life.

In the oases located in the basin of the Salar de Atacama, there have been human settlements since time immemorial, which in time, have originated the Atacamenian culture or Lican-Antay: “people of the Oasis”.

It has been estimated that the first indigenous people who journeyed through these lands more then 10 000 years ago were hunters and food gatherers. In this era, the desert offered a different landscape with more vegetation and a greater number of animals and birds.

The first constructions appeared around the 4th century B.C. They were circular in shape and located in ravines or close to the rivers.

The transition from a nomadic life to a sedentary one, stimulated development of agriculture which was also boosted by important advances in irrigation systems which have lasted to the present day.

Atacamenian settlements developed their own rituals and customs which were enriched through contacts with groups on the high plateau.

Due to its climate and its altitude in the Atacama desert you can find a very special flora and fauna.

In this high altitude habitat of salt deposits and wetlands, you will encounter a great variety of Flamingoes. The most outstanding animals found are: Flamingoes, Vicuñas, Guanacos, Lamas, Foxes, Vizcachas and more.

The most abundant plants found in its flora are: Llareta (Yareta), Chañar, Algarrobo, Rica-rica, Pingo-Pingo, Fox tails, Cactus…