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Chile, San Pedro de Atacama October 31, 2011

3 Reasons to Visit San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

After seeing some photos from the area surrounding San Pedro de Atacama, we almost never bothered coming to. We weren’t too impressed. We’ve seen plenty of deserts before.

I guess we should’ve known that often photos don’t do some places justice. We found ourselves wow-ed by the landscape around this small, adobe lined town with its dusty streets, and surprisingly overpriced cafes.

The desert is not for everyone, of course. San Pedro de Atacama desert’s beauty is one of the understated kind with its muted colors under harsh sunlight. Barren landscape dotted with knee length growths – so skinny and naked it’s not right to call it a bush just yet. Just clumps of sticks, really. And there’s the sand. Miles and miles of grey, boring sand.

But this northern part Chile is all that and more. Much more. Below are the reasons to visit San Pedro Atacama.

Highlights of San Pedro de Atacama

Laguna Miscanti

Jack in front of Lake Miscanti

Jack in front of Lake Miscanti

Laguna Miscanti, Chile

Laguna Miscanti’s water is so blue it looks like a 4 year old has cranked the saturation slider in Photoshop waaay up. This lagoon is blue-er, prettier, and more impressive than we had expected.

Salar de Tara (or Agua Calientes)

Salar de Agua Calientes, Chile

A play of color between the white of the salt and the turquoise water was unlike anything we’d seen before. For us, this salt flat was more interesting than the its more famous neighbor, the Atacama salt flat.

Even better was the fact that we had the place for ourselves since our tour company is the only one that goes here.

Valle de La Luna and Valle del Muerte

Valle de Muerte, Chile

Valle de La Luna, Chile

Valle de La Luna, Chile

Almost all tour companies in San Pedro offer a tour to these two valleys that end with a sunset over Valle de La Luna. The sunset was nice, but it was nothing spectacular. What was more interesting for us was the information we got from our guide on the geology of the area, and a walk through a canyon formed by house-sized blocks of salt.

However, the real highlight was running down the sand dunes in Valle de Muerte. Check out Jack’s happy jump over the sand dunes in the photo.

Visiting San Pedro de Atacama

We’re so glad we didn’t give the desert around San Pedro a miss. If your travel takes you to northern Chile, definitely give San Pedro de Atacama a peek and a look. Between the lagoons and the salt flats, the mountains and the desert…

It’s one of those places where pictures can’t seem to do them justice.

Related: Other places to visit in Chile

San Pedro de Atacama

Many tour agencies in town can arrange trips to these destinations. We went with Cosmo Andino for two reasons:
– They’re the only company that goes to an extra salt flat (that turned out to be our favorite) as part of their Laguna Altiplano tour.
– They use re-usable plates and cups for their meals (as opposed to styrofoam cups like the other agencies). Definitely scored major points with us.
Chile, Iquique October 21, 2011

Humberstone – A ghost town in Chilean desert

Iquique, Chile

Humberstone - a Chilean ghost town

Looking back into the town from the mine area

“Why do you want to go to that ghost town so bad?” – Jack looks at me in a way that he does whenever I suggest things he finds absurd. Like going out of our way to see abandoned buildings and machineries. Like going out of our way just to end up in a town and got our stuff stolen (but that’s for another story).

I guess he sees ghost towns the way I don’t get birdwatching. Or eyebrow waxing.

Humberstone clock tower

Humberstone clock tower in the main plaza

But ghost towns, along with cemeteries and weird museums, do fascinate me. My ideal ghost town would be the one depicted in Michael Chricton’s book: Andromeda Strain – where the town was left just as if the citizens all of sudden decided to walk out one day (well – in the book they die) leaving half eaten food on the table and children’s toys on the floor.

Abandoned house

But Humberstone was not anything like that. The reason it was abandoned was something less sinister than a deadly extra terrestrial virus.

For awhile it was a prosperous town of 3500 that thrived on nitrate mining for fertilizer. These people had a town complete with a hospital, a public swimming pool, and even a theatre.


Posters advertising Chilean produced fertilizer

Then someday, someone came up with a way to make fertilizer through synthetic means: it’s cheaper to produce. Natural nitrate could not compete and the town slowly fell into decay. In 1960 Humberstone with its sister nitrate mining town, Santa Laura, were completely abandoned.

Inside a hospital room in Humberstone

Inside a hospital room in Humberstone

The abandoned hospital in Humberstone

The peeling wall of the hospital in Humberstone

The abandoned nitrate mine in Humberstone

The abandoned nitrate mine in Humberstone

Abandoned machinery - Humberstone

Abandoned machinery

Abandoned mine and its smokestack - Humberstone, Chile

Abandoned mine and its smokestack - Humberstone, Chile

Children's toy guns made out of wire in Humberstone

Left behind children's toy guns made out of wire

Stories about how ghost towns come to exist always make me a little sad. I can’t imagine having to have to leave my home town against my will, either due to economic force or others. The idea of being pushed out and not drawn to anywhere else. Where did these people end up?

Similar post around the web:
This ghost town in Ukraine is super fascinating.

Tell us

Have you been to a ghost town?

Info box:
How to visit Humberstone: Get yourself to Iquique (watchout for bag snatchers there). There are two companies that offer transports to Humberstone, they’re both located on Calle Barros Arrana in front of the market. The earliest leaves at 7 am. (1500 – 1900 pesos)
How to get back to Iquique: In theory, you can catch any bus going in the other direction. BUT if you leave in the morning, there’s only one bus an hour that goes back to Iquique. I ended up hitchhiking back.
Cost: 2000 soles
Tip: Get there preferably before 10 am since that’s when the souvenir sellers come. There was nothing like being the only being walking around a ghost town.