San Pedro de Atacama is a small town set on an arid high plateau in the Andes Mountains of northeastern Chile. Its surrounding environments offer some of the most dramatic landscapes imaginable – from volcanoes to active geysers, hot springs to rolling mountains. These spectacular sites make up part of Los Flamencos National Reserve.
During a trip to South America in 2014, we entered San Pedro on route to spectate the infamous Bolivian salt flats. This town provided us with a convenient and much-welcomed rest bite, as it does for thousands of tourists and travellers each year (we did not expect much more).
On first impressions it was modest in architecture and sparse in inhabitants. Delving further into town, the infrastructure appeared no more than a handful of crooked streets surrounding a tree lined plaza and a traditional church. In contrast (pre and post siesta) this town brings relaxed cafes, bustling bars and intriguing market stools. Our initial impressions of the town were so wrong, for that reason we decided it deserved its own blog post.
So here’s 4 reasons why San Pedro is an eco-inspiration….
Our hostel was a characterful building created solely from mud and natural resources. Similar in material but varying in structure – our hostel drew likeness to an Earthship (*See Earthship blog) – perfect for lapping up the daily sun and ideal for insulating the cold desert nights. The rooms and kitchen were very basic, but the outdoor grounds offered a bbq area and fire pit for evening camp fires – at dusk the skies become crystal clear with high altitudes and low to zero light pollution, creating an unbelievable stargazing haven.
During our 3-day stay, we decided to hire bikes and explore some of the surrounding landscape. (This has to be at the top of the best bike rides we have ever experienced, purely for the abundance of scenery it offers). We crossed a multitude of winding streams, passed through corridors of towering mountains and found ourselves on the doorstep of Pukara de Quitor – ancient ruins dating back to the 12th century. Once these walls served as an important defensive fortress for the people of San Pedro and during our visit spoiled us with some spectacular views showing us what nature could look like if left untouched.
This exploration also served as the perfect opportunity to nose around some of the local houses – most built in a similar form to our hostel, made of mud and wood, all were built with the environment at the forefront of their design. The beauty of these buildings are that they make an uninhabitable environment habitable, utilising the long hours of sunshine by absorbing the heat and insulating the structure at night, when temperatures can drop dramatically.
Our hostel was filled with great characters from all over the world – an aged American traveler-carpenter had taken up work onsite and was preparing the hostel for the winter months. He spent most of the daylight constructing a front door and window frames for the bare hostel frontage and spent the evenings drinking beer, eating our food and sitting around the camp fire telling us stories of his travels, with the odd tip here and there.
This is undoubtedly one of the best places we have ever been to and offered us a prospect of what a town can look like when it works with the local environment instead of against it…it is a must visit if you ever get the opportunity!