Chile's Atacama Desert on a Budget

Chile was just the teeniest tiniest little bit of a letdown. We came to South America expecting South American culture and found a country with no personal identity. The cities looked blandly European. American music tinkled out of shopping malls and supermarkets. The food was miserable and the people were neither friendly, nor standoffish. Of course, the landscape of Chile was beautiful, but where was the culture?

I kept telling myself San Pedro de Atacama will be different, it’ll be where I will find the backpacker trail and my traveller kin.

Chile was the most expensive country on our South America trip and unfortunately we were peeling through our cash. To keep our spending down we cut out some of the tours on offer in the Atacama knowing that we could do them cheaper in other South American countries. San Pedro offers so many activities we simply couldn’t afford to do them all; it seemingly exists just to entertain tourists.

Here’s my list of tours in the Atacama that are worth doing:

Activities we did in San Pedro de Atacama:

Horse Riding CH$15 000/USD$30 for two hours. The landscape was just spectacular and two hours was plenty of time to see the surrounding desert.

Rent a bicycle for the day CH$6 000/USD$12 - Bring plenty of water and a map. Its thirsty work peddling along rocky roads and the landscape looks pretty much the same, so it’s easy to get lost.

Gustavo Museum CH$2500/USD$5 – The Museum no longer displays a mummified Inca sacrifice and now the museum is just pots and pipes. Save your money, there are far more fascinating museums in Bolivia and Peru.

Laguna Cejar CH$20 000/ USD$40, a lagoon so salty you can float like in the Dead Sea. The water in numbingly cold but the backdrop is gorgeous. After swimming I left my bikini on for the drive back to San Pedro and later found nasty salt burns on my bum and back. Included in the price are transportation and a pisco sour at sunset. We really enjoyed it but the whole tour is still a bit on the pricy side.

Activities we saved for other locations:

Stargazing tour in the Elqui Valley CH$15 000/USD$30

We took this tour in Chile’s Elqui Valley wine region just a little to the south and it’s famous for its frequent UFO sightings, a landscape barren of light pollution and a futuristic observatory. The Atacama stargazing tour is just with a small telescope.

Geysers – We came close to paying for a tour of the El Tatio geysers in San Pedro but it would have costed CH$20 000/USD$40 and we just couldn’t afford it. Luckily we stopped at the Bolivian geysers during our 4WD overland across the Salar de Uyuni and saw them as part of our $80 000/$160 three day tour across the salt flats.

Flamingos on the Altiplano Lakes – this is another tour I was disappointed to miss in San Pedro at CH$15 000/USD $30, but was thrilled to find we visited them too on the Salar de Uyuni tour in Bolivia.

Sandboarding – Originally we wanted to go sandboarding in both Peru and Chile but funds meant we needed to choose our San Pedro tours carefully. Sandboarding in San Pedro costs CH$10 000/USD$20 versus the sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru at S50/USD$16 and this included a dune buggy ride.

Check out what we spent in Chile here

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Hey, I'm Emma

Fuelled by wanderlust, curiosity and a little restlessness, a natural at budget travel, so naturally, a travel blogger. An experienced chef, a proud kiwi, and a burgeoning photographer. And my old friends reading and writing? We go way back.

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