San Pedro de Atacama



San Pedro, Chile, is a charming colonial village, with a large central square, the 18th-century adobe San Pedro Church, and streets lined with low-rise shops, restaurants and small hotels and hostels.

Barely an hour southeast of Calama and 1,040 mi/1,678 km north of Santiago, San Pedro is at an elevation of 8,100 ft/2,510 m. The main attraction there is R.P. Gustavo Le Paige Museum, which exhibits pre-Columbian mummies and other artifacts unearthed by a Jesuit priest who was also a noteworthy archaeologist.

The museum's mummies are quite a sight—some are displayed in glass cases, others in earthen jars, and most still have their skin, eyelashes and thick brown hair.

San Pedro also has one of Chile's landmark colonial churches and several nearby archaeological sites, including the restored fortress of Pukara Quitor.

San Pedro is also the base for a variety of excursions to the Los Flamencos National Reserve, which includes Chile's largest salt flats and a breeding colony of flamingos, the polychrome desert scenery of the Valley of the Moon and high Andean lakes.

Outside the reserve's boundaries, the village of Toconao has distinctive volcanic block architecture (as opposed to San Pedro's adobes).

The most popular excursion, though, requires departing your hotel at 3:30 am: Above 13,120 ft/4,000 m, the Tatio Geysers are a sprawling field of fumaroles that present an otherworldly spectacle at sunrise.

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