The North of Chile
This article will offer a fleeting description of two towns in the north of Chile, as well as advice on travel to and from these destinations and what to seek out and avoid. The two towns in question are San Pedro de Atacama (incredible), and Arica (not-so-incredible). This is only a brief article as if a traveller is following the route written of in my previous post, then this is the most effective way to travel upwards and onwards.
San Pedro De Atacama
San Pedro is a small desert town in the north of Chile that has hugely increased tourist activity in the last few years. This is unsurprising and utterly deserving, as San Pedro De Atacama was definitely one of the highlights of my journey through South America. Due to this influx of activity, however, prices have increased, making San Pedro quite an expensive place to stay. (Chile, in general, is regarded as South America’s most expensive country to travel in). This is especially evident when compared with the relatively low costs of Argentina. The price, though, is one worth paying. San Pedro is surrounded by towering mountains, meaning that simply leaving the hostel in the morning becomes a photo opportunity. While it is expensive to shop and stay in San Pedro, the food is somewhat less expensive, with three-course meals available at about 6,000 Chilean Pesos (about £6 or around $9.64 USD) Perhaps the highlight of San Pedro is the wealth of excursions available to anyone – including day trips to the hot springs, or a trip to the incredible Valley of the Moon, where you can witness the sun setting beyond the enormous mountain range. I was only able to afford the latter excursion (as you can tell, strict budgeting is a recurring theme here), and it did not disappoint. The excursion is an all-day event, taking in a huge amount of sights in the surrounding areas, and culminating in a gathering on top of a steep incline, where one can watch the sun set over the mountain range.
Needless to say, it was incredible. Do not visit San Pedro without partaking in an excursion; they are too good to miss. A warning for those travelling from the Salta region to San Pedro – the pass that is taken by the coaches is a nine hour one that scales a remarkable height through the Andes (around 4700 metres). While this offers incredible views, it also makes travellers susceptible to altitude sickness – a deeply unpleasant ailment that can be softened through the drinking of coca tea or the chewing of coca leaves. There are tablets that also fight altitude sickness, but in many cases the side-effects are too harsh, meaning that many travellers prefer to use local remedies. Be sure to take these precautionary methods before/while attempting this bus journey, as if there’s one thing that would make a 9 hour bus journey even more unpleasant, it’s altitude sickness.
Arica is a well-worn path for travellers going from Chile to Peru (Arica is perched nigh-on on the border). While it offers a pleasant stop-gap for travellers, Arica resembles little more than a tacky resort town that is luckily situated on the beach. When I arrived I was quickly turned away from the hostel I had booked as they had made a mistake with the room. Following a lengthy (and stressful) walk around an area best described as questionable, I hailed a taxi and headed for the main square of Arica, where the hostels may be more expensive, but are hugely preferable. There are shops, a cinema, and beaches close by. If you have the money to spare and are staying in Arica, I would advise a stay in the busier, more tourist-centric area. The previously mentioned, somewhat frightening area is near the bus station. While it is deeply unattractive, it does hold an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The beaches, while okay, are decidedly below-par when compared to others found along the continent’s coastline.
To travel from Arica to Peru is relatively simple: near the bus terminal is another terminal which specifically offers the opportunity for groups of people to travel across the border in a collective taxi (or, “collectivo”) for about the equivalent of £5 or $8.08 Usd. Tourists should be wary, however, as many people offering “collectivos” are eager to rip travellers off, so bartering becomes a necessity. While this method of moving through to Peru may seem a tad underhanded, it is perfectly legal, and certainly more cost-effective.
On To Peru!