A tiny town in the Chilean desert, supposedly the driest in the world, San Pedro de Atacama is a popular gringo destination for the nice scenery. Only problem is you can do the exact same things in the Bolivian southwest for a fifth of the price. Dirt and sand are everywhere, though the feral dogs don’t seem to mind.
Chance Of Hooking Up Rating: 1 out of 5 ?
Rent a sandboard and mountain bike for about $10 from any tour agency and then huff it to the dunes about a 25 minute ride away. Make sure you ask for detailed directions to the dunes because there are no signs that say “Sand Dunes Here!” Take off your shoes and do it in your socks. Landings are softer than in snowboarding but the sand will scratch you up and get into every crevice. Sand dunes don’t have lifts like snow mountains so you’ll get tired after just a few runs. Horse rental is also popular here. Other tours offer excursions to the middle of nowhere.
photo credit: Clau Beiza!
Cafe Export on the corner of Caracoles and Toconao has a somewhat lively scene after 9PM. Get the very filling “menu of the day” meal to save a few pesos.
Hostal La Ruca (Toconao 513)
$10/night for dorm room. Clean hostal but unfriendly service. It seemed like I inconvenienced the lady each time I interacted with her, including when I checked in. Courtyard lounge area has a weird Real World vibe to it. Try somewhere else.
Other Cities In Chile
If you're only going to visit only Chile then I recommend you get this guide, which is far more detailed than the continental guide above, with options that cater to a range of budgets instead of only the shoestring backpacking crowd. Also it gives more respectable treatment to small cities and towns that the larger guide breezes over with a paragraph or two.
South America On A Shoestring Guidebook
This is the guidebook that I used in my six month trip in South America. The maps are excellent, the information is complete and thorough, and the reviews are accurate, which is why it's often called "the bible" by many travelers. The only problem is that everyone else has this book so if you are the type of person that wants to hit the isolated small towns you will be disappointed. My advice is to use this book for its maps and information on getting from city to city, but talk to the locals and other travelers for those isolated gems that Lonely Planet for some reason didn't find worthy to include.
Spanish For Beginners
My copy of this book is so beat up and weathered it's disintegrating before my eyes. I took it with me to South America because I loved how it was organized in a logical way that kept me motivated to keep studying. Lessons start short and easy and increase in complexity as you tackle frustrating readings that help take you to the next level. The only downside of this book is that it was originally published in 1957 so some of the vocabulary is very dated. Still, you'll be hard-pressed to find a modern equivalent of this book whose teachings approach the same quality. Last time I checked you can grab a used copy from Amazon for less than a dollar.
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