San Pedro de Atacama is the jumping off point if you want to explore the Atacama Desert. It’s a very small town, only about 5,300 people, and there must be many days when the tourists outnumber the residents.
That doesn’t sound quite right to me, because most of the tourists aren’t actually strolling the streets of San Pedro. They’re out there exploring the Atacama, which stretches across 41,000 square miles of wilderness and includes towering Andes peaks, rocky canyons, salty lagoons and salt flats, and arid high plains.
As we were sashaying down Calle Caracoles, we noticed that almost every building on each side of the street is made of decaying adobe bricks. Jamie said, “This may be the most primitive town we’ve ever visited.” On one hand, that seems correct. But on the other hand, we quickly realized that the buildings made of those bricks now house sophisticated boutiques, ice cream parlors, tourism offices and other businesses you would never expect to find on an unpaved main street.
That’s one of the best things about traveling: The world never ceases to surprise you.
Of course, every town in South America has a Catholic Church, but this one is made out of adobe, adobe, and more adobe. I also love the two dogs hanging out near the front gate.
Look at that perfect profile. When Jamie and I first started going out, I tried to wake up in the middle of the night so I could watch her sleep and look at her perfect profile silhouetted against the moon.
Calle Caracoles, the main street in San Pedro de Atacama. No pavement, a thousand feral dogs, and a lot of nice, helpful people.
Is there anywhere else in the world where you can find a combination ice cream parlor and foreign currency exchange? And as if that weren’t enough, the store is named Babalu (cue Desi Arnaz).
And as an added bonus, here’s Desi Arnaz singing the song that made him famous, Babalu.