Travel Talk

San Pedro de Atacama is a Tourist Trap



When the term “tourist trap” comes to mind, an image of this town called San Pedro de Atacama will vividly flash into my memory doing a song and dance. This place is literally a drop off point to get to Bolivia or vice versa via the salt flats. It does have some tours but nothing special. This place is the biggest tourist trap I’ve been in since I can remember and that’s not a good thing.

The town is old with dusty streets and dog feces everywhere. Our taxi driver joked it should be called San Pero de Atacama; pero means dog fyi. It’s a place where people come to get a three day tour to Bolivia which is what I’m here to do. I could have stayed a night and that would have been more than sufficient, luckily I’m out of here tomorrow.

It seems like this was a dead town that recently sprang back to life and is filled with people all too eager to take every penny possible form the tourist. We’ll get to that in a minute. First realize this is on the gateway of the driest desert in the world or one of them aka the Atacama Desert. It’s so incredibly hot during the day that I can’t describe it and it’s also really dusty and just miserable.

I checked into a guest house and immediately decided to leave the next day as it was weak. Turns out the alternatives were worse and an English gent mentioned they were there and bedbugs. Turns out our room was gone so we got a new room which is the most expensive I’ve ever paid in any of the Americas and get this, it doesn’t even have a fan in the hottest of all places I’ve ever been! It’s so hot I can’t even sleep at night; the term miserable comes to mind.

Besides that, I somehow got screwed on a laundry deal that ended up being ~$30; after a heated negotiation we got it to $~20. This was at our guest house, they wanted ~$20 a load and we ended up doing 1.5 loads because the lady did the small bag sitting next to the washer which was waiting for the rest of our stuff. What’s astonishing is the fight she gave us considering the extortionate price and shared fault…

The lady who smiles at you in the corner store may short change you; I caught this one lady twice and on the second time confronted her. It was so obvious that I had a receipt saying they owed me 500 pesos for a bottle return, she gave me 400 and only after I gave her the “what’s up with this, not going anywhere” look did I get my final 20% begrudgingly.

You’ll go get a sandwich some spot which is their “premium model” and it will cost $10 and it will be worse than a $2 sandwich anywhere else with stale bread. The exchange rates are atrocious and the city has no soul or even a pulse. It’s just dusty over-priced hostels / hotels which are very dear and bare bones or exchange bureaus, artisan shops, over-priced restaurants or tour operators.

That said, there is some decent food at acceptable prices to be found if you sniff around.

I wanted to stay here one night but one thing lead to another and a few issues came up including illness which have me leaving tomorrow. I can’t get out of here fast enough. It’s hot, I have no fan, it’s the most expensive room I’ve been in S. America, the hottest, dustiest, the price of an avocado seems to fluctuate every time I go in to get one and don’t see a lot of smiles. Seems like laid-back locals living amongst the influx of tour operators and other opportunists.

This is a serious tourist trap, if you want to do the salt flats I suggest you come and go as quickly.

This was my experience, I hope yours is more positive but hey, it was what it was.

Tomorrow I’m doing the salt flats tour to Uyuni, Bolivia, see you in 2014…

Tips hat,

P.S: Went on a walk today to see an attraction near town but nothing worth reporting on.

P.P.S: This isn’t news, people warned us but I had no idea it was like this…

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