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article imagePhoto Essay: 'San Pedro de Atacama' — Oasis in the Atacama Desert Special

By Igor I. Solar     Aug 10, 2013 in Travel
Calama - This charming little village offers many historical and cultural attractions typical of northern Chile, and is surrounded by breathtaking natural scenery such as volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, and varied flora and fauna.
The village of San Pedro de Atacama is located 1,670 kilometers north of Santiago, at 2,440 meters above sea level. The town is a small oasis located near the mouth of the San Pedro River which sinks and disappears under the great “Salar de Atacama” (Atacama Salt Flats) that occupies an area of 3,000 square kilometers on a pre-Andean plateau of the world's driest desert, the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.
This lovely old town is named after Saint Peter, its patron saint. The area was originally the domain of the Incas in 1450, and it was conquered by the Spanish in 1540. The first local government was established in 1555. Following the style of the colonial towns designed by the Spanish, the focus of the village is the main square where the ancient church of San Pedro de Atacama is located. “San Pedro” is one of the most plain and beautiful old churches of northern Chile. No one knows the date of its construction, but it has served as the town’s parish since 1641. In 1951, it was declared a National Monument. The church building is constructed of adobe walls and ceilings made of wood beams from native trees bound together by llama leather strips and covered with a mixture of straw and clay.
The ancient church of San Pedro de Atacama is one of the most unpretentious and beautiful old church...
The ancient church of San Pedro de Atacama is one of the most unpretentious and beautiful old churches of northern Chile. No one knows the date of its construction, but it has served as the town’s parish since 1641.
San Pedro de Atacama Church. The  building is constructed of adobe walls and ceilings made of wood f...
San Pedro de Atacama Church. The building is constructed of adobe walls and ceilings made of wood from native trees covered with a mixture of straw and clay. In 1951, the old church was declared a National Monument.
This simple construction is the oldest building in San Pedro de Atacama and perhaps the oldest in Ch...
This simple construction is the oldest building in San Pedro de Atacama and perhaps the oldest in Chile. It dates from June 1540 and was constructed to provide refuge to Spanish conquistador Don Pedro de Valdivia during his visit to the budding town.
The oldest section of the village still retains Spanish colonial influences in structure and construction of the old houses with courtyards, built of adobe with thatched and mud roofs. In order to preserve the original appearance of the town, no street has been paved. The dirt roads have been covered with "vichufita", a mixture of clay and salt compacted with water. The main street, called "Caracoles", is for pedestrian use only. Here are the restaurants, travel agencies, bicycle rentals, souvenir shops, and some hotels. Most major hotels are located in the outskirts of town.
Early morning at San Pedro de Atacama. In order to preserve the original appearance of the old town ...
Early morning at San Pedro de Atacama. In order to preserve the original appearance of the old town, no street has been paved. The dirt roads have been covered with "vichufita", a mixture of clay and salt compacted with water.
San Pedro de Atacama Main Square. Tourists enjoy refreshments at an Internet Cafe and Bike Rental Sh...
San Pedro de Atacama Main Square. Tourists enjoy refreshments at an Internet Cafe and Bike Rental Shop accross the town's Main Square.
San Pedro de Atacama Cemetery.  This cemetery follows the ancient Atacamenian tradition of marking t...
San Pedro de Atacama Cemetery. This cemetery follows the ancient Atacamenian tradition of marking the graves with stones and a small mound of earth. Many tombs bear no name. There are also a few above-ground mausoleums, some of which follow the style of houses in the small "pueblo".
Around San Pedro de Atacama there are impressive landscapes of great natural beauty and archaeological remains of structures built by pre-Hispanic cultures. Interesting archaeological sites are the “Village of Tulor” and the “Pukara of Quitor”. Current indigenous settlements are the towns of Toconao, Socaire and Peine. The main natural attractions are the “Valley of the Moon”, “Death Valley”, El Tatio Geyser Field, the beautiful highland lakes of Miñiques and Miscanti, the Tara Salt Flats, and many others.
Due to climate and elevation, this area of the Atacama Desert region has a unique flora and fauna typical of salt flats and altitude wetlands. Here is “Los Flamencos National Reserve”. With a total area of 740 square kilometers (180,000 acres) the Reserve’s wildlife includes many bird species (three species of flamingos, Andean Condor, Andean Goose, Horned Coot, Andean Gull), and several mammals (Grey fox, Andean Fox, Vicuña, and Viscacha, among others).
The town of San Pedro de Atacama is home to about 2,000 permanent residents, but nearly 200 thousand people visit the place each year, of which nearly 40 percent are foreign tourists, mainly from Europe, North America and Asia who are drawn by the wide range of cultural heritage and natural beauty attractions of the region.
Around San Pedro de Atacama there are impressive landscapes of great natural beauty with large Andea...
Around San Pedro de Atacama there are impressive landscapes of great natural beauty with large Andean mountains and steppe-like grasslands vegetation.
San Pedro de Atacama may be reached from Santiago overland by car or bus (24-hour trip) or by plane to Calama City (2:15 hrs.) and driving from Calama to San Pedro (103 Km).
An interesting video on San Pedro de Atacama and nearby attractions may be seen here.
More about San Pedro de atacama, Calama Chile, Atacama desert, Religious architecture, Spanish conquest
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