San Pedro de Atacama is the small outpost town in the north of Chile that travelers use as a jumping off point for trips to its moonlike landscape at Valle de La Luna, the early morning wakeup for the Geysers at El Tatio, trips to the various warm and cold lakes, and early morning wake ups as the ice melts from around the flamingos and they fly off to feed. The colors are stark and there are more kinds of bleak yet sharp landscapes than you'd expect.
The town itself is small, touristy and dusty, but nonetheless a good place to stay to do a series of daytrips, or a good place to get used to the altitude and extremely arid conditions before taking off on the four-day trip across Southwestern Bolivia (you cross the border not far from this town).
For a town this small, there's good food a-plenty (though it's not cheap), and good (but somewhat infrequent) bus connection to Bolivia, northern Argentina and the rest of Chile. It's a couple of hours from the Calama airport by transfer. Read about the trip either to or from SW Bolivia through Salar de Uyuni and other things to do starting from San Pedro de Atacama.
Photo: Eileen Smith.