San Pedro de Atacama
The origins of the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama go back to prehistory. Subsequential groups left circular tombs, adobe houses with conical roofs, a ceremonial center of the Atacama people (under the influence of the Tiwanaku empire), defensive and industrial works by the Inca and the colonial local church.
Map of San Pedro de AtacamaLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
In December 2018, we took a small break from visiting the in-laws in Santiago to spend a few days travelling around San Pedro and the Atacama desert. Flying to Calama or Antofagasta are by far the cheapest options for people visiting from the capital - direct flights to San Pedro are available but seasonal and pricey. I also would recommend renting a good 4x4, as while the tours a plentiful, many are of dubious quality and value. Having the freedom to do things at your own pace was much appreciated, especially in unrelenting midday temperatures.
Part of the frustration with San Pedro is how poorly the TWHS write-up on the UNESCO site is. It makes it unclear what the main focus of the sight would be, ranging from bronze age Atacaman herdsmen through pre-Incan forts through the colonial churches in the centre of the town. I’m not sure how kindly ICOMOS would look at such a cover-all approach.
The town itself is pretty enough, a single central main street lined with neat little adobe buildings. The main attraction within the town is Igelsia San Pedro, a rather plain white-washed church of the local style. Even in the context of our limited travel within the area, we saw better examples of this style.
However, of much more interest was the pre-colonial sites outside of town. One particular highlight was the ‘Aldea de Tulor’, a 2,000 year old village. When we visited, we were the only people there, suggesting it is off the tourist trail. It's a shame; the site is well presented, and managed by the ancestors of would have lived in the village, the Atacamenos themselves.
Likewise, the Pukara de Quitor, just to the north of the town is another interesting reminder of the long history of the town. The fort predates the Incan conquest of the area, though from a little later than Tulor. Once the Spanish invaded, it was one of the very last areas of Incan control to surrender. The site itself it worth a visit, with really solid views of the town, the Andes and the desert.
Absolutely not to be missed is the Valle de Luna and the Valle de Muerte to the North-West of the town. These stunning valleys are made up of some of the driest places on the planet, and to describe the scenery as otherworldly doesn’t do it justice. I honestly feel these could stand alone as a natural site on their own merit.
Finally, while San Pedro itself is ‘only’ 2,500m above sea level, many of sights around the town are considerably higher than that. Be prepared to spend a bit of time getting used to the altitude.
I feel San Pedro is an interesting sight with a lot of potential, but I would prefer that any inscription focus on the pre-Incan heritage of the sight rather than lacklustre and over-represented colonial architecture. There are currently no sites representing the pre-colonial heritage of Chile (beyond Rapa Nui, which is a rather special case), and with the right framing, I think San Pedro should have a place on the list as well.
1998 Added to Tentative List
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