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Tips for a happy tour experience in San Pedro de Atacama

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San Francisco...
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Tips for a happy tour experience in San Pedro de Atacama

I have long used tripadvisor to plan trips, but this is the first time I feel compelled to write in the forum. San Pedro is a wonderful place, with so much to see and do, but you have a totally different experience if you go on a good vs. crappy tour.

When I got there I was told by a local to just go for the cheapest tour since they were all the same. This is not true. The most common is large buses, but there are definitely smaller group tours. Price does not equal quality, so know what questions to ask. How big are the tours, how are the tours run (do guides explain or are they just babysitters)? Some tips for a good tour...

1. Go for small group tours! In my experience the 20 plus people bus tours did not provide much explanation, just very basic facts like the mountains and how tall they were. Not very informative. You can get much smaller tours (6 to 15 people) that are not much more expensive (in fact some are the same price as the big tours). Imo it is well worth it to pay $6 more for a 6 person tour. Big tours you end up spending a lot of time waiting for people to go to the bathroom, which is annoying. Especially important for the geyser tour where you have to get up super early (4am), with big groups you sometimes have to wait an hour to get picked up with the big tours since they have to pick up everyone else. Not fun, especially when you are tired.

2. A good tour guide is key to a good experience. On my bad tours the guide did not explain things thoroughly, and was more like a babysitter, just there to make we were shuttled from place to place at the appropriate time. Often I was the only person on the tour who did not speak spanish, and on the big tours they pretty much forgot I was there. You have to be persistent, and ask them to explain in English if they forget. All tour guides spoke English, but I found on the big tours they consistently ¨forgot¨to explain in both languages, especially when there was only one English speaker on the bus. On my good tours, even though I was the only English speaker, they never forgot about me. On a tour of about 15 people the good guide sought me out to explain things before he went to other parts of the group.

One of my good guides actually stopped by the road and had us sample wild plants and told us about their history. He gave us interesting facts and stories about the area. More than just spitting out facts, the good guides told stories or facts that stuck with me. The hard thing is, you do not know whether you will get a good guide or not. Seems that agencies often consolidate their tours, so you may buy a tour from one agency, but end up going with a guide from a different agency. For this reason...

3. Don´t buy all your tours in bulk at one company. Book one tour, see if the company runs tours that you like, and then buy another one. I made the mistake of buying several tours from the crappy company. I was only saved because my last tour with them was consolidated with another group, and we got a good guide. I was really upset about the crappy tours I went on compared to the good one. So I actively sought a different company (and asked these questions about group size, and thoroughness of the guides).

4. Consider getting a private guide. If you have two or more people, it may actually be cost effective to hire a private guide. I have the contact info for two really great guides, please msg me if you want their info. They are both freelancers and run group tours as well (that´s how I met them). I went on a private tour that was AMAZING, just me and a friend and the guide on a great hike to Death Valley from San Pedro city, definitely off the beaten path and a reasonable price. It is definitely cost effective if you have more than 2 people, it can be the same or a little bit more than what you would pay for a group tour for the same length of time. We did not need extra transportaton since we were hiking, so I am not sure how much more transportation would be if the destination is far away.

Bottom line: San Pedro is a beautiful place, which you can appreciate best with a good guide. Good luck, and please msg me if you have any q´s.

108 replies to this topic
Edinburgh...
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1. Re: Tips for a happy tour experience in San Pedro de Atacama

Hello!

Thanks so much for your message, just what I needed to hear!

I´m heading to San Pedro on my own in the next few days and was wondering about best accomodation and tours. Can you remember the names of the good tour companies you experienced? And tips for good quality, lively places to stay for a backpackers budget?

Auckland, Auckland...
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2. Re: Tips for a happy tour experience in San Pedro de Atacama

Hello! Would be really keen on getting those guides you talked about. I'm going to San Pedro with a friend in December and would like to spend ~3 days there so would be great to find some good tour guides.

Would be super if you could email me with some more details jessielly@hotmail.com

Cheers!

Jessie

London
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3. Re: Tips for a happy tour experience in San Pedro de Atacama

Thanks so much for this, just what I needed, wish I read it before booking my flight. I now have a problem in that I booked my flights before checking out buses. Therefor we arrive on day 1 in San Pedro from Salta. Day 2 complete day in San Pedro. Day 3 fly Calama to Santiago. Is this enough time. If not I will change my flight but need an urgent reply as to what I should do as I am leaving UK in a couple of weeks.

Thanks so much By the way did you also spend time in Salta?

H

London
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4. Re: Tips for a happy tour experience in San Pedro de Atacama

Thanks so much for this, just what I needed, wish I read it before booking my flight. I now have a problem in that I booked my flights before checking out buses. Therefor we arrive on day 1 in San Pedro from Salta. Day 2 complete day in San Pedro. Day 3 fly Calama to Santiago. Is this enough time. If not I will change my flight but need an urgent reply as to what I should do as I am leaving UK in a couple of weeks.

Thanks so much By the way did you also spend time in Salta?

H

England
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5. Re: Tips for a happy tour experience in San Pedro de Atacama

Hi, yes

I would also like to have more information about the tour to Calama/Atacama? How much does it cost normally if you join a big group/small group/private tour?

New York City, New...
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6. Re: Tips for a happy tour experience in San Pedro de Atacama

dear pochy183,

i am planning to spend 8 full days in san pedro at the tierra atacama hotel. DO YOU THINK THAT IS TOO MANY DAYS IN THE ATACAMA DESERT? is there enought to see and do? i like walking and hiking. i am interested in seeing it all: flora, fauna, geographical, archeological, cultural. the hotel is a bit upscale for me for this kind of trip, but everything is included and i wont have to figure out the daily excursion arrangements. thanks.

gail851@gmail.com

San Francisco...
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7. Re: Tips for a happy tour experience in San Pedro de Atacama

Sorry I have not responded more quickly, been busy with work.

goodtogethome, I did not get a chance to go to Salta. One day in San Pedro is a bit short, but you will have time to do one or two tours. I would recommend the Moon Valley tour which leaves in the late afternoon and ends at sunset. It's close by to San Pedro and had the most spectacular scenery of all the places I went to around San Pedro.

CLW07, tours in San Pedro range depending on how far away and how long the tour is. There are usually separate admission costs to each tour. Are there any trips in particular you are interested in? Let me know and I will see if I have the price information for the group tour.

gail851, I stayed in San Pedro for four days and I could have stayed longer. In case you want a change of scence, many people were taking 3- 4 day trips to Bolivia, which is offered by several tour companies in town.

England
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8. Re: Tips for a happy tour experience in San Pedro de Atacama

Hi, pochy183

We are only 2 adults and would like to stay for 4 days in San Pedro, Salta for 4 days, and Bolivia fro 4 days (not sure where as December is rainy season).

Any trust and good tour operators? You can send me a private message to let me know the details. Thanks!

London
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9. Re: Tips for a happy tour experience in San Pedro de Atacama

Thanks for your reponse. As a result have rebooked my flight.

So will now bus to San Pedro on Friday and have two full days and then

Fly out on Monday. Could even bus out on a Thursday to get in a third day if you feel that might be worth doing. Does seem a shame to go so far and then see so little.

Many thanks for your suggestion, I always know what I should have done once I have been so great to get the comments from someone who has done it before us.

London, United...
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10. Re: Tips for a happy tour experience in San Pedro de Atacama

Excellent info, thanks so much. I'm taking my family, 2 adults and 3 children and it sounds like we'd be best off taking private tours. Please could I have your contacts?

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