There was something familiar about San Pedro de Atacama from the moment we arrived. We struggled to put our fingers on it until suddenly it became clear: the oasis in the middle of the desert was a little like being at Glastonbury festival in the UK. Here’s why:
1. Transitory towns
San Pedro is filled with travellers. After being in off-season Argentina for months, it took us by surprise. Like a festival, it feels as though everyone is there temporarily – from the dreadlock-laden tour guides to the camera-wielding tourists. And most seem ready to party.
2. Vegetarian food heaven
There is an abundance of vegetarian food. We didn’t go in one restaurant without at least two vegetarian options, and most had more. Our favourites were the tacos in Export bar – so delicious.
3. Fire pit entertainment
The popular way to spend the evening is gathered around a fire pit, drinking, singing and playing guitar. Anyone who has ever spent time on the hill in Glastonbury, or even wandered through the campsites, will know why this counts.
4. Mandatory fancy dress
If they’re not dressed as hippies, they’re donning the Andean travellers’ uniform of colourful woollen everything – hats, socks, leg warmers, Christmas jumpers, gloves, even arm warmers. We think it’s a safe bet that a lot of those travellers wouldn’t dress like that at home. Festival goers adopt a similar approach, although San Pedro-ers do draw the line at fairy wings.
5. Hippy havens
In case you don’t have said costume, there are endless shops selling the required goods. Hippy must-haves and llama jumpers are all there for the taking. These shops would blend in a treat at Glastonbury.
6. Magnets for the New Age
With some of the clearest skies in the world, San Pedro is a mecca for stargazers. It’s also a magnet for New Age and hippy types, perhaps drawn in by the majesty of the sky. Glastonbury town is laden with crystal sellers and the festival started as a hippy dream.
7. And the roads are made with mud
It was this that spurred our moment of realisation. In San Pedro, the roads are made of mud, most of the town is pedestrianised, and there are few buildings more than one-storey high. We stopped in our tracks, noticed the colourful hippies wandering the streets, and the likeness was uncanny. However, unlike Glastonbury the chance of rain in San Pedro is teeny.
8. Tiny tea temptations
There is an awesome tearoom in San Pedro that reminded us of Glastonbury’s tiny tea tent – same laid-back atmosphere, preponderance of teas and drinking under the skies.
9. Live impromtu music on the street
It’s definitely not Radiohead, Beyonce or Manu Chao, but San Pedro does have its share of live music. Walking the streets, you’ll likely hear someone strumming a guitar, or a group bursting into a folklorico performance.
10. Victims of their own popularity
People moan a lot about how touristy San Pedro is, and every year Glastonbury gets stick for becoming more mainstream. While we imagine they were both better before the masses descended, they’re still awesome places – hence the popularity.
So it may not be like for like, but San Pedro de Atacama definitely does have something of the Glastonbury festival in it. We loved our time there and found the laid-back vibes infectious. Sure it’s touristy, but it’s also incredibly beautiful.
Have you been? We’d love to know what you thought.
Useful info on San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro is an oasis in the middle of the Atacama Desert. There are loads of activities to do there, from sandboarding in Death Valley to horse riding, to visiting geysers, lagoons, salt flats and the stunning valley of the moon. We got there by bus from Salta, which took 8 hours. It only leaves five times a week and is always during the day. The landscape is incredible, with colourful mountains and salt flats, but it passes through high altitude so made us feel quite uncomfortable. Drinking coca tea or chewing coca leaves is a good preventative measure to take. Also, if you do this journey and don’t feel too sick, you can rest assured that you’ll be okay on a three-day tour of the salt flats, which is only at a very slightly higher altitude. We stayed at Tuyasto Hostel, which was cosy and comfortable, and run by one of the friendliest women in the world. Added bonus: the dorm beds aren’t bunks. We would definitely recommend it, especially after hearing bad reports of other hostels in the town.