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One week as a Digital Nomad in San Pedro de Atacama

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I don’t normally write an entry on Digital Nomading from a particular location unless I’ve spent a significant amount of time in that place, but San Pedro felt like an exception due to its unique features- No, I don’t mean the surreal desert conditions or the local culture, but the hoards of a very particular type of traveler flocking to this recently-popularized area, and the impact that type of tourist has had on the availability of resources and on the cost of living.

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COST OF LIVING AS A NOMAD IN SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA

Transportation: The cost for taxis within the city (a flat rate of 3,000 CLP in 2019) was about 30% higher in San Pedro de Atacama than in the popular tourist areas of Patagonia in Southern Chile.

Lodging: I spent an average of $99 USD per night on lodging in San Pedro de Atacama (compare to $60 average per night in Chilean Patagonia, and an average of $31 per night in Argentinian Patagonia.)

Finding affordable housing in San Pedro de Atacama (or even 1-hour away in Calama) was a challenge. For me, I’ve learned productive nomading means no hostels or shared spaces, and accommodations comfortable enough that I’m happy to spend a morning writing or illustrating instead of wanting to escape. The same amount invested in lodging in San Pedro de Atacama buys meager lodging compared to any other city I visited in my 6 weeks in Chile. (For $65 USD/night in San Pedro de Atacama, I got a tent with a mattress, electricity, cold showers, and no wifi, 15-minutes outside the city. Only when I moved to a $120 USD/night hotel did I find the creature comforts essential for working on the road)

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WATER – Drinking the water in San Pedro de Atacama is up for debate, depending on who you ask. On one hand, much of the city is brand new construction, with much of the above-ground utility infrastructure new looking. Additionally, Chile, as a rule, is very strict on water quality and testing. On the other hand, there are rumors of arsenic contamination from mining and, certainly, sections of the water supply that are aged and potentially contaminated.

Most accommodations will provide bottled water for your stay- if they don’t, you’ll need to factor in the cost- which, in the dryest place in the world- is not a small investment.

One option for water in San Pedro de Atacama is purchasing a LifeStraw filter before your trip. Some LifeStraws don’t filter arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals, but others do- so be sure to read the packaging. [want more tips on San Pedro de Atacama packing essentials? See my list ]

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The landscape in San Pedro de Atacama is surreal not just for the geological features, but the type of tourist boom it is currently experiencing

WORKSPACES IN SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA

Free coworking spaces are common throughout Chile, but a rarer commodity in the still fairly small town of San Pedro de Atacama,  A unique challenge to working in San Pedro is lighting. In this always-sunny environment, most common spaces are shaded outdoor areas. Dappled sunlight is a pleasant way to spend a day on vacation, but makes reading a screen difficult. In fact, because of the lack of any moisture in the atmosphere over the Atacama desert, reading screens is a challenge anywhere except deep shade or indoor areas.

Because air conditioning is not common here (a quick Airbnb search reveals less than 5% of homes on their platform offer air conditioning) and daytime highs can be extreme (100 degrees + ) During my visit, I was unable to locate any good indoor workspaces with both even lighting and reasonably comfortable seating. – The closest came in the form of the lobby of the four-star hotel where I landed when, frustrated with the living conditions in reasonable-but-overpriced lodging, I just checked into a hotel with amenities to force myself to be productive in the time until my flight our of San Pedro.

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This hotel roof deck made an ideal work space for about one hour of each day around dusk.

Conclusions

Though popular and glamorous in some ways, San Pedro de Atacama is a poor candidate as a location for digital nomading. Though worth a short visit, the cost of living in this location combined with the difficulty accessing workspaces and good internet signal are likely to leave a productivity-motivated digital normal frustrated.

Instead of planning a season of work in San Pedro de Atacama, consider visiting for a few days and then moving on to Valpasarao/Santiago, Arica, or on to Bolivia or Peru.

 

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Need more help planning your Atacama trip?

check out my tips for visiting San Pedro de Atacama:

tips for visiting San Pedro de Atacama:
tips for visiting San Pedro de Atacama:

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