In this post, I will tell in detail everything about safety in San Pedro de Atacama and how I got robbed. Also, this was my first (and disastrous) experience with Worldpackers. Everything happened between December 28 and January 1st, 2017. I hope the facts speak for themselves.
Planning the trip to San Pedro
I was going to spend the New Year away from Santiago. It was already decided, it did not matter where or with whom, although San Pedro was my first choice. Some hotels were interested in hosting me, but we did not reach an agreement. I was getting nervous because the end of the year was coming and I needed to depart from the Chilean capital.
I checked Worldpackers, a platform that provides accommodation in exchange for your skills, a web page that I always recommend. I had already done this type of volunteering and I liked it a lot. Preferably, I offer my services as a content creator or helping with the accommodation’s social media.
However, among the available hostels, there was no such option. Most of them were looking for cleaners, except Llama Loka, where they need someone to promote the parties, help with the tours and work as a bartender.
“Perfect,” I thought, since I have experience doing those activities. So I applied on December 24th.
My plan was to stay until January 14th, since there were some agencies inviting me to do tours and I wanted to film them with a GoPro camera that I bought on December 23rd. The hostel Llama Loka answered me on December 26th saying they were happy to receive me. The next day I confirmed my arrival time.
Arriving at Llama Loka hostel
I traveled to Calama with JetSMART, the new Chilean low-cost airline, on December 28th and arrived around 2 pm to the city. I took the bus to San Pedro and immediately phoned Sebastian, one of the people in charge of Llama Loka. He told me that he was waiting for me on the 27th, although I always said that I would arrive on the 28th.
I got to the hostel in a taxi that the hostel paid for. Carolina, another receptionist, showed me the room where I was supposed to sleep with other volunteers. I asked her if there were lockers and she told me they didn’t need them.
I felt insecure.
It is known that sometimes people come to hostels to steal or even there are some robbers among the travelers, unfortunately. I’ve seen it happen many times. The hostels are not responsible for stolen objects, therefore, I think they should provide the optimal conditions so that their guest can keep their belongings safely. The hostel is large, with a pool, a bar and a dome for parties.
Like almost all San Pedro hostels, it looked quite hippy and rustic. As soon as I entered the room, I felt a nauseating smell. I made my bed with the sheets Carolina gave me. And then I noticed there were used Q-tips in the floor, dirty plates and cups all around, a lot of dust. There was also a knife on the table and more dirty dishes and glasses.
Then I smelled the blanket which I was supposed to use and discovered that the bad smell came from there. It was a mixture of foot odor, genitals, vomit. It was really disgusting. Who receives a passenger or a volunteer in these conditions?
As a traveler I have stayed in all types of accommodation, from tents to 5 star hotels. I have shared a rooms with 9 people several times and I have never seen anything so filthy.
I have never had a problem in sharing a room, but I think that this low standards were totally unacceptable, especially when the managers are aware of the situation and do not do anything about it.
I commented on the situation with Karina, my contact in Worldpackers. She was mad. I don’t like conflict and I wanted to know her opinion to check if I was overreacting.
Then I went to the toilet and I found a pile of dirty male underwear on the floor and a lot of flies. I decided it was enough. Karina supported me and immediately sent an email to the hostel. Carolina had gone shopping. When I realized she had returned, I went to talk to her.
The conversation went like this:
- Me: “Hi Carolina”.
- Carolina: “All good?”.
- Me: “Not really…”
- Carolina: “Yeah I noticed, you already open your big mouth and told your little friend from Worldpackers”.
- Me: (shocked by her attitude and vulgar language) “But… the room is filthy”.
- Carolina: (raising her voice) “If you were a real woman, you would have come to me first and tell me about it. We could have clean it for you”.
- Me: “This is how you welcome your guests and volunteers? You showed me the room, didn’t you smell anything? Didn’t you notice how filthy it is? What about the dirty dishes, the used Q-tips, the used underwear in the bathroom?”
- Carolina: “Well, I don’t know, nobody ever complained before. So if you are going to have this attitude, is better that you go somewhere else. Just let me know and I’ll drive you there”.
- Me: “Did you feel the smell of that blanket?”.
- Carolina: “No”.
And then she said that they were not even waiting for me, despite all the communication we previously had through Worldpackers. It was funny how she tried to make it my fault. It was absurd to continue to have a proper conversation with her.
Instead of fixing the situation, Carolina was very arrogant and rude. I never raised my voice or disrespected her. And it seems to me frankly impossible that she did not feel the smell of vomit from the blanket. It was beyond disgusting.
However, this hostel has a decent score in HostelWorld, but when translating comments that are in other languages (French, German), several of them agree that the hostel is dirty, that they do not clean and that the managers are rude. In addition, parties are held until the late hours. For me that was fine, but if you plan to get up at 7 am to go to the local tours, this is not the place for you.
San Pedro is one of the most touristic places in Chile, and I can’t believe that there are accommodations with such low standards of service.
I took my things and I walked to the village, which is almost an hour away. An older man in a truck stopped and offered me a ride. How worse can it get? I thought. So I accepted. Don Julio turned out to be from the area. He is a farmer, but he also has a lodging in San Pedro de Atacama called hostel Katarpe.
While I was finding a solution, he invited me to accompany him to the lobby of his accommodation, where he told me about his story. Without a doubt, he is a lovely person who empathized with what was happening to me.
At one point he told me that if I did not find a hostel, I could stay in one of his rooms. Don Julio was like a light at a very unpleasant moment. He showed me the rooms: everything very clean and tidy, a well-located place where you could perfectly take your parents or your partner. Hostel Katarpe truly recommended.
Getting to Backpackers San Pedro
Around 8 pm —remember that I had taken a flight at 11 am and I was tired— Karina from Worldpackers called me. She found me a spot in Backpackers San Pedro.
On my way there, I contacted the owner, Fabiola, to thank her for receiving me. I told her that I was expecting to talk about the activities she expected from me in exchange for the accommodation. In short, she wanted me to recommend her on my blog and the manager suggested that I could work one or two days at the bar.
I did not expect or request any preferential treatment for being a blogger. When I recommend a service, it is based on my experience, whether or not I receive something in return. And I also like to volunteer in hostels, it’s my choice.
The hostel is large and quite rustic, San Pedro’s style. The beds are comfortable enough and the bathrooms are quite clean as the two kitchens. It has a bar that opens from 7 pm to 11.30 pm and they lit a bonfire every night.
That first night I slept alone in room 6, near the reception. Everything was fine, but the neighborhood where the hostel is located seemed somewhat insecure. My intuition alerted me that something was wrong with this place, but I didn’t want to be prejudiced. However, I slept very well. The next day I showered and the water came out hot and nice.
Robbed in San Pedro de Atacama
The second night I slept in a shared room with two Chilean girls and a volunteer, but not from Worldpackers. It was the last room, right next to a pool and the back wall. I had one small can of beer with other travelers and I went to sleep just before 1 am.
I woke up when Isidora, one of my roommates, asked: “Why is the door open?”. Then her friend said “My phone is missing”. The last time I saw her phone was next to her, in her bed, connected to the charger.
My bag was where I had left it, next to my bed, so I did not worry, but then I opened it and my new GoPro was missing. Also, ten thousand Chilean pesos and my old phone were gone.
There was no doubt: we were robbed in San Pedro de Atacama.
Then we saw a backpack in the yard. It was the volunteer’s bag, the guy that slept in our room who was robbed as well. We ask Angelo, the manager, to check the cameras. We saw a guy hanging around the hostel’s courtyard. The camera didn’t show the moment when he entered our room, but we could see when he left the volunteer’s backpack in the garden. We were told by some hostel workers that it was possibly a Colombian living in San Pedro.
Then some Chileans told us that they saw him sitting on top the roof, but they were drunk and did not remember much. They said that he had a Colombian accent and that he had told them he was the night watcher. Then he went down from the ceiling to the courtyard of the hostel. I think you have to be very naive to think that he was actually working there.
I try not to be very attached to material things, but this spoiled all my plans since I could not film the tours I was going to. But then I thought that this could have been so much worse. We could have been raped and even killed and that’s what really shocked me.
The door of our room was locked, but the window did not have a lock. We assume that the thief reached in and stretched until he opened the door from the inside. However, it was extremely strange to Isidora, Sofia and me that we did not listen to anything.
As revealed by the cameras, the thief had time to check our things for at least half an hour. He opened my wallet and took out a bill, but he did not touch my cards. He took my phone out of its holster, which he did not take. Also, he didn’t take my computer or my GoPro accessories. He didn’t steal my roommate’s cameras.
Now that a few days have passed, I honestly think he might have drugged us.
There is no way possible that we didn’t wake up. One of the girls said that she was light sleeper as I am. And we did not hear when he opened the window, forced the door, took my bag, the volunteer’s backpack and Isidora’s phone? Impossible.
Why didn’t we use the lockers? Because these were outside our room, in the garden, and anyone with pliers could cut them without anyone noticing. And I repeat, our room was safe and we had our things in our beds or a few centimeters away from us.
Going to the local police
Angelo went to the police and they told him that the victims had to go and complaint. We went and the police told us that the Backpackers San Pedro hostel should answer for the lack of security. They also told us that the attitude of the manager seemed a little strange to them as if they wanted to avoid responsibility.
That night I was supposed to open the bar, and I told Angelo that I was probably going to be late. He told me there was no problem.
We returned with one of the cops to the hostel, we asked Angelo to call the owner, Fabiola, to show up. We asked her to take responsibility for the situation.
We made a list of the stolen things and the amount was over US$3,000. In my case, it was more than US$1,000, considering the new GoPro, a 64 GB micro SD memory, the GoPro pole, the Samsung S5 phone, among other things. Fabiola asked for a deal. Since I had bought the GoPro for a good Xmas deal (although I would hardly find it at that price) and the phone had a year of use, I told her that I would accept half of the money. She still insisted on a better deal but I said no.
It was a very uncomfortable situation because the owner had agreed to accept me as a volunteer, even though they did not need another one —actually, it was not true because an Argentinian volunteer was leaving the next day and I heard them talking about what to do about it. But I think it was their responsibility to answer for the lack of security of the hostel.
There was a poster that said there was a guard at night, but there was not. I was thinking about going to a nice hotel, but I asked Fabiola if she still wanted me to stay as a volunteer and she said yes. She wanted a recommendation from me because she also has a restaurant in town. I repeated to her that I was not interested in having preferential treatment and I was willing to work more hours than they wanted to give me.
I felt guilty and wrong, even though I knew I was guilty at all for what happened due to the lack of security. Isidora and Sofia gave zero fucks and they wanted to leave, but it was late and I suggested to them to stay the night.
A New Year’s Eve “surprise”
The next day —and this is what really pushed me to write this post—, on New Year’s Eve, Angelo told me he wanted me to leave, ignoring our agreement, which I found very rude. He had always kind to me, but now I think he was cynical because I’m a travel blogger and he had to be nice.
So at 10 pm on New Year’s Eve, he totally screwed my mood and I had to look online for another hostel, although most accommodations were fully booked those dates.
I found it extremely heartless to ask me to leave that night, even though they only paid me HALF of the stolen values and even though I accepted to stay and do more volunteer hours. That speaks of the terrible human quality of the people of Backpackers San Pedro. I should have demanded the TOTAL amount of money instead of crying because I felt bad for asking for a reimbursement. I was being nice but they were definitely not.
The New Year’s night I left with the travelers of the hostel, with whom we had already made a super entertaining group. Tomás the Chilean, Anna the Swedish, Nick the Australian, Sigurd the Danish, Frank the Panamanian, more Australians, some Dutch girls, etc., we all went out together and had a great time in the town. Then we split up and I went with a group to an outdoor party.
I fulfilled my goal of celebrating the beginning of 2018 in San Pedro, but the fact that I had to find another place to sleep that same day seemed like a very bad decision coming from Backpackers San Pedro.
The first day of 2018 was spent looking for accommodation and check-in out and check-in in. Luckily, I found a room in the Ají Verde hostel, a pretty good place that also accepts volunteers with Worldpackers. Even though several hostels and hotels offered for me to stay, I decided to go to Santiago so I just paid for one night.
One possible solution to feel safer when traveling is to use this thing (below in the picture) behind your hostel/hotel door. They are cheap and lightweight and you can avoid strangers coming to your room like it happened to me.
Final thoughts about safety in San Pedro de Atacama and the robbery
This article has no other intention than to tell exactly what happened between December 28, 2017 and 1st. January 2018 and prevent other people from going through the same situation as I did. As for Worldpackers, they reacted immediately when I left the first hostel, Llama Loka. I sent them an email telling them everything about the robbery in Backpackers San Pedro and I am waiting for an answer.
The police of San Pedro was incredible. The day I left the town, I went to say goodbye and thank them again for their help. I think they have more important things to do, but I think safety in San Pedro de Atacama should improve overall. Unfortunately, I left with a somewhat bitter taste.
So, is San Pedro de Atacama unsafe? No, if you really know where to go and where to stay. If something looks doubtful, stay away. Do your research and you will be OK. San Pedro is an awesome place and there are some good hospitality businesses out there. Is people like Llama Loka and Backpackers San Pedro than give San Pedro a bad reputation.
I received an incredible amount of online bullying from Llama Loka. These people are beyond nasty, rude and aggressive. Do yourself a favor and DON’T STAY THERE.
I’m not one of those bloggers who only talk about the nice part of travel in order to get invites and travel for free. No. This is a blog that recommends things, places, and hotels that I really think are good, but I consider that when serious events like this happen, they should be shared as well.
I seriously recommend to take tours to San Pedro de Atacama and avoid planning yurself because you don’t know which ones are the legal tours. Trust me.