San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro de Atacama is a commune of the Antofagasta Region located in the central-eastern of the regional territory. Its communal capital is the tourist town with the same name, located 90.41 km far from the provincial capital Calama and 239 km far from the regional capital, Antofagasta.
San Pedro de Atacama is situated in the middle of the most arid desert in the world and at more than 2,400 m above sea level. This commune is characterized for its tourism, which combines its important pre-Hispanic heritage and its natural landscape, allowing this commune to be located as one of the most relevant tourist destinations of Chile and being also known as the archaeological capital of Chile.
The territorial area of San Pedro de Atacama is 23,438 km2, being the fifth largest commune in Chile. From this area, approximately 4.1 km2 corresponds to urban area (0.01% of the land is destined for residential use). The main access road to the commune is the international route CH-23, connecting with the rest of the regional territory.
This area is of particular interest for the observatories since it presents favourable weather conditions and high elevations, two important characteristics for submillimeter and millimeter observances. Indeed, there are several observatories in the eastern zone, near to San Pedro de Atacama town.
Even though San Pedro de Atacama is an important zone for the tourism and telescope observance, it is not connected to the national power grid, which ends at Calama. To obtain electricity, the local communities of San Pedro de Atacama and Toconao share a small power generation based on diesel and natural gas engines, located between both towns, next to highway CH-23. However, this system is not enough and presents intermittency during its operation, leaving some localities without electricity.
On the other hand, the telescopes also have their own power generator, consisting of natural gas turbines and diesel generators, operating near to the observatories at high elevation. The main problems in this case are the necessity of almost daily truck deliveries of gas/diesel for these power generators and the difficult access to this place when the routes are covered by snow.