The Atacama desert is located in the very northern part of Chile and is among the driest places on Earth. San Pedro de Atacama is an oasis close to the desert and is the perfect base for exploring the attractions of the area. On our „best-of-list” we have put the following places/activities:
1. San Pedro de Atacama – the town itself
As it is the center of the area, San Pedro is pretty crowded. Nevertheless it still remains a really nice and laid back town, with friendly cafés, restaurants and bars. Music is playing on the streets and there is always something going on on the main square.
Although at first we did not recognize the well-known bright white church and passed it, we soon found out that after renovation it became brown… But the cactus wood roof and the friendly interior of the building compensated fully for the change of color.
2. Valle de la Luna – the Moon Valley
As usual, we did a lot of things differently than other travelers. Allegedly this is one of the best places in the surroundings to see the sunset. But we were impatient and arrived already in the morning and decided if it was so nice we would return in the late afternoon.
The view was stunning – the whole valley was as if it would be on another planet. The sun high above us added also a special touch: the colors were just amazing. And we were almost alone for the time we spent in the area.
3. Altiplanic lagoons – Laguna Miscanti and Miñiques
This trip was one of our favorites, we even returned here a second time. The lagoons are on an altitude of over 4.000 meters, have salt water and beautiful views to the nearly 6 thousand meter high neighbouring volcanoes. The colors in the evening sun were just magnificient – the dream of every photographer. And the absolute silence and the grazing vicuñas created a very peaceful atmosphere.
4. Tatio Geysers and the road leading there
Although this spot is extremely touristic, you have to get up REALLY early to arrive for sunrise and the morning temperatures at 4.400 meters are obviously cold, it is a unique experience to see the steaming and bubbling geyser field in the light of the first sunbeams.
Unfortunately we were not so lucky, as the sky was very cloudy at the time of our visit, and the sun just did not show up: still we say it was worth the trip. The 100 km route along the Rio Puritama is marvelous: lagoons with flamingos and other breeding bird species, wetlands where vicuñas and lamas are grazing, volcanoes – some of them even spitting fumes and a few tiny villages like Machuca with its picturesque church. Worth the trip!
5. Chaxa and Tebinquiche lagoons in the Salar de Atacama
On much lower altitude than the altiplano lagoons – at just 2300 m – we found a number of nice lagoons in the saltflat of the Salar de Atacama. Especially the views at the Chaxa lagoon impressed us with dozens of flamingos which reflected in the motionless water as if they would stand on a mirror.
The Tebinquiche lagoon in the same area was a perfect spot to watch the sunset. From there you have a wonderful view to the changing colors of dusk at the salt coordilleres of the Moon Valley.
6. Swimming in the Laguna Cejar
Now this was a very special experience. The Laguna Cejar is one of the lagoons in the Salar where you can take a swim. The fun part is, that the salt content of the water is as dense as the one of the Dead Sea. This means that you are floating, no effort needed to keep you on top of the water. Really cool feeling!
And luckily we had to share the lagoon with only one other couple…
7. Perfect starting point for a trip to Uyuni, Bolivia
…and San Pedro is also a great base for a tour to the southern part of Bolivia. Many tour operators take you for a 3 or 4-day trip to experience the unbelievable landscapes, the feeling of altitude above 4.500 meters and of course the highlight: the Salar de Uyuni.
Read about our experience in Bolivia here.
There are many other things you can do in this area. Some of them are visiting the ruins of the Pucara de Quitor, a trip to the Salar de Tara, trekking in the Valley of Death, going for stargazing – you will see millions of stars!