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 basepoint of the area, San Pedro is pretty crowded. And still it remains a really nice laid back town, with friendly cafés, restaurants and bars. Music is playing on the streets and there is always something happening on the main square
Although at first we did not recognize the well-known bright white church (which after renovation is now brown) and passed by, the cactus wood roof and the friendly interior of the building compensated fully for the change of color
2. Valle de la Luna
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 sun set. But we were impatient and passed by 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 is as if it would be on another planet. And with the Sun high above us the colors were just amazing. And we were almost alone for the 2 hours we spent in the area.
3.Altiplanic lagoons – Laguna Miscanti and Miniques
This trip was one of our favorites: we even returned here a second time. The 2 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 afternoon sun were just magnificient, creating a peaceful
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 vicunas and llamas are grazing, volcanos – 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 and the Ojos de Salar
On much lower altitude than the altiplano lagoons – at just 2300 m.a.s.l – we found a number of nice lagoons in the saltflat of the Salar the Atacama. Especially the views at the Chaxa lagoon impressed us with dozens of flamingos which reflect in the motionless water as if they would be standing on a mirror.
Also in the same area the Tebinquiche lagoon is 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. Another interesting spot are the Ojos the Salar (the eyes of the Salar), which are 2 deep waterholes with shimmering blue freshwater.
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!
7. A perfect starting point for a trip to Bolivia
San Pedro de Atacama is located at an altitude of “only” 2.400m above sea level and we used it as opportunity to accommodate to the altitude after the our trip from Santiago de Chile, Valparaiso and the wine yards. The daily excursions to the Lagoons and other spots nearby – which are mostly above 4.000 mtrs – were a good training to get used to the thin air. In San Pedro there are several tour operators who arrange trips to the breathtaking landscape of the Altiplano in Bolivia and especially the Salar the Uyuni. You can see and read about the Salar the Uyuni in our separate post.