Your quick travel guide to San Pedro de Atacama.
I was born in Arica, the most northern town in Chile. I lived in the north of Chile until I was 16 jumping from Iquique, Tocopilla, Copiapó, and Antofagasta. The north of Chile is amazing and I miss it.
If you live in Chile or plan to visit soon: you must save a few days to visit the north. In this post, I will walk you through my trip to San Pedro de Atacama, one of the most mind-blowing places I’ve been at. Let’s get started:
Starting the journey to the Atacama desert
San Pedro de Atacama is a small town that serves as the base to a lot of tours around the area. You will find places to stay, eat and there are a lot of tour companies there too.
I was in a close town visiting my grandma, so I took a bus to Calama and then another one to San Pedro. But if you are in Santiago, fly to the Calama airport and arrange for an airport pick up from any tour company or your hotel. San Pedro is about an hour from the airport.
Staying in San Pedro
We stayed at a hotel that we booked online, but it wasn’t something we were super in love with so I don’t have a specific recommendation for you. But I would check all the options available through Bookings.com or Airbnb.com. If you are new to Airbnb, you can get up to $40 off with this link. There are a lot of hostels around San Pedro, which would be awesome if you are on a budget.
The town is small and you can walk everywhere. The main road called Caracoles has a ton of restaurants and bars. Many offer veggie options which are usually listed on the menus they post outside.
Exploring the desert
The area around San Pedro is incredible! We stayed a total of 4 nights in San Pedro, but we really only had about 3 and a half days to explore. Most tours were half or full day, we checked the times to coordinate them the best.
I recommend about 3-5 days minimum, so you get to see a diverse bunch of landscapes.
We booked everything through Denomades.com which connects you to local tour companies. I liked this option because it was easy to book, but if you are on a tighter budget, I would try to contact the tour companies directly to get a better deal.
There is the option of renting a car and doing these excursions on your own, which I would recommend if you have a big group. But since it was only my friend and me, it was nice having company and a tour guide that knew the places very well.
Recommended tours from San Pedro de Atacama
Let me walk you through the tours we did:
Moon Valley (Spanish: Valle de la luna)
The perfect intro to San Pedro de Atacama, it has all the landscapes you hope for and more. You see amazing sand dunes, rock formations, caves, and at the end of the day, they take you a viewing point to catch the most insane sunset you will see. Unreal.
tip: always bring a jacket because as soon as the sun goes down, the temperature drops!
Puritama Springs (Spanish: Termas de Puritama)
Honestly, this one surprised me the most. The pictures do not do it justice, the hot springs are so beautiful in person. You are in these super warm springs (there are 8 of them!), surrounded by the driest desert on earth. How?! It was so relaxing and I would 100% go back.
Hidden lagoons of Baltinache (Spanish: Lagunas escondidas de Baltinache)
The same day we visited the Puritama Springs, we did this tour in the afternoon. We were so excited about this one and it was so fun! The place is gorgeous. They let us jump into one of them, the biggest lagoon, and because of the salt level, we were able to float so easily. It was hilarious. In the end, we also visited a viewpoint to catch the pretty sunset. A must visit.
Tip: Make sure to book this one in advance. We heard a couple of people couldn’t find spots in the tours to this place.
Salt Flat Route
This one took us to one of the highest points you can reach by car, only a few kilometers away from Bolivia. The views were stunning, we got to see the Licancabur volcano up close, the rock formations were out of this world, and the animals were adorable.
To be fair, I felt pretty bad during this day. The altitude felt heavy and I felt very sick. So book this keeping in mind that they take you up to 4500 meters above the sea level, that’s high!
A classic tour which is also mandatory if you go to the area. They pick you up very early so you get to see the geysers at their best. It was super cold, but the experience was nice. On the way back, we made a stop at the tiny town of Machuca where you could grab a quick bite and look around.
tip: if you are planning to do this one, make sure to layer up as the temperatures are freezing.
This one is also famous for its floating superpowers. The lagoon is huge so it fits lots of people, so it was pretty relaxing. We made a stop at the ‘Ojos del Salar’ (eyes of the salt flat) which was a crazy sight. We could either jump in or just enjoy the views, my friend jumped and I took pics :).
For sunset, we visited a Tebinquiche lagoon which is also high in salt. So pretty.
One of the things about the desert is that you can have some of the best views of the clear sky at night. I’m talking seeing the milky way with your own eyes. It looks photoshopped in real life. We booked a tour with ‘Una noche con las estrellas’ which we came across walking through San Pedro de Atacama.
I recommend booking this tour in advance so that you choose the best night (depending on the moon cycle). The less the moon shines, the more stars you’ll see. The tour was amazing! We saw constellations, galaxies and learned so much. So worth staying up for.
Other tours I would do
I did as much as I could with the few days I had, but next time I would try the following: Altiplanic lagoons (Spanish: lagunas altiplanicas) and the Mars Valley (Spanish: Valle de la muerte).
Which tours should you do?
Depending on how many days you have, you will have to choose which tours to do. Try to choose your top options and fit them into your schedule. Also, give yourself enough time to rest and chill at least half a day between all the madness.
Tips for your San Pedro de Atacama trip
- DRINK SO MUCH WATER. Everyone says it but actually do it. I wasn’t so good and I was super dehydrated and felt sick for a while. Drink more than you think.
- Give yourself enough time for lunch and always bring snacks.
- Bring lots of change of clothes. You get dirty easily and you’ll want to have clean clothes for when you are back at your hotel.
Hope you like the info and the tips. Let me know if you have a trip plan to San Pedro. I loved it so much!
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