There are so many wonderful and unexpected things to do in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile that it’s quite exciting and scary to find the starting point. In San Pedro you will find peaceful villages sculpted out of rock or adobe. Towering volcanoes and the magnificent Andes peaks. The highest geysers of the world, and saline natural pools. Geological structures dated over 25 million years old. And on top of that, Alma, the largest observatory available to the public in the planet.
Let’s check all the amazing things to do in San Pedro the Atacama in the beautiful country Chile!.
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How to Get to San Pedro de Atacama
First thing firs, there are three ways to get to San Pedro the Atacama from Santiago de Chile.
Renting a car: It will take two days. Take Route 5 north to Bahia Inglesa (over 540 miles), and leave the next day to San Pedro de Atacama. This trip will be over 500 miles. Choose a four-wheel-drive car.
During your trip to San Pedro, it is better that each time you find a gas station, fill up your tank. Roads are not smooth, you will face some challenges like aggressive truck drivers and bad condition of the highways, that’s why is smart to leave Santiago earlier than 5 am to avoid heavy traffic. Be ready with cash to pay the different tolls you will find on the road, and don’t forget to take with you a good GPS and a map.
By bus: Using bus service is the only way to travel straight to San Pedro de Atacama From Santiago de Chile, and the trip will last up to 24 hours. TurBus is the only company in Santiago that offers this service, and they have very comfortable buses. It’s better to book your trip ahead of time.
By Plane: When you leave Santiago by plane; you will head to Calama city, and it will take only two hours to get there. Once you arrive to Calama airport, you will need to take a transfer (bus) to San Pedro de Atacama that will last approximately one hour and thirty minutes. You can book flight tickets with JetSmart.
What makes Atacama Desert Unique?
Atacama desert is one of the driest places on the planet with practically no precipitation and is further considered the oldest desert on earth. Because of its height location between the Andes Mountains and the Chilean Coast Range, no moisture from the Atlantic or Pacific can reach it. The desert is so arid than mountains over 20.000 feet don’t have any glaciers.
What to do in Atacama Desert?
It’s possible to hike, bike, camping, and horseback ride in Atacama desert. But it’s recommended to join one of the multiples tours available. The Atacama desert is a vast area and it is possible to get lost or be in trouble if you don’t have the proper equipment. For that reason, is better to ask your hotel what tours they have available.
San Pedro de Atacama
What everybody admire about San Pedro de Atacama, besides the majestic views, are the variety of choices for your style of travel. San Pedro de Atacama is an outstanding destination for photographers, adventurers, explorers, nature lovers, etc. You can covered almost all of these experiences in a few days.
Basically, San Pedro de Atacama is an old indigenous town with dirt streets and cozy adobe houses in the middle of Atacama Desert. it’s a gorgeous small with vendors on the streets and almost no electricity. There is a nice church in the plaza or main square. It will amaze you how constructions made of adobe can last for such long periods of time and be so warm in winter and cool during the summer.
There are several hotels in town but we can recommend these:
Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa. They have beautiful, serene bedrooms with soft beds, and amazing views. What in the world! Wake up in the morning, look through the window and there it is, the magnificent Licancabur volcano and the Andes mountains. The hotel also has a pool to enjoy in summer, and their own tour service. At night, they have and excellent location to appreciate the Milky Way in all its splendor.
Hostal Solor is also a great option for travelers. It is located 15 minutes-walk from the center of San Pedro de Atacama. There is a breakfast, complementary tea and coffee, and it’s possible to rent bikes.
Hotel Kimal with an excellent location right in the middle of San Pedro de Atacama. It has everything you need such as wifi, buffet breakfast, gourmet restaurant, pool, massage center, etc.
Things To Do in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
Explore The Salar de Atacama
Salar de Atacama it is located over 34 miles south from San Pedro de Atacama, it is surrounded by volcanoes and it’s the largest salt flat in Chile. You can walk through the salt flats, take pictures, and do a serious birdwatch.
Explore The Valley of The Moon
It will take around 12 minutes by car to go to the valley of the moon. This valley is a distinctive place, its landscape will give you the sense that you are out of this world. Whether you drive or hike, you will think you are actually walking right on the moon. You can climb the rock formations, and explore the caverns around the area.
Evening is the best time to visit it, so you can see stunning sunsets that will leave you speechless.
It’s possible to rent a vehicle or join a tour. We joined a tour at the hotel, and we were delighted. The tourist guide was knowledgeable and so friendly.
Due to the astonishing scenery, you will spend half a day in the Valley of the moon easily. Getting a good picture can be a challenge especially when trying to capture images with your phone, we totally regretted it. It’s a lifetime trip and a vast, raw, area to cover. Definitely investing in a good camera previous to this journey is a smart move and you’ll appreciate it.
Sunrise in The Tatio Geyser
The Tatio Geyser is situated over 14.000 feet above sea level. The best time to visit is by dawn because it is cold. Wake up and leave the hotel early, babe!. The cold hours in the area react to the geyser’s heat creating enormous steam columns everywhere. It’s a magnificent view you can’t miss and capture with a good camera.
It takes 1 hour and 32 minutes from San Pedro de Atacama to The Tatio Geyser and it’s important to have a 4WD. If you don’t feel like driving, again there are tours available from the hotel.
The Atacama Desert is the best place in the world to see the stars, because of two main reasons; its high altitude and no light pollution. Tour companies know the best remote areas in the desert to observe the stars. They provide refreshments and telescopes in case you want to go deep studying the stars. The hotel Tierra Atacama has one of the best locations that allow the observation of the milky way without more driving. Super convenient!
Also you can visit ALMA Observatory on the weekend, it’s the most powerful observatory available to study the stars and the universe. It’s recommended to book ahead of time at least with 90 days in advance. Check for more info here.
Take a Dip in Cejar Lagoon & Ojos del Salar
Salar de Atacama has gigantic salty plains with lagoons and ponds saltier than the dead sea. Visit Laguna Cejar or Cejar Lagoon (English), which is famous for its deep emerald color and located only 27 minutes away from San Pedro de Atacama. The beautiful turquoise waters will delight you. Feel the adventure? Take a bath in this wonderful salty waters and you will float almost like a flying sensation because of the immense salt concentration.
Protect eyes, nose, and lips. Water is so salty that once in contact with eyes or lips the burning sensation will take the fun away. The area offers convenient showers available for you to bathe and rinse off the salt. Please use the showers, otherwise after a few minutes and while on your way to another location, water will dry and a white, thick layer of salt will be all over your skin. Not nice!
Ojos del Salar
After visiting the Cejar lagoon stop by Ojos del Salar located just 9 minutes away. Ojos del Salar are a pair of Lagoons very close together and shaped round like eyes. One of them is great to jump in and swim. The other one has mirror waters and you can get awesome pictures and videos from both of them.
Say hi to Flamingoes in Chaxa Lagoon
Chaxa Lagoon is a great place to visit at only 35-miles away from San Pedro de Atacama. Visitors and photographers love the lagoon because of thousand Flamingos that feed and reproduce every year there. It has breathtaking views, and it’s surrounded by simple walking trails.
Explore The Stone Town Toconao
Located 30 minutes way from San Pedro de Atacama, and over 8.152 feet above sea level lies the small village Toconao.
This village is famous for its volcanic rock construction, its church and bell tower. They built the church some time before 1744, and nobody knows the exact date. They used volcanic rock to built the structure and cactus wood for the roof, doors and other details inside.
The bell tower lies separately from the church and they built it from adobe with a dome made of cactus boards. Both structures, the church and bell tower, are National Historical Landmark since 1951.
The main activity of the villagers is agriculture. There are also skilled stone handicrafts, and artisans who create colorful pieces made of wool of llama and alpaca.
Check Llamas in Machuca Town
Try the alpaca skewers when visit the tiny town of Machuca. They also offer great food like cheese empanadas and healing teas. On the way back from The Tatio Geysers, tourist companies make a 30 minutes stop in this little town. This is a great opportunity to enjoy the view of real llamas and flamingos.
Weather in Chile
Something important to mention is the weather in Chile. The country has four seasons. From June to August is winter, and summer is from December to February.
Summers in San Pedro de Atacama are long and arid. In the other hand, winters are cold, dry, and short. Temperatures vary from above 28 F to 84 F year round.
San Pedro de Atacama is a fantastic destination to visit, and a lifetime experience for the whole family.
Note: Pics courtesy of Dr Neisa and Luis Teran