THINGS TO DO IN ATACAMA

by MorganeChrlr
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4 DAYS IN SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA

Do you want to visit San Pedro de Atacama, where there’s the driest desert on the planet? Here are some day trips of the things to do in Atacama.

WHAT ARE THE THINGS TO DO IN ATACAMA?

ASTRONOMIC TOUR

The Atacama Desert’s the perfect place to take an astronomical tour. It’s for me one of the best things to do in Atacama! The weather’s often favorable, and above all there’s little light pollution, so it’s perfect! To do the excursion, we chose to do it with Space Obs because we had seen it recommended in several blogs, and it has very good comments. And after I did the excursion, I’ll also say only good things about it. Here’s why you should consider this agency.
The agency doesn’t always make excursions depending on the time of year. Don’t hesitate to contact them a few days before to find out when they have availability. Once you’ve booked your date, go to the center at 9 p.m. for a shuttle to pick up the whole group. We were about fifteen French speakers. Don’t worry, if you don’t speak French, he also does tours in English and Spanish. You arrive in front of a house lit with red light. There, you meet the guide Alain, a passionate guide and quite well-known in the field. He explains a few notions about the stars and the Milky Way while your eyes get used to the darkness. Then you go outside to observe the stars and the Milky Way. Wow! An incredible starry night. It’s one of my nicest memories of my trip. To celebrate my one year of travel under this magnificent sky, it’s priceless. The guide shows the different constellations and gives some explanations. Then you can look at these stars through huge telescopes installed in his garden. It has the biggest telescopes in the region. Depending on the nights, you’ll be able to see a star more detailed, a nebula, a galaxy, sometimes a planet, it will depend on the moment. Take warm clothes because you’ll be outside for a long time and it can be cold at night. After the souvenir photo, you return to the house for a few more explanations, and a good hot drink. A really interesting guide that popularizes astronomy well while going into some details if you’re interested. The tour normally ends at 11 p.m. but it ended around 1 a.m. and the shuttle took each person back to their accommodation. So yes, I really recommend this agency for an astronomical tour.

Price of the excursion with transport, guide, hot drink: CLP 40,000*

VALLEY OF THE MOON

One of the famous attractions near San Pedro de Atacama is the Valle de la Luna. There are different ways to visit it. You can do it with your own car, by bike, or with an organized tour. We had decided to do it in collaboration with Layana Travel. By the way, a little tip, if you take a package of several excursions, or pay in cash, you may be able to negotiate the price.
This visit lasts only half a day. Meet at 3:30 p.m. in front of your accommodation. The park’s right next door, about 10 minutes by car. Once you arrive at the entrance, you must show your entrance ticket which must be taken in advance on the Punto Ticket website. Let’s go for the discovery of this old mining operation. The first stop’s at the Duna Mayor to admire the view of the entire valley including the Crater of the Moon and the Amphitheatre. It’s a wonderful view! There are different super beautiful geological formations! What’s good with the guide is that he explains the formation of the place and what you see, in Spanish and English. It’s super interesting! Then, you go to the 3 Maries. In my opinion it isn’t a must-do but it’s nice to see these rocks in the middle of nowhere surrounded by salt and gypsum. And the last stop is at the old Victoria mine. There are still some remnants of the place. The guide tells us the history of the place and what was happening there. During the whole visit, whether in the car or on foot, the landscapes are incredible! Brown and white as if there was snow. I had never seen a landscape like this before! The park closing before sunset, the agency takes you to a viewpoint at the entrance of the city to admire the sunset that colors the huge volcanoes in front of us. A small aperitif’s organized while you admire this beautiful show! Then they take you back to the city center around 6:30 p.m.
I really liked the excursion thanks to the beauty of the place! But also because the guide was interesting and he knew his subject well. We could take our time and the schedule we took allowed us to have time on all sites. At the last stop we were the last before the park closed, there was only us. The end of the excursion with the sunset and the aperitif is a real plus too.

Price of the excursion with transport, guide and the cocktail: CLP 35,000*
Entrance fee to the Valle de la Luna: CLP 10,800*

LAGUNA ESCONDIDA DE BALTINACHE

Around San Pedro de Atacama there are many lagoons to see. There are several salt lagoons, and it’s possible to swim in the Laguna Escondida de Baltinache. To do this excursion, we did it in collaboration with Layana Travel.
The excursion lasts only half a day. Departure around 8 a.m. in front of your accommodation to go to a viewpoint on the Cordillera de la Sal. From there they prepare a super good breakfast! The view’s beautiful ! This rock formation, and the color, reminded me a bit of the Death Valley. Then you have 45 minutes by car to the entrance of the lagoon where there are sanitary facilities. Put on your swimsuit to experience floating in a salt lagoon. It’s quite impressive how naturally you float. Don’t put your face or hair in the water because of the high concentration of salt. It’s advised to don’t stay longer than twenty minutes and to rinse with clean water afterwards. I won’t lie that on the internet, we are sold incredible blue lagoons, but there are so many people who go to the lagoon, that it no longer really has its original color… On the other hand, after the bathing, it’s possible to follow a path for about thirty minutes which passes next to the blue lagoons! The colors are incredible, it’s super beautiful! You then return to the city center before lunch.
The excursion’s fun and the experience of floating in a salt lagoon is quite amazing. But if you don’t have the time or the budget, I won’t necessarily prioritize this visit. If you do it without an agency, be aware that the last kilometers before arriving at the lagoon, there’s no paved road.

Price of the excursion with transport, guide and breakfast: CLP 45,000*
Entrance fee to the Laguna Escondida de Baltinache: CLP 10,000*

PIEDRAS ROJAS AND LAGOONS

One of the main attractions around San Pedro de Atacama is the Piedras Rojas! For this we took an excursion in collaboration with Layana Travel.
Departure is between 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. in front of the hostel. You join a group of about fifteen people to drive about 1 hour to the first stop, breakfast. The place’s super beautiful and you see the landscapes light up little by little in Trópico de Capricórnio. The view’s really nice from this place. Then, short stop in Socaire so that the guide pays the entrance to the Piedras Rojas (not included in the price of the excursion) and that you begin to acclimatize to the altitude quietly because the village is at 3,200m. To head towards the Piedras Rojas, it will take another 1 hour drive. The landscapes are magnificent. If you’re lucky, you might see vicuñas walking around in the wild. The guide makes a few stops on the way so you can take pictures of the viewpoints, mountains and vicuñas. Before arriving at the site, you stop at a magnificent viewpoint over the lagoon and the volcanoes. A great view! Then you arrive for the start of the walk. We had had a fairly strong wind, it was cold. Plan accordingly, you never know. The place’s beautiful! I really had the impression that we were in a painting with intense colors. I couldn’t believe it! The site’s at an altitude of 4,000m so don’t rush during the hike for your body to adapt to the altitude. The guide gives some explanations about the geological formation of the place in Spanish and English. The walk lasts about 1 hour and the landscape’s so beautiful! If it hadn’t been for such a strong wind, I could have stayed longer. The tour doesn’t stop here, you get back in the car for 40 minutes to see two beautiful lagoons, Laguna Miñiques and Laguna Miscanti. The color of the lagoons is still very different from what we’ve seen in recent days. Impressive dark blue! It’s possible to take a short walk near the lagoons to have beautiful views. When we were there, we saw vicuñas with their babies walking around. A beautiful natural show! After a few explanations from the guide, you get back in the car to stop outside the park, have lunch with a beautiful view. Then it’s off again for an hour’s drive to the Atacama salt desert. The landscape’s very different from what we saw during the day. That’s wonderful ! But the highlight of the place is the Laguna Chaxa. A reddish lagoon that hosts 3 species of flamingo throughout the year. Luckily when we were there, the flamingos were quite close to the viewpoints allowed for tourists. The guide advises not to make noise when you’re close to the animals to don’t disturb them. The flamingos are in complete freedom in front of your eyes. I could have stayed there for hours taking pictures. The guide gives a lot of explanations about the place and the flamingos, it’s quite interesting. The excursion then ends with a quick stop at Toconao village where there are artisan shops to buy souvenirs. You return to downtown San Pedro de Atacama around 5:00 p.m.
I really enjoyed this excursion as well. The landscapes are incredible and I’ve never seen that anywhere else! It’s for me a must when you go to San Pedro de Atacama. A full day of incredible scenery. The guide was really good, I was happy to have done the excursion with Layana Travel. We did a lot of driving but it didn’t seem like it because the tour was well thought out so that the journeys didn’t seem too much. If you do it without an agency, be aware that the road is largely paved except when you reach the Miñiques and Miscanti lagoons where this isn’t the case.

Price of the excursion with transport, guide, breakfast, lunch, entrance to the Altiplanica and Miscanti lagoons: CLP 55,000*
Price of the Piedras Rojas entrance to be paid at the Socaire village: CLP 15,000*
Entrance fee to Laguna Chaxa: CLP 8,000*

GEYSER DEL TATIO

The unmissable activity of the things to do in Atacama is the Geysers Del Tatio. A site with around 80 active geysers, making it the largest geyser site in the southern hemisphere. To visit it, we took an excursion in collaboration with Layana Travel.
Departure between 4:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. in front of your hostel. Why so early? To arrive at 6:30 am during sunrise to see all the smoke from the geysers. And once you arrive there, you’ll see the difference between the beginning and the end of the visit, you won’t regret the early wake up. It’s impressive to see these multitudes of geysers and all these fumes coming out of the ground. This is the first time I’ve seen so many! The geysers being located at an altitude of 4,200m, it’s cold. When we were there, it was -8 degrees and not having been equipped enough for these temperatures, I could no longer feel my feet because of my bad shoes. So advice from experience, cover up! You can always leave your belongings in the mini-bus if you’re too hot. During the visit, you take two walks to be close to the geysers and be able to admire this spectacle more closely. The guide gives explanations all along, it’s quite interesting. The place’s truly spectacular! You’ll see different types of geysers, it’s super cool. The geysers change activities every day. After the visit, you get back in the mini-bus to have breakfast on a beautiful viewpoint. The site’s still very high, take the time to acclimatize. On the way back, the guide stops at the Volcán Putana viewpoint where it’s possible to see some animals. A stop’s also made near a lagoon where there are pink flamingos. The landscapes are very beautiful. You’ll be back in downtown San Pedro de Atacama before lunchtime.
I really enjoyed this tour and seeing these geysers. It’s impressive! The guide was also very good on this excursion. If you decide to do it by car, be aware that there’s no real road for a long time. So at night if you don’t know the place, it can be complicated. And there will be people. All agencies do the sunrise, don’t expect to be alone.

Price of the excursion with transport, guide, breakfast: CLP 39,000*
Entrance fee to Geyser El Tatio: CLP 15,000*

TWO HALF DAYS ON HORSEBACK WITH A NIGHT IN THE ATACAMA DESERT

Would you like a horseback riding trip in the Atacama Desert over several days? It’s possible with Atacama Horse Adventure! We had done two half-days with one night in a tent in the middle of nowhere. I tell you all about it!
Meet at 1 p.m. in front of the hostel to be picked up. Either you take all your things and leave them at their place, or you can leave them at your hostel and take only the essentials. The guide’s French-speaking but speaks very good Spanish and English. Depending on the number of people you are, you leave with the guide and an attendant. In the afternoon, you ride for about 3 hours in magnificent landscapes, such as in sand dunes of Tudor. The guide explains well how to behave with the horse so that you’re as comfortable as possible. You’ll be almost always alone during the ride. It’s great to see the vastness of the landscape with the volcanoes in the distance! Then you come to the camp which is clearly in the middle of nowhere, near a tree. The camp’s already set up when you arrive, and if you wish, you can help take care of the horses. You admire the sunset while enjoying a drink and a good dinner. If you have good weather, you can admire the starry sky before going to bed. The next morning, you also do 3 to 4 hours on horseback. You go through different landscapes from the day before depending on your ease on horseback. For example, we had passed through the Cordillera de la Sal. A wonderful hike!
This is one of the things to do in Atacama. It’s an original way to discover the place. It allows us to take our time. The company’s great. They love their animals and take care of them. If you like horseback riding, I recommend this company. They have different excursions, don’t hesitate to contact them.

Price of the excursion with the horses, guide, transport, dinner with drinks, breakfast, camping equipment, water: CLP 180,000*

There are still plenty of things to do in Atacama! I couldn’t believe everything we could do. We chose the option of doing all our visits with agencies, but it’s possible for most to do it independently as Laidback Trip did. I also met people who rented a car in Calama and who met through Facebook groups in order to share the rental price. But be aware, some places aren’t accessible depending on the car you rent.

WHERE TO SLEEP IN SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA?

HOSTAL MIRADOR
Sector Aduana, Villa Alto del Mirador S/N,
San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Price: CLP 37,000* for a private room for 2 people / night
Click here to book a night.

An interesting hostel if you’re traveling in groups because they only have private rooms. The view from the top terrace is super beautiful! On the other hand, the kitchen’s a little small for the number of guests.

THE PRACTICAL MAP OF SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA

HOW MANY DAYS DOES IT TAKE TO VISIT SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA?

With 4 days in San Pedro de Atacama, you’ll have seen the essentials of the things to do in Atacama. But there are so many places to visit that you could easily stay there for a week without getting bored. Here’s an idea for multi-day itineraries

  • 2 days :
    • Piedras Rojas
    • Vale de la Luna
    • Del Tatio Geyser
  • 3 days :
    • The 2-day itinerary
    • The astronomical night
    • Laguna Escondida de Baltinache
  • 4 days
    • The 3-day itinerary
    • Horseback riding in the Atacama Desert

As I explained in the article, there are also other places to see around San Pedro de Atacama. You could stay there for a good 6 days while visiting other places.

WHEN TO GO TO SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA?

Being called the Atacama Desert, it rains very little during the year so at this level, all months of the year are good. On the other hand, temperatures vary according to the seasons. It’s more pleasant to visit the surroundings of San Pedro de Atacama between March and November where it isn’t too hot because there’s little shade in the places you are going to visit.

Table Example
JANUARY In the middle of summer, temperatures are high and it is a fairly dry period.
FEBRUARY Conditions are similar to those in January.
MARCH Towards the end of summer, temperatures still remain high.
APRIL Temperatures are pleasant for visits.
MAY During fall, temperatures gradually cool down.
JUNE At the start of winter, temperatures can be cool, especially at night.
JULY Days are cool during the day and nights can be cold.
AUGUST Still in winter, temperatures are similar to July.
SEPTEMBER It’s the end of winter, temperatures are a little warmer.
OCTOBER During Spring, temperatures gradually increase.
NOVEMBER Temperatures are increasing but remain pleasant.
DECEMBER It’s the start of summer, temperatures are rising.

HOW TO GET TO SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA?

If you’re arriving from outside the country, you can take a plane that arrives in Santiago de Chile. Then, either take an internal flight or a bus to get to Calama. From this city, you’ll have no other choice than to take the bus, or rent a car, to go to San Pedro de Atacama. Click here to compare the different in-flight options, and here for buses.

WHAT BUDGET TO EXPECT TO VISIT SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA?

The budget indicated below corresponds to a backpacker budget who travels with someone to share the costs of a private room, but also excursions only with agencies.

  • Accommodation: San Pedro de Atacama’s known to be expensive. Plan between CLP 37,000 and CLP 45,000* per night depending on what you find.
  • Food: If your accommodation has a kitchen, it’s the most economical solution for your budget. Allow around CLP 15,000* per day for your shopping. To adjust according to your wishes of course.
  • Transport: Being a budget with an agency, there’s no transport to plan because they’ll pick you up in front of your hostel or in the city center.
  • Activities: If you do everything listed in the article, budget around CLP 453,000*.

In total, plan on around CLP 700,000* for 4 days in San Pedro de Atacama with excursions.

MY TRAVEL TIPS TO VISIT SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA

  • Try to get there when the Milky Way is visible from the Atacama Desert (the new Moon).
  • If you don’t have a car and you take the excursions with the same agency, see if it’s possible to negotiate prices.
  • Places to visit are sometimes difficult to access by car. Look carefully before renting one.
  • Bring cash for all entries.
  • Don’t make too much noise at Laguna Chaxa when you’re near the animals to don’t disturb them.
  • If you aren’t used to altitude, it isn’t recommended to drink alcohol and eat red meat the first day or the day before a significant altitude.

*Prices are as April 2023.

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