Best things to do in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Visiting the desert and deciding between all the tours in San Pedro de Atacama and nearby interests can be exhausting. There are so many options, that it is easy to get dizzy. That’s why I wrote this complete guide based on the trips that San Pedro and the Atacama desert offers.
First, let’s look at some data: the Atacama desert covers an area of 105,000 km² and covers a large section of northern Chile, from the Arica and Parinacota region to the northern region of Coquimbo.
San Pedro de Atacama is a charming place that looks more like a town than a city but could be considered the heart of the desert.
Most travelers use San Pedro as a base to explore the main attractions of the desert. Keep in mind that distances here are large, therefore you need at least 4 days to do the most important activities.
Where to sleep in San Pedro
In San Pedro, travelers of all types are concentrated. Here you will find 5-star hotels, youth hostels, and cabins. There is everything for everyone.
You can do a search on Booking.com. However, it is better to book in advance. San Pedro de Atacama is one of the most visited tourist spots in Chile and accommodation runs out fast, especially in high season or on important dates such as the New Year.
Tours of San Pedro de Atacama
Keep in mind that San Pedro is a small town nestled in the middle of the desert, with adobe houses and unpaved streets: there are limited Wi-Fi, little electricity and lots of dust in the air, coming from the driest desert in the world. And unlike neighboring Peru and Bolivia, prices are higher, but tourism is better prepared to receive visitors.
In San Pedro, you can simply stroll through the city, visit the colonial church in the central square, go to the market to eat, buy crafts at the main fair and go out at night in a multicultural environment.
Nightlife in San Pedro
They say that in San Pedro it is forbidden to dance. At least, with music. Hostels, restaurants, and clubs can not make noise after midnight. This is due to the fact that a large part of the floating population of travelers gets up early to visit the multiple tourist attractions that exist in this region.
However, if you want a party, you will find it. You just have to ask the locals!
Guided tours in San Pedro de Atacama or visits on your own
In San Pedro, everything is easier if it is done with a guided tour. This is due to the characteristics of the desert. If you are more daring and are well prepared and informed, you can rent a vehicle or a bicycle and visit these places on your own.
Los Flamencos National Reserve
This reserve of more than 70 thousand hectares was created in 1990 in order to protect the local flora and fauna. It is divided into seven sectors, included in the list below:
Valle de la Luna
Valle de la Muerte
Lagunas Altiplánicas: (Laguna Miscanti y Laguna Miñiques)
Salar de Tara
Salar de Pujsa
Salar de Atacama
Aldea de Tulor
Sector de Tambillo*
(*) In Tumbillo there is a forest of 370 hectares of tamarugo, but I excluded it from this list since I do not think it is of tourist interest.
Enjoy the sunset in the Valley of the Moon
The Valley of the Moon was not baptized like this by chance: its landscape and its mountains with pink hues reflect us to a place that does not seem to be on Earth. Here you can enjoy the best sunsets in the desert.
It is only 15 kilometers from San Pedro and you can arrive by bike, in your own vehicle or on a tour.
Sandboarding in the Valley of Death
This is another must-see in San Pedro de Atacama. You can get there by bike since it is only two kilometers from the city.
Here you can do one of the most entertaining activities in the Atacama desert: rent a board and slide through the 100-meter dunes that are part of this incredible valley.
Lagunas Altiplánicas (Miscanti and Miñiques)
The Altiplanic Lagoons (Laguna Miscanti and Laguna Miñiques) are two lakes protected by two volcanoes that share the same names. Here the famous Chilean flamenco abounds. The lagoons are located a hundred kilometers from San Pedro and you can arrive by tour or by renting a vehicle to do your own tour. Salar de Tara, Salar de Pujsa and Salar de Atacama
Salar de Tara, Salar de Pujsa and Salar de Atacama (Salt flats)
The Salar of Tara or Tara Salt flat is one of the must-sees that you can not miss on your trip to the Atacama Desert. It is an hour and a half from the city, by car. The incrustations of salt on the plain create interesting optical illusions in which the blue of the sky is reflected. Have your camera ready because, if you’re lucky, you’ll find vicuñas and flamencos here.
The Pujsa Salt flat is the least known of the three, but it is no less spectacular. It is located southwest of Sara de Tara and 83 kilometers from San Pedro de Atacama.
The Atacama Salt flat is the largest in Chile. Its surface of more than 3 thousand square kilometers is almost completely covered by saline and lithium minerals. In fact, this salt flat houses 40% of the world reserves of this mineral.
This small village is the oldest in the region, ideal for those who love archeology. It is estimated that it dates from the year 800 a. de C. It is located about 9 kilometers to the southeast of the city of San Pedro and is on the way to the Valley of the Moon.
Wake up at dawn to visit the Tatio Geysers
Visit the famous Tatio Geysers, steam columns that emerge from the earth. They are 80 kilometers (approx.) From the city and it is recommended that you go on a tour.
The geysers are another must-see in San Pedro de Atacama. They are more than 4 thousand meters high, so it is advisable to go on your second or third day in the desert,when your body is adapted to the altitude.
Be careful with water and hot steam, there have been reports of travelers who have fallen into pools, resulting in lethal burns.
Relax at the Puritama Springs
Back from the Geysers del Tatio you can relax in the thermal waters of the Termas de Puritama, 28 kilometers from San Pedro. In high season it is better to buy your ticket in advance on their website.
Pucará de Quitor
If you have time to spare, you can take a bicycle or walk around the Pucará de Quitor, a 12th-century pre-Inca fort that is only 3 kilometers from San Pedro de Atacama.
A walk through Piedras Rojas
150 kilometers from San Pedro and more than 4 thousand meters high is Piedras Rojas, an attraction that you can not miss. The photos speak for themselves. Its reddish tone is due to the oxidation of the iron in the sector.
Here you will also find the Monks of the Pacana, two stone pillars also called “Moais de Tara”.
At the time of writing this article, Piedras Rojas was closed to the public.
Float in Laguna Cejar and Hidden Lagoons of Baltinache
The Cejar Lagoon is located 19 kilometers from San Pedro and you can easily get there on a half-day tour. Thanks to its high levels of salt and lithium, you can float without any difficulty. The same happens with the Hidden Lagoons of Baltinache.
Morning at Laguna Chaxa
One hour from San Pedro de Atacama, Laguna Chaxa is a salty oasis where Chilean flamingos abound. The colors that are given in the morning are amazing.
Surprise yourself in the Valley of the Rainbow
If you want to escape from tourists, I suggest you visit the Valle del Arcoiris, a place where you can enjoy incredible landscapes of varied colors.
Located 90 kilometers from San Pedro, this valley draws attention for its reddish, green and yellow lands produced by the mixture of minerals, clay and iron, and the rock formations produced by erosion.
Near the Valle del Arcoiris are the Yerbas Buenas petroglyphs, a 10 thousand-year-old rock art.
See the stars of the Atacama Desert
Chile has one of the most spectacular skies in the world. That is why important observatories have decided to settle in the desert. Take advantage and take a night tour to see the sky or visit ALMA, an observatory open to the public. You can register here.
So there you go. This is my list of things to do in San Pedro de Atacama. It’s not short, but at least you have a wide variety of attractions to choose from. Believe me, none will disappoint you.
You may be interested:
When to go to San Pedro
You can visit all year round, but the best time is between September (spring) and December and March (autumn).
Always wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and liquids. Remember that you are in the desert.
As you can see in this article, I used Instagram photos. On my last trip to San Pedro, I was the victim of a robbery, of my GoPro camera and my phone. I recovered the money, but I lost all my photos. I tell you the story in this story of the robbery in San Pedro de Atacama. But do not be discouraged, the place is safe, you should only take certain precautions.
Now that you know what to do in San Pedro de Atacama and surroundings, I can only wish you a good trip.