Atacama desert travel guide

The Atacama Desert is an appropriate option to surprise many travelers, since it has a diversity of landscapes that fuel emotions. Considered the second driest place on the planet, in its corners it hides valleys, salt flats, volcanoes, geysers and other natural landscapes of great inspiration.


Located north of Chile in the Antofagasta region, the Atacama desert borders Bolivia and Argentina. Among the world’s deserts, it is considered the second driest area on the planet. And the base city to visit it is the town of San Pedro de Atacama. A small town where locals and tourists stock up.

Atacama is not a simple desert

This desert has rocks, mountains of paradoxical shapes, lagoons, salt flats and columns of boiling water. Even some vegetation that is complemented by the fauna of the Andes, such as the guanaco, the llama and the vicuña. Thus, a place with a wide tourist offer.

starry skies

Thanks to the low light pollution, the dry climate, the absence of clouds and rain, this desert is one of the best places on the planet to admire the stars. The main astronomical observatories in the world are located in this area and some are open to the public, such as the ALMA observatory.

In San Pedro de Atacama you will also find astronomical tours and even exclusive hotels that allow you to observe the sky. But, if you want to gaze at the stars on your own, all you have to do is walk a few streets away from the center of San Pedro de Atacama.

native peoples

On the other hand, if you want to know the daily life of these towns located in the middle of the desert, you will have to go out to the main streets and talk to their inhabitants. To start, San Pedro de Atacama is a good option; its streets, such as the characteristic Caracoles street, are packed with businesses dedicated to tourism.

Among other towns, Machuca stands out, a small town located between San Pedro de Atacama and the Tatio Geysers, in which an adobe church stands out and is a stop where tourists enjoy the classic llama meat skewers. Toconao, for its part, is a colonial town practically made of volcanic stone; Located about 38 km south of San Pedro de Atacama, one of its infrastructures is an English one with an external bell tower typical of the area.


The Valley of the Moon is one of the most incredible landscapes, where the orange tones of the sunset have the starring role. Before sunset, it is good to stand at the viewpoint next to the Great Dune to see how it hides and its last sparkles are reflected in the rock known as the Amphitheater. Among other areas you will find the Valley of Death or Valley of Mars and the Rainbow Valley, which also offer broken mountains and irregular peaks with infinite shades, capable of delighting your pupils.


This desert also has water as a leading entity. Lagoons such as Tebenquiche or the Chaxa lagoon where flamingos live, are part of the Atacama salt flat, which covers 3,000 km2, making it the third largest in the world.

Likewise, there are lagoons that are at an altitude of more than 4,000 meters, such as the Altiplánicas Miñique, Miscanti or Piedras Rojas, which enthrall tourists with their blue waters and beautiful surroundings full of vicuñas. On the other hand, you will find the Céjar lagoon, a set formed by three lagoons, whose salt concentration is higher than in the Dead Sea. Hence, you will experience the sensation of floating in water.

geyser fields

With temperatures that go down to minus 22º at dawn in winter, the Tatio geyser field is another characteristic place in this desert. Since the steam can only be seen at low temperatures, you should arrive very early. But, after sunrise it is possible to bathe in a geothermal pool, which is close to said geysers.


Mountains such as Cerro Toco at 5,604 meters high or the Licancabur volcano at 5,920 meters, are a good plan for those capable of making a great ascent. Another alternative is the Lascar volcano, whose height reaches 5,592 meters above sea level. Upon reaching the summit you can see a large crater 300 meters deep and 750 meters in diameter.


Other nearby sites

If you want to get closer to the more coastal regions, you can visit other sites in Antofagasta, such as the famous La Portada National Monument, a rock that emerges from the sea in the shape of an arch, or you could visit Hornitos Beach. On the other hand, to the south is the region of Copiapó, where you will appreciate a spectacular spa and port inhabited by sea lions, known as the Caldera.


Some Tips

In San Pedro de Atacama you will find many offices to explore the desert in a group or through a private tour. But, before starting the trip, you can also hire an agency online. Now, if you want to do the tour on your own, you will have to rent a vehicle or a camper and take advantage of it to sleep near the main routes.

In reference to what is the best time to travel to the Atacama, we could say that between autumn and winter (April and September), since the thermal oscillation is greater, the prices are lower and there is less influx of tourists, compared to those that They visit from October to March.

The Atacama Desert is a great alternative to get out of the daily routine. However, in order for you to appreciate the natural landscapes hidden behind its hills, it is important that you have your canteen with enough water on hand during the day, as well as clothing that protects you from the strong rays of the sun, and a good coat at night. would be the best option.

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