You may never have heard of San Pedro de Atacama, but it is one of South America’s best kept secrets. With its unrivalled natural beauty, friendly people and good food it is one of my favourite places to visit in the world.
The landscapes look surreal and being there truly feels like relaxing holiday – this may or may not be due to the limited phone and internet connection which forces you to switch off when you are outside of the hotel.
The town itself was built on a desert oasis, which is quite the miracle considering that this is the driest desert in the world.
There are no international flights to San Pedro de Atacama, however Calama airport is just a short flight away from Santiago, the Chilean capital. You can also get a bus from the neighbouring countries or Santiago but be warned that these can be very long and the region is very hot. If you arrive in Calama, renting a car is a great option which will give you freedom for the whole trip, plus the drive is very scenic. Alternatively you can get a bus from the airport to the town if you prefer.
San Pedro de Atacama has accommodation for any type of traveller. There are great cheap hostel options if you are on a budget where you can share a room with your friends, or if you are looking for something a bit more unusual you can stay somewhere like the Eco-Lodge or enjoy the luxury of Hotel Tierra (pictured above). Keep in mind that this is a very remote location with limited resources so you do pay to use these when paying for accommodation, which doesn’t make this the cheapest destination.
There are so many companies on every corner trying to sell you the best tour. Do your research to find which company does the best tour for each activity. You don’t have to use the same company for everything.
Alternatively you can brave the roads with a rented car which is great fun as well. Chile is a safe country so this is not a problem at all. The freedom you experience travelling this way is amazing. Just make sure to do a lot of research first so you don’t get lost in the process. There are many park rangers driving around all the time so if you do get lost, they can help you out.
Things to do
This one is a tough topic to cover as the region is so vast that it will be difficult to do all the things you want to do in one trip. The distances are huge!
It is recommended to stay at the town’s altitude – 2408m – for at least a day to avoid altitude sickness. If you do suffer from it, you can get coca tea everywhere which really helps, and also avoid having large meals or exercising at first.
Schedule your high altitude activities – such as seeing El Tatio Geysers at 4320m – for 2 or 3 days after arrival so that your body can adjust.
Here are some places you should visit when in San Pedro de Atacama.
Valle de la Luna
I highly recommend climbing to the top and watching the sunset as it is the most beautiful sight. It is said to look exactly like the surface of Mars, just like its neighbouring Valle de la Muerte which you can visit on the same trip. You can take a guided tour or drive there yourself. As with most other places, you have to pay a small entry fee where you will receive a map of the region, so finding the best spots to watch the sunset won’t be hard!
If you are lucky enough to visit at the right time of the year, you can witness the phenomenon of the blooming desert, where over 200 species of flowers cover the entire ground. Desierto florido usually happens between the second week of August and the second week of September.
Lagunas Escondidas de Baltinache
These hidden lagoons are simply breathtaking. They are hard to find but it is so worth spending an afternoon floating and relaxing there once you do arrive.
Los Flamencos National Reserve
It is highly recommended to go to Los Flamencos as you can see flamingos in their natural habitat, surrounded by a beautiful landscape. The reserve is quite a long drive away from San Pedro, but it is definitely worth the trip. Ojos del salar is also on the way.
Other attractions include El Tatio Geyser (the drive up there is beautiful!), Yerbas Buenas, Laguna Verde and Salar Tara. Whatever you do, relax and enjoy the trip and always carry water and a hat with you.