Atacama, the driest desert in the world, is also one of the most touristic places in Chile. With its beautiful landscape composed of salt flats, natural hot springs and geysers, this destination offers a lot to explore.
Here’s a list of the best places to visit in the Atacama Desert.
Geysers del Tatio
The Tatio is a geothermal field located in the Andes mountain range at 4280 meters above sea level. At the foothills of Tatio and Linzor volcanoes, 90 kilometers from San Pedro, it is the world’s third largest geyser field.
It was named El Tatio after “Tata iu”, which means in Quechua “The Crying Elder”. It is a reference to the geysers and the mountain shaped like a lying man. The site has approximately 80 active geysers, making it South America largest geyser field. It is also surrounded by hills reaching up to 5900 meters above sea level.
In the early morning hours, the fumaroles activity takes its toll due to the craters’ high temperatures. They can reach up to 85°C. They erupt with pressure from the earth with heights ranging from 7 to 8 meters. The air temperature fluctuates between 15°C / 22.5°F during the day and 2°C / 3°F at night.
During the ride, it is also possible to observe local fauna and flora. You will be able to spot vicuñas, llamas, ñandues and vizcacha. Giant cactus, llaretas and coirón will be part of the flora.
The highlight of the geyser field is the thermal pool in which you can bath. You’ll absolutely be amazed by the snow-covered mountain peaks around while relaxing in the water filled with minerals.
With its spectacular scenery, the Tatio geysers are clearly Chile’s one of the most impressive attractions. If you like Atacama please take some time to check our Atacama tour.
Laguna Chaxa (Chaxa Lagoon)
The Chaxa Lagoon, central point of the Atacama Desert, is located 7 kilometers from Toconao. And less than 50 kilometers from San Pedro. It belongs to Los Flamencos National Reserve, and is under the CONAF protection system of the wilderness areas. It is probably one of the best places in Chile for flamingos sighting.
The Chaxa Lagoon is an altiplanic lagoon and has no great depths. It allows the proliferation of microscopic life forms and micro invertebrates. They constitute the basic food of the flamingos and other birds living in Chaxa. You can observe up to 3 different types of flamingos: Parina Grande, Parina Chica and Flamenco Chileno.
Because of the intense heat, difference of temperatures between day and night and the high quantity of salt, there is not much flora and fauna surrounding Chaxa. Only some herbs and grass at the edge of the lagoon.
The reason why the Chaxa Lagoon is highly protected is because of its birdlife existence. The unit protecting the area aims at the conservation of the local biodiversity and the protection the birds’ food chain habitat.
Lagunas Altiplánicas (Highlands Lagoons)
The Highlands Lagoons, or Lagunas Altiplanicas, are located 115 kilometers from San Pedro de Atacama. The ride goes through Toconao and Socaire small towns and runs along the side of the Atacama Salt Flat.
Intense blue waters and and whites shores welcoming great variety of birds, the Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons are a gift from nature. They are located inside the Los Flamencos National Reserve, at over 4000 meters above sea level. Both lagoons constitute a magical contrast with the surroundings snow-capped hills.
Mixture of desert, mountain and ice, it is the perfect place for bird watching and photography activities. The geological formations of the hills and terrains around demonstrate Ojos del Salar volcano eruption activity of the past years. The last eruption ocurred in 1956.
Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley)
It is one the most visited places around San Pedro de Atacama. It is located 17 kilometers / 25 miles from the village, in the heart of the Salt Mountain Range. The area, mainly composed of rock and sand formations, is mainly famous for its lunar aspect.
From the great dunes, you can observe the astonishing and surprising surroundings. During full moon, the valley also features an indescribable aspect filled with majesty and silence, coldly beautiful and imposing.
It is possible to visit the “Tres Marías” rock formations, and the “Duna Mayor” offers an excellent spot to observe the sunset. You can also hike this natural wonder through the diverse trails available.
Read more about our Mountain Bike Tour in the Atacama Desert.
Valle de la muerte (Death Valley)
Also known as Mars Valley, the Death Valley is in the middle of the Salt Mountain Range and located 2 kilometers / 3 miles from San Pedro.
In the past, those who dared to cross the Valley would die trying. Reason is why we call it Death Valley. Moreover, this is the perfect example showing how dry can be the Atacama Desert. Indeed, there’s any plant or insect living in the area.
The Death Valley is categorized at the most inhospitable place of the world. However, it is the perfect spot if you want to hike or practice sandboard.
Laguna Cejar & Tebinquinche
The Cejar Lagoon is located 5 kilometers from San Pedro de Atacama, in the Atacama Salt Flat. The Lagoon is known for the high amount of salt condensed. You can enjoy swimming and floating very easily. Also, the beautiful turquoise color will amaze your eyes.
The landscape is one the most stunning of the Atacama Desert. Indeed, it is a mix of the blue color of the sky, the white color of the salt, the turquoise color of the water and finally the pink color of the flamingos.
It is highly recommend the visit of Cejar Lagoon during the afternoon. And end up visiting Tebinquinche Lagoon for an incredible sunset filled with stunning colors.
San Pedro de Atacama is a privileged place for star-gazing. In fact, the Atacama Desert has very little luminous pollution and humidity in the air.
The experience usually begins with a basic introduction speech of astronomy, followed by an open terrain guided tour. There you’ll be able to observe objects such as the craters of the moon, the rings of Saturn, the galaxies and others wonders of the universe.
During full moons and the Bolivian Winter (January and February), this activity is very compromised because it relies 100% of the weather conditions. The clouded skies and the light of the moon don’t allow observing properly the stars.
Star-gazing is usually available from end of March to November.
Valle del Arcoiris (Rainbow Valley)
The Rainbow Valley, or Valle del Arcoiris, is an area composed of various hills of green, black, purple and blue color. It is located 90 kilometers / 135 miles from San Pedro de Atacama, 3.500 meters above sea level. The area belongs to the Domeyko mountain range.
While there, you can also visit the Yerbas Buenas sector. It is an archeological site with ancient rupestrian art. In additional, you can also observe very important petroglyphs of the region.