What to do in San Pedro de Atacama: A Backpacker’s Guide to Chile
The Atacama desert in Chile is the driest desert in the world, and one of the most beautiful. The northern town of San Pedro de Atacama is the base camp of the area- the best place to stay as you explore the lagoons, valleys, and volcanoes.
Most people choose to do tours to all of the major attractions, which you can easily book through the many travel agencies on the main street. However, these tours can be quite expensive. If you’re like us and want to avoid the touristy crowd, another option is to rent a car, which, depending on how many activities you want to do, can end up being a cheaper option. Just make sure you don’t get it stuck in the middle of the desert like we did!
Here are some of the best things to do around San Pedro de Atacama:
Lagunas Miscanti & Miniques
These two lagoons right next to each other are about an hour away from San Pedro. The scenery on the road is one of red rocks, snow-capped volcanoes, and wandering vicunas, so you won’t be bored on the drive. The entrance fee is $3,000CLP per person, and you are rewarded with a view of deep blue water under a white-speckled mountain.
Valle de la Luna
A popular sunset-watching destination for the tour companies, it might be a better idea to visit the Valle de la Luna at a less crowded time. Just 10 minutes outside San Pedro, this beautiful valley is at the top of many people’s to-see lists.
El Tatio Geysers
The best time to see the active geysers is early in the morning; most tours leave before sunrise and arrive at the park just in time for dawn. The altitude is quite high- around 4,500m- so be prepared. Dress warm and enjoy nature’s show!
The Piedras Rojas are quite far, about a 2.5 hour drive from the city, and when we got there we were confused about where exactly the Piedras Rojas (red rocks) were. On the other hand, the area was completely devoid of tourists and we got to see a beautiful turquoise salt lagoon complete with flamingoes.
Only about a 20 minute drive from town, Laguna Tebinquinche is a lovely pale turquoise lake with salt floating atop it like sheets of ice. The backdrop of mountains and red desert makes this a sight to see, and the entrance fee is only $2,000CLP.
The Atacama is one of the best places in the world for stargazing, and is home to numerous astronomical observatories. We recommend booking a night-time astronomical tour through SPACE, or simply driving a bit outside of the town at night and taking in the overflowing night sky.
Worth it? Absolutely. You can’t go to Chile without seeing the Atacama.
What to bring: warm clothes for the night and high altitude places, camera, WATER, sunscreen.
– Iris & Roi
Have more suggestions for things to see around San Pedro de Atacama? Let us know!