There's no doubt that the natural features surrounding San Pedro Atacama make the area so incredible. The desert is vast, yet visitors can still get a good sampling of what the region has to offer without having to travel far.
Among the area's most visited valleys is Valle de La Muerte (Death Valley), which is often seen on a trip that covers the Cordillera de La Sal (Salt Mountains) as well, a series of small peaks encrusted with salt. There is also Valle de La Luna (Moon Valley), named for its inhospitable landscape of undulating dunes. It is a popular place to go sandboarding or catch a desert sunset. The last is Valle del Arcoiris (Rainbow Valley), where mineral deposits have left red, purple, brown, yellow, pink, white and even green peaks, all in close proximity. On the way here, many people visit Hierbas Buenas to see the petroglyphs that were carved into rocks some 11,000 years ago.
It should come as no surprise that in the desert, where there is water, there is life. The oasis town of Toconao produces fruit, and the Chaxa Lagoon (Laguna de Chaxa) opens on the Atacama Salt Lake and attracts flamingos. Up in the Altiplanic Lakes, foxes, guanacos (a relative of the llama) and rheas (a relative of the ostrich) are frequently seen. Other lakes are open for swimming, such as the saline Cejar Lagoon (Laguna Cejar), and photography buffs will definitely want to visit the salt-bottomed Tebenquiche Lagoon (Laguna; Tebenquiche), which provides ample optical illusion photo opportunities. Early-morning trips to El Tatio, one of the highest geyser fields in the world, are also popular, as there is nothing quite like watching the earth wake up in sizzles and pops as the water starts boiling out of the ground.