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Things to do in San Pedro de Atacama

Things to do in  San Pedro de Atacama

Welcome to San Pedro de Atacama

The small town of San Pedro de Atacama serves as a convenient gateway to the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places in the world. The vast desert covers more than 100,000 kilometers and is home to arid landscapes reminiscent of Mars. For lovers of natural landscapes, day trip options are varied and appealing. Combine a visit to Moon Valley, so-called due to its lunar-like appearance, with the El Tatio Geysers and the Puritama Hot Springs. Other highlights include Rainbow Valley (Valle Arcoiris), the Atacama Salt Lake, and the Ojos del Salar, a salt-saturated lagoon that allows you to float unaided. At Los Flamencos National Reserve (Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos), pink flamingos contrast with the vivid blue water of Chaxa Lagoon and the Altiplanic Lagoon, making the park a top draw for nature lovers and photographers. If you’re a history buff, tours to the archaeological site of Pukará de Quitor reveal a pre-Columbian fortress, while in Tulor one finds ruins of the oldest settlement in the area. In the inhabited villages of Toconao and Socaire, a beautiful church tower and agricultural terraces provide a dose of local culture.

Top 15 attractions in San Pedro de Atacama

El Tatio Geysers

Plumes of steam from more than 60 geysers and hundreds of fumaroles erupt several feet into the air at the geyser field of El Tatio, high in the Andes in northern Chile. El Tatio isn’t the largest geyser field in the world, but with a backdrop of snowcapped mountains, it’s perhaps the most picturesque.More

Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna)

With its parched desert plains and wind-sculpted topography, it’s easy to see how Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna) earned its name. The sharp sandstone peaks, glittering salt deposits, and crater-like depressions make for some dramatic photographs, and watching the sunset over the valley is an unforgettable experience.More

Chaxa Lagoon (Laguna Chaxa)

Part of the Los Flamencos National Reserve, and its most easily accessible entry point, Chaxa Lagoon (Laguna Chaxa is situated in the middle of the Salar de Atacama. Its spectacularly beautiful setting is the best place in Chile to see flamingos; you can see three of the five known species (James, Chilean, and Andean at this salt lake.More

Cejar Lagoon (Laguna Cejar)

If you’ve ever wanted to swim in the desert or experience the buoyancy of the Dead Sea, a visit to the Cejar Lagoon should be high on your to-do list. A desert sinkhole at the heart of the Atacama, the lagoon is famed for its salt-rich waters.More


Amid the arid plains and salt flats of the Atacama Desert, the small village of Toconao has a history dating back more than 12,000 years. The remote outpost is now best known as the gateway to the vast Atacama Salt Flats and makes a popular stop en route to the flamingo-filled Chaxa Lagoon.More

Los Flamencos National Reserve (Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos)

Covering 286 square miles (740 square kilometres), Los Flamencos National Reserve (Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos) is home to some of the most stunning scenery in the Atacama Desert. Between the Andes and Chile’s Pacific coast, the park has glittering salt flats, wind-sculpted moonscapes, and high-altitude lagoons surrounded by wild flamingos.More

Atacama Desert

As the driest place on earth, you’d expect the Atacama Desert to resemble a barren wasteland. Instead, the vast and arid landscape offers plenty to see and explore, including blue lagoons, salt flats, and active geysers—and also offers some of the world’s best stargazing opportunities.More

Rainbow Valley (Valle del Arcoiris)

An easy day trip from San Pedro de Atacama, the Rainbow Valley (Valle del Arcoiris stands out for the vibrant colors of its reddish, beige, green, and white earth, the result of mineral deposits left over thousands of years and the wind that has carved interesting shapes, rocky spires, and small canyons into the valley.More

Altiplanic Lagoons

Part of Los Flamencos National Reserve, the high-altitude Altiplanic Lagoons are nestled between the Andean peaks of Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru. The Miscanti and Miñique lakes are managed by an indigenous community located in Socaire, a town often visited for its handmade crafts and historic church.More

Atacama Salt Flats (Salar de Atacama)

Atacama Salt Flats (Salar de Atacama), a salt deposit–coated lake, lies amid the Atacama Desert plains, framed by distant Andes peaks. Stretching more than 40,000 square miles (100,000 square kilometers), it’s one of the largest salt flats and the largest lithium reserve in the world.More

Puritama Hot Springs (Termas Baños de Puritama)

In the middle of the driest desert in the world, you can enjoy the idyllic experience of soaking in the thermal waters of the Puritama Hot Springs (Termas Baños de Puritama. Located in a canyon, the surrounding volcanic Andes pour forth their heat into a series of eight large steaming pools.More

Pukara de Quitor

The pre-Columbian Pukará de Quitor National Monument overlooks the fertile Río San Pedro valley from atop a strategic bluff. Its serpentine rows of thick, stone walls defended the verdant oasis's bounty since around 1100 AD. Today, the fortress's impressive architecture and historic significance make it one of Chile's most important archaeological sites.More

Tebenquiche Lagoon

Tebenquiche Lagoon (Laguna Tebenquiche is a vast salt lake with a unique appearance. The lake is so shallow that its underlying lunar-like salt bed is clearly visible from the surface. Since there is so little water and often so little movement, the lake acts as a mirror, reflecting the surrounding mountains.More

Ojos del Salar

One of a few salt lagoons dotted along the arid plains of the Atacama Desert, the Ojos del Salar (Salt Eyes are so-called for their unusual appearance. The pair of small, perfectly round lakes appear like a pair of deep-blue eyes peering out from the desert floor and are one of the area’s most photographed sites.More

Tulor Village

Despite its altitude and aridity, the Atacama Desert has hosted human settlement for thousands of years. The ruins of the village of Tulor are one of the most tantalizing archaeological clues left behind by some of its earliest settlers. One of the oldest archaeological sites in Chile, it dates back to 300 BC, according to carbon dating.More
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Trip ideas

Top Archaeological Sights in San Pedro de Atacama

Top Archaeological Sights in San Pedro de Atacama

How to Spend 1 Day in San Pedro de Atacama

How to Spend 1 Day in San Pedro de Atacama

How to Spend 2 Days in San Pedro de Atacama

How to Spend 2 Days in San Pedro de Atacama

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All about San Pedro de Atacama

When to visit

The best time to visit San Pedro de Atacama is during the summer (December to February). You’ll enjoy warm, sunny days and clear night skies ideal for stargazing. Flocks of wild flamingos also gather on the salt flats in their greatest numbers during the summer, creating a spectacular sight. Winters can get very cold, but you’ll encounter far fewer crowds and have the opportunity to experience traditional festivals, such as June’s Festival de San Pedro y San Pablo.

Getting around

San Pedro de Atacama is tiny, so getting around on foot is a breeze. Cycling is another option and is particularly handy for exploring Moon Valley and Death Valley; you’ll find bicycle rental shops all over town. To go on adventures in the surrounding area, rent a car or book a tour to make the trips more comfortable. El Tatio’s geysers, for example, are best in the early morning, and taking a tour with hotel pickup lets you nap on the way there.

Traveler tips

Don’t forget to pack your swimsuit. San Pedro de Atacama may be located in the middle of the world’s driest desert, but it is also home to some great watery attractions. Book a tour to the Puritama Hot Springs, a series of eight steaming geothermal hot springs; or to the Hidden Lagoons of Baltinache, where you can float in seven crystal-clear saltwater lagoons.

People Also Ask

What is San Pedro de Atacama known for?

San Pedro de Atacama is known as the gateway to the Atacama Desert, which is the driest place on earth. Travelers typically use this small town as a base for excursions to nearby attractions including the El Tatio Geysers, Valley of the Moon, and the Puritama Hot Springs.

How many days should I spend in San Pedro de Atacama?

Five days is about right in San Pedro de Atacama. You can explore the small town (and adjust to the altitude) and take day trips to surrounding desert attractions such as the Valley of the Moon and El Tatio geysers, as well as the Rainbow Valley and Los Flamencos National Reserve.

What activities are there in San Pedro de Atacama?

While most people visit San Pedro de Atacama for the purpose of taking trips to nearby attractions, the town itself has appeal. Check out the 17th-century church Iglesia San Pedro; take a wander through its adobe streets; and have dinner at one of the town’s live music spots.

How old is San Pedro de Atacama?

San Pedro de Atacama is believed to be at least 11,000 years old. You can learn about the earliest inhabitants of the area (the Indigenous Atacama people, also called Atacameño) by visiting the Gustavo Le Paige Archaeological Museum located just off San Pedro’s plaza.

Can you drink tap water in San Pedro de Atacama?

No. Tap water is not suitable for drinking in San Pedro de Atacama, due to high levels of contamination from nearby mines. Be sure to stock up on bottled water before heading out into the desert on a tour—you will need it and may not find anywhere to buy it.

Is San Pedro de Atacama expensive?

Yes. San Pedro de Atacama is relatively expensive compared to other places in Chile and South America. Because the town is popular with tourists, costs tend to be higher than you might expect. Typically the biggest expenses are hotels, food, and drink—save money by booking tours that include meals.


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