San Pedro de Atacama lures visitors as much for its laid-back vibe as for its proximity to some of Chile’s most spectacular landscapes. Although the Atacama Desert is vast, you can get a good sampling of what the region has to offer without having to travel far. From watching spouting geysers to boarding sand dunes, here are the top outdoor adventures from San Pedro de Atacama.
Geysers and Hot Springs
An early-morning trip to El Tatio, one of the biggest geyser fields in the world, offers the chance to see the field at its most picturesque, just as the rising sun casts a glow over the geysers’ columns of white steam shooting out of the sizzling ground. Early-morning guided tours to El Tatio typically include breakfast; some also include time to relax in a hot spring—another natural wonder courtesy of the area’s geothermal activity. Alternatively, you can take a dedicated afternoon tour to the Puritama Hot Springs south of El Tatio.
Among the most popular day trips from San Pedro de Atacama is to Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna), named for its lunar landscape of undulating dunes and sharp peaks. Many tours time their visits to coincide with sunset when the valley glows red, and some also include visits to Death Valley (Valle de la Muerte); the dunes of both valleys are popular with sandboarders. Another option is Rainbow Valley (Valle del Arcoiris), where mineral deposits have left the landscape colored in many different hues. On the way, some tours visit the ruins and ancient petroglyphs of Hierbas Buenas.
The Salt Flats
Guided tours can take you to see the oasis communities of Toconao and Socaire on the way to the Chaxa Lagoon (Laguna de Chaxa), a section of the Atacama Salt Flats (Salar de Atacama) known for its colorful flamingos. Tours from San Pedro de Atacama can also take you to Cejar Lagoon (Laguna Cejar) where you can float on your back in the saltwater.