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.
Toconao’s small size makes it easy to explore on foot. Stop to admire the unique mud-brick buildings, made using local pumita (volcanic rock) and take a peek inside the 18th-century church and bell tower. The village is also known for its traditional handicrafts. Browse the shops and stalls around the main plaza, where you can pick up alpaca wool items and crafts made from the region’s volcanic rock. Tours of the Atacama Salt Flats from San Pedro de Atacama often make a stop at Toconao. A full-day tour typically visits highlights such as the Chaxa Lagoon, Socaire village, and Miscanti Lagoon.
Things to know before you go
- Toconao is located in the desert so bring sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water. Pack warm clothing for the evening, too, as temperatures can drop quickly, even in summer.
- There are a few simple guesthouses and restaurants in the town.
- The town’s flat, paved streets make access easy for wheelchairs and strollers.
How to get there
Toconao is 23 miles (37 kilometers) south of San Pedro de Atacama, along Route 23. Regular taxis and minibuses run between the two towns, about a 30-minute journey. The closest airport is in Calama, from where buses run to San Pedro de Atacama, 60 miles (97 kilometers) away.
When to get there
Summer (December–February) is the most popular time to visit Toconao but it’s possible to visit year-round. Night-time temperatures can plummet, dropping below freezing in winter (June–August).
Exploring the Jere Valley
Just outside the village, the Jere Valley (Quebrada de Jere) is a rocky gorge that runs along the Jere River. The verdant oasis stands out amid the surrounding desert and it’s a scenic spot for a walk. Look out for llamas and alpacas grazing on the slopes or climb down to the waterfront to cool off with a swim in the river. The gorge is one of the few places where fruits grow in the desert and the cafés and market stalls in Toconao are known for their delicious fruit salads and freshly squeezed juices.
- Ojos del Salar
- Los Flamencos National Reserve (Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos)
- Atacama Salt Flats (Salar de Atacama)
- Tebenquiche Lagoon
- Atacama Desert
- Tulor Village
- Church of San Pedro de Atacama
- Institute of Archaeological Research and R. P. G. Le Page Museum (Instituto de Investigacio
- El Tatio Geysers
- Rainbow Valley (Valle del Arcoiris)
- Pukara de Quitor
- Cejar Lagoon (Laguna Cejar)
- Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna)
- Chaxa Lagoon (Laguna Chaxa)
- Puritama Hot Springs (Termas Baños de Puritama)