The Atacama desert was one of my absolute favourite places in all of South America and looking back at my photos it’s not hard to work our why. The landscapes are truly breathtaking and it is like being on another planet at times, the landscape is so vast and you feel very isolated at times. It’s unbelievable to think that some parts of the Atacama Desert are still completely untouched by humans, thats how inhospitable it is!
From San Pedro de Atacama you can book tours to visit different parts of the Atacama desert. I did most of the tours because I was keen to explore and see as much of it as I possibly could. I’ve broken down the 4 tours that we did during our five day stay there. It was a full on 5 days, we didn’t get much sleep due to the early starts and sometimes late pick ups but it was all worth it.
Valle de la Luna
This is a nice afternoon tour to do from 3-8pm from San Pedro. We got picked up in town in a bus and taken about 10 minutes out of town to the entrance of National Reserve Los Flamencos to visit the Moon Valley. We walked through some amazing rock formations and caves where we could see why this is one of the most barren places on earth. It was dry, hot and looked like no other landscape I’d ever seen before.
The next stop on the trip was basically Mars, everywhere you turned it looked and felt like we were on another planet. We walked up a sand dune to get a view and gain a really good perspective of this landscape and a truly incredible view.
Seeing these enormous geological formations and wandering around one of the most isolated places on earth made me feel very small indeed. You get to see these petrified salt structures that have been there for so long, you can’t get too close but close enough to appreciate it.
To finish up the tour you go to witness the famous Moon Valley sunset. What makes this sunset so special is the colour of the rock formations and how swiftly it changes during the sunset. You sit on the edge of the cliffs, marvel at the worlds beauty, see the rocks change from brown to red to pink and marvel at just how truly amazing the world is.
Time: 5 hours
Cost: 3000 Chilean pesos (£3.50)
Should you do it? You definitely can’t say you’ve been to the Atacama Desert without witnessing the beautiful sunset at Moon Valley. You can rent bikes from San Pedro and cycle there yourself if you don’t want to do the full tour but at this price why would you?
This is commonly known as the ‘red rocks’ tour as one of the places on the tour are an amazing rock formation that is red in colour. Before you go on this tour it is worth mentioning that you do get above 4000m above sea level so don’t rush to do it on your first day if you haven’t acclimatised.
Pick up time was 7.30am and it was a 2 hour drive to get to the first stop which was breakfast, so the 2 hours were good were a little nap time. Breakfast consisted of eggs and bread before heading off (mainly uphill) to the first stop. The first stop on the tour was 4,300m above sea level and the view was incredible.
There were snow capped volcanoes in every direction and a frozen salt lake which was so beautiful. It is probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.
Throughout the Piedras Rojos tour the other stops were a blue lagoon, other various mountains and lakes and a flamingo lake. Unfortunately there weren’t a huge amount of flamingos there that day but it was great to finally see one in the wild.
Lunch was served back at the same place as breakfast, I opted for a quinoa omelette. After lunch we were taken to a nearby town for the obligatory tourist shops before heading back to San Pedro.
Time: 8 hours
Cost: 5550 Chilean pesos (£6.50)
Should you do it? 100% yes because it really was some of the best landscapes we saw in Chile but the tour could have been halved in time as it did drag on a bit but incredible value for money.
Geysers at El Tatio
This was one of the hardest tours we did in San Pedro but also the best one. Pick up time was 4.30am from our hostel before driving for 2 hours out to the location of the geysers. The geysers are 4,600m above seal level so prepare yourself by drinking plenty of water and taking things slowly throughout the day as the air is incredibly thin up there.
Upon arrival it is still dark and it is freezing cold so make sure you wear appropriate clothing. The geysers aren’t what you imagine (the shooting up high ones like in Iceland). There are many of them and they tend to just bubble and send up steam rather than shoot out water but what makes this place special is just how many there are dotted around the place.
As the sun begins to rise the landscape comes alive and it looked spectacular as the light began to shine. I cannot stress just how cold it is at the geysers though, I had two pairs of thermal socks, various layers, gloves, hat, puffer jacket and a hoodie and I was still frozen the majority of the time there.
Breakfast is served right next to to the geysers and it was a real treat to have a proper cooked breakfast of eggs, cheese and ham sandwiches and a nice hot drink.
Once the sun finally rose it became a little warmer (but not much) and it was time to walk around the whole geyser field and marvel at this natural wonder. The geyser field stretched quite far and another section had much bigger geysers where the steam was so high in the air.
You can even take a dip in one of the natural hot springs, I didn’t do it but my husband did because he’s much braver than I. From all accounts it was pretty warm in places but obviously freezing once you get out.
Once you leave the geyser field there are a couple of stops – the first one being a tiny town that serves tourists up llama meat on a stick. By all accounts it was nice but I didn’t try it and the second stop was an amazing canyon with a stream at the bottom. What was incredible is that around 50 people call this tiny little home, they live in one of the harshest environments in the world and I take my hat off to them.
Time: 7 hours (4.30am-12.30pm)
Cost: 10,000 (£12) for the tour & 37,000 (£45) for entrance into the national park
Should you do it? YES YES YES! Seeing this natural wonder in such harsh conditions made me realise that nothing good comes easily and it was worth the early morning wake up call and high altitude.
Astronomical night tour
We got picked up at midnight from our hostel for the Astronomical tour, we chose this time because we were advised that out of the 9pm, 10pm and 12pm pick up times that midnight was the best for star gazing. You drive for 15 minutes out of San Pedro de Atacama into the desert to a very small house/shack.
Upon arrival you are instructed to lay down sun loungers (which was a bizarre request since it was midnight and freezing) but once I laid down I understood why. The sky was lit up with stars and the guide got out this awesome laser pen where he proceeded to point out certain constellations and formations as well as planets.
The guide pointed out the Southern Cross and a scorpio shape before taking us around the back of the house where the telescopes were set up. There are 5 telescopes and each of them were set up and pointing towards a planet, the moon or a constellation. The moon was incredibly clear so it was great to see that so close up.
The best part about the astronomical tour was seeing the rings of Saturn through one of the telescopes, they were there clear as anything and it was kind of mind blowing seeing it with my own eyes. They provide nuts, crips and red wine to consume during your time but to be honest I didn’t even touch it as I knew the tour was a short one so I didn’t want to miss anything.
I took these photos of the moon through one of the telescopes, this is just how clear it was on the night we were there.
Time: 2 1/2 hours
Cost: 15,000 Chilean pesos (£18) per person
Should you do it? If you’re interested in space or astronomy at all then yes! My husband is super interested in space and it was a real treat for him. I could appreciate seeing the planets and moon up close in the telescopes but it was pretty cold!
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