April 15, 2024

Top 5 Must Visit in Atacama Desert

The night sky

Important note about my frequent travel: these are my experiences and observations I share eagerly and enthusiastically. I receive no compensation in cash/kind/discounts, etc. of any kind from any business/locations I’ve visited. None of the businesses paid for my travel expenses or offered any free services.

water felt lukewarm

We spent a week in San Pedro de Atacama and while there’s a lot more to see and do, I think we visited all the major tourist destinations. If I had a few more days in the area, I would visit more lagunas. Before I get to the list, there are a few things to keep in mind. I’ve mentioned these in other posts but I think it’s worth mentioning again.

Such perfect reflection at Laguna Chaxa
  • Make sure you download Google maps and maps.me. As soon as you leave the town, there’s hardly any data available. If you get lost, it’s good to have these maps downloaded.
  • If you can only drive an automatic car, call the rental place ahead of time and make sure they have it. Keep calling to make sure they’ll keep it for you.
  • Don’t let your car gas tank go below half. If you’re out on an expedition and run out of gas you’re screwed. As I mentioned above, you won’t have data to call for help and you may not see another car for a while. The next closest gas station is in Calama, ~100 km away.
Ruta 27
  • Wherever you go, take lots of water and snack with you in the car. There aren’t too many stores once you leave the town. Also keep a jacket in the car trunk. It gets cold at night.
  • Be aware of altitude sickness. When you land in Calama, you don’t realize it but you are at almost 7,500 feet elevation and by the time you get to SPdA, you’ll be at 7,900 feet elevation. Acclimatize first!
Just look at the size of that telescope!

1. SPACE Astronomy Tour

Aside from research observatories, Alain Maury and his wife have the best and largest telescopes. If you can manage to stay at his Lodge for a few nights around new moon, you won’t be disappointed. His lodge is a few kilometers outside town so you’ll need a rental car. Even if you don’t/can’t stay at the lodge, make sure to sign up for the astronomy tour at night. It’s the best and they do sell out so reserve a spot a few weeks in advance. Read more.

Just couldn’t get over how different and close these two lakes are

2. Ruta 27

This was one of the most beautiful drive I’ve been on. Every few kilometers the landscape changes but the highlight of the drive is Laguna Aguas Calientes and Laguna Negra around kilometer 105. You’ll also have plenty chances to spot Vicunas and llamas. The drive does take you to almost 16,000 feet elevation so acclimatize first before you go on this gorgeous drive.Take plenty of food and water with you and just enjoy a leisurely drive making several stops along the way. Read more.

So steamy!

3. El Tatio Geyser

I’m not a morning person but waking up before sunrise was totally worth it. Wait a few days before visiting since these geysers are at 14,000 feet elevation. My advice is sign up with a tour group even if you have rental car. The Geysers are most active at sunrise and driving at 5am isn’t fun. With a tour group you also make other stops on the return trip. If you plan on getting in the hot spring remember to take your bikini. Read more.

so many flamingos

4. Laguna Chaxa

Slat flat, Andean and Chilean flamingoes, volcanic mountains, clear blue sky, and perfect reflection on the lake. With views like this Laguna Chaxa is definitely a must visit. The short trail can be easily completed in about 45 mins but it was just so beautiful that we stayed for a few hours. We didn’t stay for sunset but I bet it’ll be unforgettable. Read more.

So colorful

5. Rainbow Valley

It’sa little hard to find but the about half the drive is on dirt road. Not, once you get there you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to another planet. Mountains are red, various shares of green, white and brown. I’ve never seen such colorful mountains. There are no facilities here but don’t let that stop you. Geologically, it’s one of the most unique places in SPdA. Read more.

Mount Licancabur is seen from almost everywhere

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