Deep in the Chilean Atacama Desert lies a small oasis town living almost entirely of the tourism industry. Welcome to San Pedro de Atacama, known for its variety in action tourism, amazing landscapes, and stargazing. We recommend staying here at least 6 to 7 days to appreciate a nice mix of tours (some should be done with a tour agency) and some individual adventure. Here are our favorite attractions and activities in the area:
El Tatio is a geyser field located within the Andes Mountain and is among the highest-elevation geysers in the world. With over 80 active geysers it is the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere and the third largest in the world. Be prepared to get an early start, the tours pick you up way before sunrise (around 3am). Also be aware of altitude sickness which is quite common. You can drive yourself but we don’t recommend it, since the road is extremely dark, narrow and windy and it’s not well indicated.
San Pedro de Atacama is one of the best places to observe the stars. A variety of observatories exist, but not all offer the same quality. One of the most famous places for stargazing is the Alma Observatory, which is only open on the weekends. Another company we can personally recommend is Space Star Tours.
Valle de la Luna
Amazing sight that makes you feel that you are actually on the moon. It is just a short distance from San Pedro and you can reach it with your own car, a tour or even with a bicycle. This area is known for its jaw-dropping colorful sunsets, so make sure you make it there a bit before sunset to get a good spot amongst the tourists. Funny that people are all looking at the sun setting in the West, when behind you, you’ll see the Llaima Volcano colored in warm, sunset colors.
Rent a Bike
While most people go to San Pedro de Atacama to take tours there is a lot to explore by bike. Not only can you go to Valle de la Luna, you can also explore the outback by bike. The best part is that you will be far away from the big crowds in the touristy places.
One of our favorite experiences was a Quad Tour to an abandoned salt mine. It was just the two of us and our guide and we didn’t see anybody the whole morning. Make sure you’re dressed warm since the first hours in the morning can be extremely cold and bring sunblock and sunglasses since the reflecting salt can be quite intense.
While you can do a lot of stuff by yourself it is also good to have a local contact. Apacheta on the main plaza of San Pedro de Atacama, helped us out a lot. Here we rented excellent bikes and also booked a very cool hike/downhill bike ride tour.
Another tip is to try the Pisco Sour with the local herb Rica Rica, one of the best drinks I’ve had in my life.