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San Pedro de Atacama Travel Guide
Experience the gateway to the driest desert in the world. Discover the charms of the Atacama with this San Pedro de Atacama travel guide.
My first time in the Atacama Desert, I followed the advice of a local and set out on a remote road trip adventure soaking up the stargazing and sightseeing nearby. It was nothing short of amazing. Amazing enough that I’ve just returned from a second, longer trip to the region.
But you don’t need to go far offgrid to experience everything I love about this part of the world, some of the best adventures in the Atacama Desert are only a short hop from San Pedro de Atacama. It may be the tourist hub of the Atacama desert, but there are gems hiding in plain sight within city limits and nearby. Embrace the moment. Walk around town and learn more about the history and culture while tapping into the area’s undeniable connection to outer space (on land and in the sky).
You’ll find a dynamic landscape proudly displaying striking tracks left behind by lava, the towering Licancabur Volcano, red and purple Andesite rocks, and a type of quiet I wish I could bottle up and take home.
Hotel Desertica gives you the closest access to the best restaurants, parks, and attractions in town and features stunning design and hospitality inside its adobe facade.
Located south of the town centre on your way to some of the best San Pedro de Atacama tours and D.I.Y. stargazing locations, is Larache. Stay at the stunning Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa for luxury in a quiet desert setting.
Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa is a stylish hotel with numerous amenities near the Pukará de Quitor, just northwest of the town centre. Enjoy a swimming pool, spa, and some of the best stargazing at the observatories on site.
Tulor Village is just southwest of San Pedro de Atacama and is the home of a museum showcasing ancient villages near the former San Pedro River. Nearby Tulor archeological site, you can stay at Casa Chincol for a peaceful adobe cottage with epic stargazing opportunities in a rustic but stylish room.
Packing for your San Pedro de Atacama trip? Don’t forget…
Sun Lotion – The dessert is wide open and very dry, bring sunscreen.
Scarf – I recommend a lightweight scarf for the sand and dust.
Warm and Cold Weather Clothes – You’ll want lightweight clothes in the day, but a fleece, jacket, and hat for the mornings and nights.
Hiking Boots – You’ll need a durable pair of hiking boots for the desert, volcanoes, and red rocks.
GPS or Compass – You won’t have coverage in many places, so always bring a GPS or Compass.
There are few places as vast and sparsely inhabited as the Atacama Desert. I use AXA Travel Insurance with the best health insurance and medical evacuation coverage. You also may want it for the trip cancellation and delays coverage, as it’s in a remote area where you may experience trouble arriving or departing.
San Pedro de Atacama Visitor Guide: What to Do During Your San Pedro de Atacama Trip
Top Things to Do
Museum Hopping in San Pedro de Atacama
Stay in town and examine fallen treasures from space at the dome-shaped Meteorite Museum. Or, head to Museo R. P. Gustavo Le Paige, where you can check out Pre-Columbian anthropological and archeological finds from the area in a small but well-curated collection.
See the Stunning Valle de la Luna
A striking valley that looks – no joke – like you’ve been transported to the surface of Mars. People head to the Valle de la Luna on a guided tour for sunset when it glows golden and bright but – insider secret – you can go for sunrise for the same experience but without the crowds.
Watch the sunrise 4,300 metres high in the Atacama, while the towering geysers wake up around you. Go on a guided tour, or show up alone (entrance fee is around £6 ($8)), and see the sun dancing off the fumaroles, lighting them up like “nature’s fireworks.”
Stargazing in the Atacama Desert
When you’re visiting San Pedro de Atacama, heading into the desert to see the stars is a must. Where else can you find skies this dark, deserts this empty (and high up), and 300+ dry days a year? Nowhere. Enjoy the clearest views of the Milky Way, planets, and constellations. Take a guided tour to learn more about the galaxies, visit your hotel observatory (Nayara Alto Atacama’s is fabulous), or set out on your own.
Hike and Take Photos at Rainbow Valley
Rainbow Valley is considered a newer attraction on an Atacama desert trip, but in reality, it’s been here for millions of years. It’s worth the one-hour (give or take) drive to see the mineral-rich hills magnify shades of red, orange, green, and yellow and a surprising amount of plant life and birdwatching.
Day Trip to See Flamingos at Laguna Chaxa
Laguna Chaxa is 2 hours from San Pedro de Atacama and well worth a trip (or tour) south to see the flamingos dining on the algae-rich waters in the middle of the Salar de Atacama.
Tour the ALMA Observatory
Stargazing in the Atacama desert is something everyone needs to experience at least once. There’s a reason it’s home to two of the most famous astronomical sites in the world: the Paranal Observatory and the ALMA project. While you can’t peer through the telescope yourself (bummer), you can visit ALMA on Saturdays and Sundays for a free guided tour of the massive radio telescope. It hasn’t currently reopened post-2020 but is due to reopen soon – check ahead.
Visit Toconao Village
Toconao is the oldest village in the region and an interesting spot to soak up some of the history of the region. Take a peek at the traditional architecture and combine it with a visit to the highest vineyard in Chile.
See the Piedras Rojas and Salar de Talar
Sitting on the high road that eventually leads you to Argentina, the Piedras Rojas and Salar de Talar are straight up incredible. Imagine a series of undulating red rocks that give way to a brilliant turquoise lake framed by purple, red and white volcanos – it’s a kaleidoscopic dream. Go during the winter months to see the water at its very brightest.
Suggested San Pedro de Atacama Itineraries
1 Day in San Pedro de Atacama
The Valle de la Luna – Iglesia San Pedro – Meteorite Museum – Lunch at La Picá del Perrón – Laguna Chaxa – Laguna Tebinquinche
Go in the winter (June to August) for a better chance of seeing flamingos and earlier stargazing.
2 Days in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
El Tatio Geysers – Valle de Río de Juana – Yerbas Buenas Petroglyphs – Los Flamencos National Reserve – Lagunas Miscanti y Miñiques – Piedras Rojas – Museums in San Pedro de Atacama – Sunset at Ckamur – ALMA Observatory
1 Week in San Pedro de Atacama
Exploring the Valle de la Luna – Machuca and El Tatio Geysers – Atacama Salt Flats – Lagunas Altiplanicas — Restaurants and Museums in the Town of San Pedro de Atacama — Stargazing in Cordillera de Sal — Rainbow Valley
Ckamur is one of the newer “attractions” in the Atacama and, as such, tends to be much quieter than similar locations such as the Valle de la Luna. Also, unlike the Valle de la Luna, it’s free to enter and you can do a wider range of activities such as quad biking and cycling in addition to hiking. What’s not to love?
Miscanti & Minaques Lake
I missed the Miscanti and Miniques Lakes on my first trip to the Atacama – big mistake. Luckily I got to visit on my trip last month and the sight of the two high-altitude lakes, one brilliant blue, one dark cerulean, both surrounded by bright yellow grass and vibrant volcanoes, is one to remember.
Tulor Archaeological Site
One of the top San Pedro de Atacama things to do is to visit the circular ruins where natives lived in this region as far back as 100 AD. It’s about £4.75 ($6) to enter, or you can go on an archeological tour like this one.
Salar de Quisquiro
Drive down Ruta 27 (CH-27) towards Salar de Quisquiro, and you’ll see why this is truly a hidden gem. The road is paved, but you may have white knuckles by the time you get to the high-altitude lagoon on the remote mountain road near the border of Argentina.
Pukará de Quitor
Pukará de Quitor is a 12th-century Pre-Columbian fortress highlighted by a semi-circular arch that offers some of the best vantage points on a guided bike tour of the valleys and volcanoes near San Pedro.
How to See the Best of San Pedro de Atacama for Free
Hike your way around San Pedro de Atacama on a free walking tour to learn more about the history of salt mining and visit historical sites like Pukara de Quitor.
Devil’s Throat is a popular canyon in Cordillera de la Sal, just north of San Pedro de Atacama.
Ckamur is my favourite place to catch a free sunset with all the dramatic colour over the dramatic moon-like landscape without the crowds of Valle de la Luna.
Must-Try Bars & Restaurants in San Pedro de Atacama
La Picá del Perrón
A popular spot for breakfast and lunch, with reliable sandwiches, omelettes, and empanadas. Outdoor seating is great on a nice day, with views of the village and mountains in the background. There’s a variety of dishes, several of which have vegetarian options.
There’s a reason you’ll need to wait for a spot at a picnic table outside near the fire pit – the food in La Casona is the best in San Pedro de Atacama. Chilean classics like ceviche and chorrillana (think fully loaded french fries) are best alongside delicious cocktails in this lively setting.
Located next to the plaza, the vibe inside this adobe-style building in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, is desert-chic. The menu offers plenty of variety, including a few choices for vegetarians and vegans. The cocktails were great. One stand out, the Andes Tonic, features Chilean gin, pineapple juice, orange juice, and rosemary syrup.
You’ll need to walk a bit further, but Baltinache Restaurant is well worth the effort to reach the upscale dining experience on the edge of town. It’s a preset menu, but everything is made with quality and care, and pumpkin soup is a popular item when they have it.
Travel Guide: Things to Know Before You Plan a Trip to San Pedro de Atacama
Tipping in San Pedro de Atacama
The standard tip in Chile for restaurant service is 10%, and it’s often added to the bill automatically. Tip around 500 – 1,000 CLP (approximately $1) for taxis, hotel staff, and at grocery stores.
You will be in the driest desert in the world (besides Antarctica)
The area was once a legitimate oasis featuring the San Pedro River.
Flamingos aren’t naturally pink; they get their colour from their diet in the algae-rich waters.
The Motorcycle Diaries, Quantum of Solace, and The Mandalorian were filmed nearby.
Hello – Hola
Goodbye – Ciao
Yes – Sí
No – No
Please – Por Favour
Thank You – Gracias
How Much Is – Cuánto es
Where is – Dónde es
We Are Looking at the Stars – Nosotras estamos mirando las estrellas
Desert – Desierta
Stargazing – Estudio de las estrellas
Can I reserve a tour? – ¿Puedo reservar un tour?
Like all of Chile, San Pedro de Atacama observes Standard Time and Chile Summer Time. Dial up your watch to UTC – 4, UTC -3).
Electricity and Adapters
San Pedro de Atacama uses Type C and L plugs. Pack a universal travel adaptor to charge up between stargazing and hiking in the desert.
You won’t need any additional vaccinations (aside from standard immunizations) before visiting Northern Chile. There also aren’t many bugs or snakes to worry about in San Pedro de Atacama either.
The one health concern worth mentioning is tap water. Bring your own bottled water, or always purchase a sealed bottle at a store or hotel.
San Pedro de Atacama is a small town that you can get around easily on foot or by bicycle. But when you visit the desert, lagoons, and other nearby attractions, you must take a bus, car, or guided tour.
Tours from San Pedro de Atacama typically meet up near the town centre, so your hotel should be near the pickup point.
I recommend hiring a car or caravan if you want to find more remote areas, and Wicked South America has some pretty competitive rates.
San Pedro de Atacama is a safe place. You shouldn’t have much trouble on your stay, even when venturing out on your own. The biggest safety concerns are getting lost in the Atacama Desert or falling off the edge of a volcano or cliff. Always wear proper footing and bring a compass or GPS device.
Costs and Budgeting
Expect to spend between £100 and £300 ($127 and $382) per day with accommodations on a mid-range basis. Add £315 to £900 ($400 to $705) if you’re travelling on a luxury basis.
Average Daily Costs
Mid-Range – £47 to £79 ($60 to $100) per night.
Luxury – £195 to £470 ($250 to $700) per night.
Food – £6.25 to £39.25 ($8 to $50) per meal.
Public Transport to Nearby Attractions – £4 to £12 ($5 to $15) per ticket.