Today we are going to talk about a charming little town located in the north of Chile and surrounded by desert, volcanoes, salt flats and hot springs. In this article we tell you things to do in San Pedro de Atacama and its surroundings.
The commune of San Pedro de Atacama is located 2,500 meters above sea level and is usually the starting point to discover one of the driest deserts in the world.
It is, perhaps, one of the most important tourist sites in Chile and undoubtedly a must for any traveler in the area.
This town, besides being the starting point to many natural wonders that surround it, is considered the oldest town in Chile, which is not only beautiful scenery but also a huge historical burden.
Because of everything we told you, and the wonderful experience we had in that place, we wanted to share this article with you and tell you about 7 essential things to do in San Pedro de Atacama.
Now, let’s get started.
📜 TABLE OF CONTENTS
Things to do in San Pedro de Atacama, the best places to visit and MAP
As a personal note, I have been to San Pedro de Atacama twice and, if you like desert landscapes, it will surely become (along with Uyuni) one of your favorite places in the world.
Before we start telling you about some of the most spectacular places to visit in San Pedro de Atacama and its surroundings, we would like to clarify that there are certain areas that can be visited on your own if you have a vehicle.
But if not, don’t worry because there are several tours in San Pedro de Atacama that you can hire to visit the most hidden places in the desert.
I did the vast majority of these excursions, that is, I did nothing on my own other than touring the town of San Pedro. So, for my taste, they have been of great importance in my trip.
Having made this clarification, let’s start with the 7 must-haves.
Did you know that you can visit one of the most important tourist sites in Bolivia from San Pedro de Atacama? Here we leave you a guide to visit the Uyuni Salt Flat.
1) Visit the Pucará de Quitor and learn about pre-Columbian civilizations.
The Pucará de Quitor is located 3 kilometers from the town of San Pedro de Atacama, heading north.
It is a fortress that was built by the Likan-Antai civilization (also called Atacameños) in the 12th century.
The Pucará de Quitor is located on a slope that rises to a height of 80 meters and is composed of stacked circular or square walls that form terraces, from which you can have incredible panoramic views of the valley.
It is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in San Pedro de Atacama without having to go far from town.
In the interior part of the pucará you can observe different subdivisions connected by corridors in the form of labyrinths, which in ancient times were dwellings, animal shelters and warehouses.
Each one of the constructions of this fortress was made with reddish stone obtained from the same place.
There are also remains of structures made of chañar wood or straw and covered with mud or adobe.
If you are in good physical condition, you can visit the Pucará de Quitor on your own. From the town you will have to walk about 3 kilometers to the entrance of the place and there pay the entrance fee to be able to visit it.
In case you prefer to hire a tour, we recommend an excursion that not only includes a visit to the pucará, but also takes you to the archaeological site of Tulor, the church of San Pedro and a visit to a farm in the region to taste typical dishes.
📷 Book here the archaeological tour of Atacama that includes transfers, tasting of typical products and a guide in Spanish that will tell you all the details.
2) Tour the imposing Valley of the Moon and the Valley of Mars.
Going a few kilometers away from the town, and entering the Atacama Desert, you can visit the Valley of the Moon and the Valley of Mars (or Death Valley), two of the main places to visit in San Pedro de Atacama.
The Moon Valley (the farthest, 13 km away) has been declared a Nature Sanctuary due to its geological wonder and offers a unique landscape made up of ridges, peaks, mounds and waves caused by wind erosion.
At the entrance to the valley, you will find a wonderful structure known as“Las Tres Marías” formed by quartz and granite and, in turn, surrounded by salt and bright sand.
Going a little further along the road, you will find the salt caves, made up of ochre-colored rock walls, along with some trails worth walking.
Arriving at the end of the tour, you will come across the majestic Valley of the Moon, having the opportunity to appreciate one of the best views of the sunset.
Watching the sunset in the Moon Valley is one of the most beautiful things to do in San Pedro de Atacama. The colors of the sky, as the sun goes down, will leave you speechless.
The visit to the Moon Valley can be done on your own (if you have a vehicle), or by hiring some of the tours in San Pedro de Atacama.
📷 Book here the tour to the Valley of the Moon that includes: transfers, snacks, drinks and guide in Spanish.
✏️ Visit the magic bus! In the years I visited San Pedro de Atacama, which was prior to the Instagram boom, this abandoned bus corroded by salt was just that. Nowadays it is a spot that no one wants to miss in order to achieve a perfect photo for social networks. If you’re up for it, go look for it in the Valley of the Moon!
The Valley of Mars (or Death Valley, since it seems impossible to enter and come out of it alive) is less than 5 kilometers from San Pedro de Atacama.
It stands out for its dunes and reddish rocks. In truth, at times, we could swear that the landscape of the red planet looks like this.
3) Visit the majestic Licancabur Volcano.
Another of the main things to see in and around San Pedro de Atacama is the Licancabur Volcano, located on the geographical border between Chile and Bolivia.
The Licancabur is one of the most characteristic volcanoes of the area because it has a height of 5,900 meters and at the top of it you can see a cone-shaped tip.
In addition, it is of enormous archaeological and anthropological interest due to Inca records found in the surrounding area.
Its crater is home to the highest lagoon in the world, whose temperature is about 6°C.
There is the possibility of climbing to the top, but this is something that should only be done by mountaineering enthusiasts with previous preparation, as the trails are rocky and with high slopes.
In any case, it is not necessary to climb its 5,900 meters to appreciate it.
There are some tours in San Pedro de Atacama that take you to know this majesty and also give you the opportunity to visit the Salar de Aguas Calientes, the Salar del Quisquiro and the Laguna Negra, among other points of interest.
In this case, we recommend taking a full day tour to enjoy all the natural beauties that this area has to offer.
📷 Book here the Salt Flats Tour, which includes transfers, breakfast, lunch and guide. The landscapes are really incredible and changing from stop to stop.
4) Diving in the Hidden Lagoons of Baltinache
The Hidden Lagoons of Baltinache are one of the most beautiful things to see in and around San Pedro de Atacama. I would even go so far as to say that it is one of the most beautiful places in Chile.
This tour is also known as the“Seven Lagoons” because, as its name indicates, it is a complex made up of seven small lagoons between 4 and 30 meters in diameter, located in the middle of the Atacama Desert.
Its waters are of an intense turquoise color and stand out from the white landscape of the Cordillera de Sal.
The interesting thing about these lagoons, in addition to their beauty, is that they are made up of salt water and are connected to each other subway.
Within the seven lagoons, there are two of them where bathing is allowed. These waters are similar to those of the Dead Sea, since, due to their high salt concentration, the bodies float without much effort.
The Lagunas Escondidas de Baltinache can be visited on your own as long as you have a 4×4 vehicle, since the road to get there is somewhat complex and in poor condition. The route is approximately 60 kilometers long.
The other option is to take one of the tours in San Pedro de Atacama that include the transfer, the guide and, usually, a snack.
📷 Book here the tour to the hidden lagoons of Baltinache including pick up, transfers, snacks and guide…. don’t forget your swimsuit!
Are you traveling in South America? You may be interested in our guide to visit Lake Titicaca and Sun Island.
5) Stargazing in the Atacama Desert
The astronomical tour in San Pedro de Atacama is one of the most famous of this destination and undoubtedly one of the main things to do in San Pedro de Atacama.
Being far from light pollution, the Atacama Desert is an ideal place to admire a sky full of stars, which we are not used to seeing in other more populated places.
This activity is essential to do with a guide, since they will inform you about the constellations and the wonders of the night sky, and will provide you with some telescopes to observe the stellar bodies more clearly.
It is a unique experience, whether you do it on full moon nights, where the desert is illuminated, or on moonless nights, where you can better appreciate the display of millions of stars.
These astronomical tours usually last between 2 and 3 hours, and include transportation, guide, some snacks and drinks.
It is important that you take plenty of warm clothes, as the nights in the desert are usually very cold.
📷 Let’s look at the sky! Book this astronomical tour in San Pedro de Atacama. Transfers, snacks and guide at your disposal.
6) Climbing Cerro Toco
For trekking lovers, the ascent to Cerro Toco is one of the indispensable activities to do in San Pedro de Atacama.
Cerro Toco is located 60 kilometers from downtown San Pedro de Atacama and rises some 5,616 meters above sea level.
It is one of the oldest volcanoes in the area and from its summit you can get spectacular panoramic views of the Licancabur and Juriques volcanoes.
To get to Cerro Toco, you can either drive your own vehicle or hire one of the tours in San Pedro de Atacama.
Taking one of the excursions, you will be picked up in the center of town and the tour will begin with an hour and a half drive to an old sugar mill located at 5,000 meters above sea level.
Once you are at the old sulfur mine, you will begin an ascent on foot of approximately two and a half hours to the summit.
The route has a moderate difficulty, but you should also keep in mind that it can cause altitude sickness. So we recommend that you acclimatize before making this ascent and that you take medicine and water with you.
In addition, it is essential to bring a good coat, as temperatures can be very low, even reaching -17°C (-17°F).
7) Visit the geysers of El Tatio
El Tatio Geysers is one of the most popular sites to visit in San Pedro de Atacama.
They are located 60 kilometers from the town, but the road is not paved and it can take between one and a half and two hours to get there.
This geyser field is located more than 4,000 meters above sea level, so it is advisable to take the necessary precautions to avoid altitude sickness, such as drinking plenty of water, resting well and carrying some coca leaves or medication to avoid symptoms.
In case you didn’t know, geysers are small craters in the ground that emanate steam eruptions, and this natural phenomenon is what attracts so many tourists to El Tatio and makes it one of the most popular places in San Pedro de Atacama and its surroundings.
In the tour you will also find thermal pools and with some luck you will be able to see several animals such as vicuñas, vizcachas, rheas and flamingos.
This excursion can be done on your own, as long as you have a tall car, otherwise the road will be endless.
There is also the possibility of going with a tour where you will be picked up early in the morning and taken to see the sunrise. In addition, the guide will tell you how the geysers were formedand give you information about the flora and fauna of the place.
On the way there are several places to stop, one of them being the village of Machuca, where you can see typical houses of the area and buy handicrafts to take as souvenirs.
It is very important to dress warmly. During the morning it is very cold in the area, so be sure to bring several layers of clothing, gloves, hat and scarf.
📷 Book here the tour to visit the Tatio Geysers, bring your swimsuit!
Useful data for travel to San Pedro de Atacama
We have reached the end of this article where we tell you what to see in San Pedro de Atacama, so we leave you some links that may be of interest in your trip.
- Door to door transfers to and from Calama airport and your hotel in San Pedro de Atacama.. If you arrive at the Calama airport instead of San Pedro, this is the most comfortable option to reach the town.
- Book your hotel in San Pedro de Atacama: hostels, resorts, hotels for all tastes and prices and self-catering apartments. Compare and book!
- Tours in San Pedro de Atacama: in addition to the excursions already mentioned throughout the article, check these pages for the best experiences for your trip:
Rent a car to visit San Pedro de Atacama on your own
It is possible to rent a car at the Calama airport or at the San Pedro de Atacama airport if you want to visit the area on your own and at your own pace. Take a good look at the reviews before renting, what is included and what is not, to avoid surprises.
The roads to get to the sites may be gravel or not well marked, so here are two tips:
- If you can afford it, rent a 4×4 or a more off-road car.
- Download in your cell phone / mobile, in advance to have them available offline, all the maps you can to get to the points you want to visit. We recommend Maps.me or Wikiloc, which have the trails marked.
🚗 Search here for the best car rental prices; and travel at your own pace!
Buy your travel insurance and travel safe!
🚑 Take a look at these tips for choosing the best travel insurance (updated to 2023 and with juicy discounts) for the type of traveller you are, and they will also help you clear up the most common doubts. Travel safe!
Discounts and useful resources to save on your trip
- Cheap flights with Skyscanner
- Rent a car with Auto Europe
- Interrail Pass
- Eurail Pass
- Train Tickets with OMIO
- Bus tickets with OMIO
- Ferry tickets with OMIO
- Asia tickets with 12Go
Activities and Tours
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