Chile – the best Atacama Desert tours

We aim to preserve the air of mystery around the deserts so we’ll refrain from citing facts from the Internet about the Atacama Desert. What we will do is we’ll share with you the ways to see and experience the area, starting with the little authentic village San Pedro de Atacama. Here are our favorite Atacama Desert tours.

how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile

Valle de la Luna

The Valley of the Moon and The Valley of Death (Valle de la Luna y Valle de la Muerte) are the most visited places around San Pedro. The former has earned its name. I don’t know if the landscape of the Moon is this beautiful and awe-inspiring. Our hike of an hour and a half was a bit perturbed by the presence of gravitation, especially while climbing two steep and sharp mountain tops. At first, you are hot under the sun, then the wind covers your skin with dust and sand. To cap it all, on the top of the hill the wind is so strong it could tip you towards the abyss. But all the effort is worth it when you see the endless dunes of sand beyond the edge you are standing on, only dunes, hills of rock, and mountains all the way to the horizon.

Atacama desert, Chile
The Three Marias
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile

Valle de la Muerte

The Valley of Death was named by mistake.

The Frenchman called her the Valley of Mars, which sounded to the locals just like mort or as the Spanish translated it – muerte. Both names have their roots in reality. The red rocks with jagged edges that overhang above the dizzy tourists can be seen as someone’s idea of Mars. The road that leads to the valley is made of clay and limestone can disappear at any pouring rain and if you are unlucky you could be left stranded on Mars too long for you to survive.

how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile

Mirador del Coyote

The trip finishes on Mirador del Coyote, the best place for watching the sunset. There you can actually see how many tourists are in the area. Some of them drink pisco, others take positions on the rocks to admire the abyss before them and the setting sun.

how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile
how to experience the area around the Atacama Desert in Chile

This trip takes 4 to 5 hours. The available ways of transportation are by vans and buses (as well as by bikes and on foot). After sunset it gets chilly. The lowest price for the trip is 22,000 pesos. I suppose the more expensive alternatives include food and drink at sunset and possibly guides in more languages than English and Spanish.

By the way, there are a lot of full of fun ways to reach Atacama desert, like a 9-day overland journey from Salta, Argentina to the Atacama Desert.

El Tatio geyser

If you have already acquainted yourself with the places from the first part of the Atacama Desert story, then the next great destination is the geysers El Tatio.

tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile

The geysers El Tatio are a true test for one’s stamina.

The first challenge is the waking hours, you get up between 3:30 AM and 4:30 AM. That is necessary because the geysers should be reached before sunrise when the geysers erupt and the steam is best observed. The second challenge is…

…the altitude – you reach 4.200-4.300 m, so the best course of action would be to hold your pace and refrain from drinking too many terramotos (terramoto is a popular alcoholic cocktail, its name also means earthquake) the night before. The third challenge is the freezing temperatures early in the morning. Many people admit to never having experienced such cold their entire lives. The truth is, nobody expects 0 °C in the desert and the body has a hard time adjusting. Once you’ve overcome those challenges you are able to feast your eyes on the view, looking like a scene straight out of a movie.

tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile

The hot springs

You are more than ready to visit the hot springs. In the water people get to know each other closely, everybody wants to be right in the middle of the hottest water. The moment you come out of the water you run, shake and jump around, till you get dressed. You don’t know yet that after an hour you’ll be wishing for the cold.

tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile

On the way back we observed llamas, vicuñas and viscachas, the happy residents of this beautiful home.

Machuca village

The road passes through the Machuca village, where several families recently came to the decision to build their homes. It is cut off from the rest of the world, with no roads or electricity. Now it flourishes. The ten families living there take turns serving the hungry tourists bread and grilled llama meat.

tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
Atacama desert, Chile
Look at it running with its head stretched
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile

The trip to all the above takes about 8 hours. The warm clothes are obligatory in the morning, but they should be easily removed for the way back during the hottest hours at midday. Each of us paid 28,000 pesos, including breakfast in the field with geysers. Some make gourmet breakfasts with eggs and pancakes, cooked on a geyser. The park entrance fees are paid separately.

Sandboarding

Sandboarding is the most obvious activity when taking into consideration the fact that you are in the desert. Normally, you’d pay for the transport to the nearest dune and equipment. There is a guide who explains the technique of skiing down the sand. When a professional does it, it looks easy but sliding on a board on sand is a hard task, no matter how much grease you smear. Several seconds of sliding should make up for several long minutes of dragging yourself up the hill. Sometimes the descend turns into rolling downhill instead of gracefully sliding on the board.

Something like a sandstorm came about after the first two hours. The millions of sand particles that hit your uncovered skin on the top of a dune really hurt. The ears and mouth were soon full of sand. However, the weather was on our side. Everybody was already exhausted from 3-4 descends when it started to rain. We got out of there fast and avoided finding for ourselves if Valle de la Muerte could literally mean Death Valley.

tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
Atacama desert, Chile
The hardest part, the climb
Atacama desert, Chile
Walking on the edge, literally
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile

Several agencies offer sandboarding. Normally it takes 3-4 hours, including the journey and the instructions. You can go in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening at 10 o’clock. We chose the most popular agency and that cost us 15,000 pesos a person. The cost includes a video of your performance on the sand.

Lagunas Altiplanicas and Piedras Rojas

Lagunas Altiplánicas and Piedras Rojas are natural reserves with mountain lagoons, salty and sweet-water lakes, rock formations of volcanic origin and many more creations of nature that are hard to name but easy to photograph and show.

The one-day trip cost us 38,000 pesos including breakfast in front of the Miscanti lagoon and lunch in a traditional restaurant. Again, the entrance fees of the parks are paid separately. That was the most relaxing trip. We didn’t have to perform much physical activity, but the results were amazing. We expect the next best film to be from there!

tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile
Atacama desert, Chile
A staircase of cacti
tips and ideas about trips in the Atacama Desert in Chile

Tips for all Atacama Desert tours

1. Most places are protected reserves, parks, and environments. It is expected of visitors to clean up after themselves and to stay on the designated paths. Apparently, no disrespectful people have ever been there, because the places were unexpectedly clean and well-preserved.

2. There aren’t toilets in many places. You have to plan in advance when you’ll be needing it and do not miss the opportunity when the guide says: “There are toilets here.”

3. Always carry a lot of water. There are no places to buy it from and drinking from the lagoon is strictly prohibited.

4. Carry warm clothes. Otherwise, you’ll be forced to sit on your hands on the bus while people outside are taking photos of 3 types of flamencos.

5. All guided tours are in English or Spanish. Lucky you!

6. The entry fees of the reserves and parks are not included in the prices of the tours. They are paid on-site and can vary. There are often discounts for students and Chileans.

7. You could go independently to most places. We have no idea how much it would cost to rent a car or where private cars are welcome.

8. These are all places that you simply must see in a lifetime. If you are in the area, examine all the possibilities and take advantage of them to the fullest. You’ll never forget those memories!

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12 Responses

  1. it really looks so amazing! I only had a couple of days in San Pedro and wasn’t able to go to the geysers! I definately need to go back for sure!

  2. What a cool place! So much natural beauty!

  3. The geysers at sunrise look so pretty! We haven’t been to this area yet, but looks amazing! Great photos!

  4. couplertw
    | Reply

    You have some beautiful photos! Atacama is on the top of my list, I hope to go there next year 🙂 It’s such an extreme place

  5. That’s so amazing that geysers can cook your breakfast, what’d you make?

    • Most of the people cook eggs- it’s easy and you don’t need kitchen stuff… 🙂 Plus bread and jam/butter and hot hot tea would make the perfect breakfast on field 🙂

  6. Amazing photos and very useful tips…thank you very much!

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