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Atacama Desert
Travel Guide


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Atacama Desert at a glance

Experience a place unlike any other in the high, arid plains of northern Chile. Where this thin, coastal sliver of the South American Pacific meets Bolivia’s border is a seemingly impossible landscape, an otherworldly realm where the land appears to marry the moon, the stars and all the layers that hide beneath the surface of the earth. The Atacama Desert is a remote wilderness that captivates visitors with its vast desert plains, volcanic peaks, glistening white salt flats, undulating pink and orange rock and sand formations, icy turquoise lagoons and idyllic beaches. Atacama’s greatest secret is that, despite appearing deserted and being inhospitable, it’s home to a surprising array of wildlife, flora, and fauna. The Chinchorro, an ancient culture that traded with the Inca in Peru, also called the Atacama home nearly 8000 years ago, their legacy visible in the mummies that remain.

Experiences around Bariloche

What not to miss

The Atacama Desert has many stunning sights to visit during your stay. The town of San Pedro de Atacama is the starting point for many on their journey into this lunar-like desert, and this natural oasis has been a beacon of civilization for many years in this harsh and barren land. San Pedro has now grown into a central hub for the area, from where people undertake their adventures to this ethereal corner of the universe to marvel at its wonders. Some of the region’s highlights are the Moon Valley and the El Tatio Geysers. The Moon Valley, or Valle de la Luna in Spanish, is part of the Salt Mountain range and one of the unique places in the world. Low peaks formed from salt and clay rise in sloping spikes from the desert floor, building walls in some parts that are reminiscent of the Grand Canyon, minus the water - incredibly, rain has never, ever been recorded in some parts of this highland desert. The El Tatio geysers are another unmissable spot in the Atacama. Located at 4,200m.a.s.l., these are some of the highest fountains in the world, as well as being the world’s third most significant collection of geysers. For both the Moon Valley and the geysers, it is best to visit them in the morning, when you can sit and watch the jaw-dropping sunrise illuminate this vast landscape. A trip to the Atacama would not be complete without visiting the Altiplanic Lagoons, where you will pass through abandoned mining villages up in the highlands, take in the glittering sight of the salt flats and see some curiously colored bodies of water with clusters of pink flamingos standing at their edge.

Explore the Moon Valley Top

This fantastic excursion allows you to discover the Salt Mountain range and the fabulous views it offers over the valley. Visit the Mars or Death Valley with its spectacular scenery and intriguing rock formations before continuing to the “Three Marias” an interesting geological formation located next to a former salt mine. At dusk, climb a large sand dune in the Moon Valley for spectacular views of the sunset over the Andes Mountains.

Altiplanic Lagoon & Atacama Salt Lake Top

Leaving your hotel from San Pedro de Atacama (Atacama Salt Flats), relax for a drive through one of the world’s largest salt flats, arriving at an incredibly beautiful leg of The Flamingos National Reserve. You’ll have time to spend viewing colorful flamingos along with a variety of wildlife. Continuing on to the Miniques and Miscanti Lagoons, you’ll find a range of volvanic bodies of water created by cooled molten lava and dramatic landscapes. Here you’ll have time to explore on foot, traveling later to the village of Socaire to experience some of the local food specialties and produce. Know for its unrivaled culinary skills, the restaurant provides an appetizer, main course, dessert and drink to tantalize your taste buds. After this break, we head to Toconao; a quaint village with a lovely church and craft shops to hunt for artisan gifts before returning to San Pedro de Atacama.

Tatio Geysers & Natural Hot Springs Top

This excursion promises thrilling observations of the astounding natural wonders of the geothermal field of El Tatio. Leaving before sunrise, enjoy the desert at dawn while you travel for a 2-hour trip north. Arrive at the geyser field as the sun completes its ascent and casts a spectacular glow over one of the most significant geothermal areas in the world. We will be able to observe the large steam columns that rise to the sky that is best appreciated in the cold dawn air as the sun rises over the Andes. You will set off on guided walks along the mud craters and small bubbling geysers that will take you as if in a dream trip to Mars. Optionally you can relax your muscles in the warm waters of these natural hot springs. The springs reach 95°F (35°C) to combat the 40°F (5°C) surrounding temperatures; throw on your swim trunks and take time to relax for an hour in the natural pools. While en route back to San Pedro, we will stop off at Machuca village, a picturesque shepherd’s village located at more than 4,000 meters (13,120 feet).

Puritama Hot Springs Top

Once a sacred spot for the Incas, the Puritama springs now belong to Hotel Explora’s five-star resort, located at the bottom of a canyon in the foothills of the Andes, at 3.200 meters. Due to volcanic activity further up, warm water seeps out of the rock face and over the centuries a series of jacuzzi-style pools, inviting the visitor to a relaxing soak. Surrounded by the brown-red canyon walls, blue skies and green vegetation that make up the austere environment of the Atacama desert, the water of these natural spas is said to have healing qualities. As the blinding sun hits the pools of water and shady spots scarce, Puritama is a great two or three-hour option to recharge batteries in between tours and travel. The Puritama Hot Springs are open during the mornings and afternoons and subject to weather conditions.

Fast Facts on Atacama desert

USEFUL TRAVELER INFORMATION

This section is a quick overview to help in planning your trip to Atacama desert.

When to go

The Atacama Desert is a land of extremes, and this too is true of the temperatures. Temperatures in the desert fluctuate wildly from day to night, with daytime temperatures sometimes soaring to 40º C (104º F), then plummeting at night to 5º C (41º F). The desert gets an incredible amount of sunny days throughout the year, with almost 90% of days enjoying full sunlight. As this is the driest place on earth, rain-averse travelers will rejoice in knowing that the chance of rain during your stay is highly unlikely. The best time to visit the desert is in summer between December and February, but this is also high tourist season, and prices are highest. The low temperatures during winter put many travelers off, but you will have the area to yourself if you decide to visit between June and September.

How to get there

Practically every visitor to the Atacama Desert will first stop in the town of San Pedro de Atacama before commencing their journey to this spectral region. Flights operate from Santiago to Calama, the closest city to San Pedro and the flight time is around two hours. Alternatively, many buses go to San Pedro, but the travel time is long, and the trip is not the most comfortable. Taking this route is the most economical way, but not at all hassle free. Just speak to one of our travel experts, and they can advise you on what the best way to get to the desert is depending on your travel goals.

Infrastructure

Given San Pedro de Atacama’s remote location and position as one of the top three destinations in Chile means that tourism providers in the area can charge what they like, so it is quite an expensive destination. It can provide an opportunity to indulge in staying in a nice hotel and availing of its facilities. Most of the hotels and attractions of the town are within walking distance in the center. However, it will be necessary to join a tour or hire private transport to take you into the desert itself, but speak to one of our travel experts, and they can advise you on the best option for you.

Tour Packages connections with Atacama desert

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