Quickly becoming one of the most visited places in Chile, San Pedro de Atacama has some of the most intriguing and unique landscapes in South America. Located roughly 40km (24.8 miles) from Bolivia, 150 km (93 miles) from Argentina, and right in the middle of the Atacama Desert, you are surrounded by impressive scenery and attractions that will draw you out of town and have you exploring. So take your pick and tick off at least a couple of these day trips while in San Pedro de Atacama.
Atacama Salt Flats
If there is ever a must do in San Pedro (as it’s abbreviated to), it is the Salar de Atacama, or Atacama Salt Flats. The largest salt flat in Chile, the edges of the salt flat begin 55km (34 miles) outside of town and provide a landscape that will make you feel like you are on another planet. There are many options for visiting the Salt Flats and travelers can plan a solo trip or visit as part of a multi-night tour.
El Tatio Geysers
Sometimes referred to as the Capacoya Geysers, El Tatio is the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere, and third largest in the world. The view from ground level makes it seem like Armageddon: the steam arising from the geothermal activity below will be sure to provide some of the most unique and eerie photo opportunities on your entire trip. Tours leave early in the morning and also make a stop at the minuscule town of Machuca with a population of approximately 15 residents.
Valle de la Luna
Valle de la Luna translates to Valley of the Moon, but could have been more fittingly called Mars Valley, as the red soil, massive caverns, and rocky topography give it the appearance of the Red Planet. Also comprising of sand dunes and monoliths, this beautiful valley makes for a great day trip to explore and catch the sunrise or sunset, and on a clear night, the moon will look closer than ever. Tours leave from San Pedro early and due to its proximity make for only a 4 hour day trip.
The Earth is a natural canvas and this area is like the palette of an artist, with the colours beautifully fusing together proving just why it’s called Rainbow Valley. The red canyons and rocky cliffs have a splash of colour combinations from oranges, yellows, white linings and glowing greens that make the area look as if it was painted by hand. Doing this tour you will get picked up from your accommodation, have time to explore the valley and also stop by the tiny town of Rio Grande.
Laguna Piedras Rojas
One of the lesser known attractions in the area is the Red Rocks Lagoon alongside Highway 23. It is a thin, shallow, clear lagoon surrounded by red rocks and a horizon of snow speckled volcanoes and mountains. You can also make this the first stop on your tour of the Atacama Salt Flats, which allows you to see the most famous attraction and another that is equally beautiful but less visited.
Reserva Nacional de Flamencos & Salar de Tara
In the Reserva Nacional de Flamencos, who’s surface area is split between Chile and Bolivia, you can visit the small but beautiful Salar de Tara which sits firmly on the Chilean side and is like a small oasis in a desert. The dry, red, rocky land comes down to a plateau where you will find a little pool of water with some scarce greenery growing out in the center, providing a wonderful contrast to the plain surroundings.
Puritana Natural Springs
With the geothermal activity below the Earth’s crust, you can find natural pools to heat up in as this desert can reach frigid temperatures at times. A straight shot up the B-245 north from San Pedro de Atacama and 30 km (18.6 miles) later you will arrive at the hot springs. They offer a relaxing break after days of hiking and also incredibly gorgeous views with the water naturally running through the Earth as you float in its pools. Tours to here mainly offer private transportation to the hot springs as no guide needs to explain how to relax in a natural hot tub!
Toconao Village & Valle de Jere
Toconao is a very small town with dusty streets lined with unfinished or run down clay buildings. But it has a very quaint town centre, with beautiful green gardens surrounding the tiny town cathedral. Just outside of town is a small sliver of trees squished into the bottom of the dry, rock valley known as the Valle de Jere. You can include a visit to Toconao on a trip to the Atacama Salt Flats for a full day and tick a few attractions off your list between sunrise and sunset.