The Top Things to See and Do in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

With vibrant scenes like these, the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama is a must-visit
With vibrant scenes like these, the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama is a must-visit | © Jesse Kraft / Alamy Stock Photo
Will Lees

Many travelers are attracted to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, for the tours and trekking, but if you’ve got some time take a look at these fun things to do in this dusty little town.

Visit the Meteorite Museum

Being so far away from the city lights in an enormous expanse of empty land, the Atacama Desert provides incredible stargazing opportunities and attracts meteorologists to study the depths of the universe. The Meteorite Museum sits right in the middle of San Pedro, giving you the ability to see – and even touch – meteorites, along with a look 4.6bn years into the past.

Take in the Views of Mirador de Kari

Mirador de Kari is an outcrop of land that hovers over a cliff; from certain angles it resembles Pride Rock from The Lion King (1994), especially as the sun sets. It’s a terrific place to get a tremendous view over the topography, valleys, mountains and ever-changing colors of the landscape.

Bathe in the Baltinache Lagoons

These natural wonders are only an hour’s drive southwest of San Pedro – and well worth the journey. Upon arrival, find seven swimming pool-colored lakes dotting the salt flats. Bring your trunks to bathe and float in the high saline waters.

See the Church of San Pedro de Atacama

Head to any Latin American town and you are almost as guaranteed to find a central plaza with a beautiful church – including in the heart of the Atacama Desert. San Pedro has the Church of Saint Peter in the center of town, along with the Toconao Bell Tower – both adding a much-needed touch of color in an otherwise dusty setting.

Trek the Aldea de Tulor

Just outside San Pedro, in the middle of the Atacama Desert, is Aldea de Tulor, the remains of an ancient settlement. Visit to see bubble-like structures – the result of the inhabitants digging into the ground to find water sources more than a thousand years ago.

Meet the Pueblo de Artesanos

Pueblo de Artesanos is an artisanal community in San Pedro where you can buy unique and special gifts or mementos from your time in the desert. Blankets, sculptures, gloves, art and more – all made by hand in the traditional way – are available here.

Moongaze at Valle de la Luna

Welcome to a crumbling valley of salt and dust-dry clay, lined with rocky escarpments and sprinkled with brown sand. It lies 8mi (13km) from central San Pedro and can be reached by cab, rental bike or on organized tours. This is a beautiful spot to watch the sunset, fading from orange to lilac over the desert, deepening into inky blue streaked with billions of stars. A cycle ride back to San Pedro in the still of the starry night? Magical.

Climb the Lascar Volcano

San Pedro is ringed with volcanoes. There’s the perfectly conical Licancabur, with an ancient Inca crypt on its flanks, the snow-dusted Cerro Pili and Mordor-red Sairecabur. Most are too challenging to climb without preparation, but Lascar, to the south of San Pedro, can be tackled in a day – with a drive to 16,076ft (4,900m) by car, followed by a challenging hike to the summit at 18,346ft (5,592m). Altitude sickness is common: acclimatize for at least a week before making the trip.

Stargaze in the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (Alma)

The largest observatory in the world – the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (Alma) – is based in the desert near San Pedro. The region has some of the clearest skies in the world and the stars are mesmerizing when viewed at Alma – or even when seen with the naked eye. Agencies in town offer designated stargazing tours, or you could drive to the darkest spots in the vicinity and set up portable telescopes. Alternatively use the powerful mirror telescopes at the tourist observation center.

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