Trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Fun and exciting place to not be missed
- Motivation: Tourism
- Climate: Hot at day, icy at night, dry and elevate (2500m–4500m above sea level)
- To not be missed: Tatio Geyser
- Safety: 4/5
How to get there
The common way to get there is to take a domestic flight to Calama city from Santiago. If you come from outside of Chile is easier because all international flights arrive on Arturo Merino Benitez airport located in Santiago. Once in Calama, you have to take a Transfer car to San Pedro town with cost about $35 USD.
There are no Uber or others services of that kind in Calama/San Pedro. So, if you want more flexibility you have two options, first is to take normal cab (San Pedro has very few) and the second is to rent a car at airport. It’s not a critical issue because all tours will take you and bring you back.
Calama is a little city surrounded by desert. There is not many attractions in the place nearly except for Chuquicamata mine. You can find where to rest and shopping. San Pedro is a little town with a lot a tourist activity. Really there are more people speaking English than Spanish. Because the dry environment there is a lot of dust everywhere. Both are very safe places, but always be careful.
Valle de la luna (Moon’s valley)
This is a classic tour in San Pedro. It’s very close to the town (15 min) and it’s very recommended. There are multiple point of interest.
First The cave, it’s a 12 min round-trip route where you pass for a cave that is completely dark and tight in some points. It’s very adventurous and fascinating but not recommended for babies and old people.
Second The great dune, it’s a route (20+ min) where you can walk and climb for behind of a big dune. Depending of the path you choose, you can climb very high and appreciate the landscape.
Finally The Salar and The three Marias, in the end of Moon’s valley you can appreciate the beauty of Salar. It’s like snow in the driest place in the world. The Marias are formations of stone sculpted by the wind.
Laguna Cejar (Cejar lagoon)
The site has three lagoon and in one of them you can swimming and floating very well by salt. So, my first recommendation is to go with swimming clothes. The entrance has a price for $20–$30 USD by person.
Cejar lagoon is a reservation and therefore protected by law, so you cannot transgress the protection nor get something of salt from reservation.
Very close to Cejar there is a lagoon where you can swim and float very well for salt. Don’t forget to bring solar protection for children. My son Martin is telling me with his face =)
Laguna Chaxa (Chaxa lagoon)
Chaxa, placed in Atacama Salar, it’s a reservation lagoon where is the habitat of some birds of the zone, specially Flamingos. In fact Chaxa is considered one of the best place to see Flamingos in their natural environment.
When I was there, there were not many flamingos in the place, but the landscape and the beauty of the environment was worth it.
My favorite tour so far. It was a real adventure and, in fact, the most extreme and fun I think. I will try to not make so much spoilers.
Because the major geyser activity end when the sun show up, you must start the journey really early, about 4 or 5 AM. The altitude is very high, in a range of 4500 mt over sea level, so is very cold. So much that although I put me a lot of clothes, anyway I felt cold.
The road is very sinuous, and almost always upwards. The landscape is beautiful, though in the night you cannot see anything. On the way back it’s already day and you can appreciate everything. You must pay about $15 USD to enter in the place. I recommend you go with the swimming clothes because you can enter in the “natural” pool with hot springs.
Finally, on the way back you can pass to a very little town named Machuca where you can eat meat of Llama which, by the way, it’s very low fat.
Termas de Puritama (Puritama hot springs)
Puritana is beautiful place to rest and swimming. It’s on the same way that Tatio geyser, on about 3500 mt over sea level.
The full ticket is about of 40 USD, that is, from 8 AM to 5 PM. From 1 PM, you only pay half.
Piedras rojas (Red stones)
This tour consists of visiting several places, some of them far away from San Pedro such as Talar Salar, so we don’t did it. According to the tourist agent you can visit some places and swimming as well.
This is one of the largest open pit copper mines in the world with 4.5 km length, 3.5 km wide and 1 km deep. It’s close to Calama town and also has a tour. We don’t did it because the tour it was suspended by a while. The main attractions are the ex-camp miners and the view of the stunning mine.
If you have more time (and money)
With 3 or 4 days more, with about $200–300 USD by person and mainly with the desire of adventure. You must take the tour to Uyuni salar, located in Bolivia. Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat. It can be easily seen from space by its magnitude. The tour agent said that the tour goes through several places, from hot springs to some volcanoes and lagoons. It should be very good. If you choose the 3 days trip, the agent will leave you in Bolivia, but with 4 days trip, the agent will return you to San Pedro in the last day.