Atacama desert is one of those beautiful surprises that derouting has brought me. It’s the only Chilean desert and one of the most unique in the world. You can find from moonlike landscapes to insanely beautiful highland volcanic phenomenon like the highest geysers on Earth. You should really consider to put it on your list.
The best thing? You can discover its vast lands and lakes while driving your 4WD. See all what you can do there:
What to do in Atacama Desert?!
If looking up at the sky at night and marvel about the incredible Milky Way and all the constellations is your thing, you should go there asap since Atacama´s sky is one of the best in the world for stargazing. There are many options from tour guides to full on expeditions, though you can also explore yourself and find the best spot. Get your camera ready (and a pair of gloves, it gets really chilly).
2. Visit the Geysers del Tatio
This is probably my favourite part, even the drive there is epic! El Tatio is a geothermal field that runs alongside the border with Bolivia, in the magnificent Andes. There are a series of stratovolcanoes that create a Mars-like landscape filled with geysers, hot springs and sinter deposits. This field is a very protected area, only accessible with tour guides.
3. Explore El Valle de la Luna (The Moon Valley)
The drive down to San Pedro de Atacama is one that I´ll never forget. The road takes you through beautiful dry mountains with incredible formations surrounding the Moon Valley. By far the most beautiful of all Atacama´s valleys (there’s also the Mars Valley, quite a revealing name), it’s also only accessible with a tourist guide that you can get at the ticket office or from the agencies in San Pedro. Once a salt mine, this area will blow your mind.
4. Meet flamingoes, lamas and vicuñas in the Salt Lakes
Yes, you can see them all 3 in one place. Isn’t it incredible?! Atacama has a few salt flats and lakes, the only waterholes around that attract the highland fauna. I was lucky enough to see a group of vicuñas crossing our path and also found a group of flamingoes just a few more meters down the road. It´s awesome being able to watch these unique species in their natural habitat.
5. Drive through La ruta del desierto (The Desert Route)
There’s nothing more liberating than driving on an open space. Hiring a 4WD and dedicate one full day driving around the Desert Route is problably a good idea. You’ll be also meeting the locals (flamingoes and vicuñas) and stopping at perfect pic spots that will kill your instagram competition. There are signs along the route and the dirt roads are clear, so don´t worry about getting lost in the middle of the desert without any signal nor GPS.
6. Go on a 2 day expedition to the Uyuni Salt flats (Bolivia)
Who hasn’t seen the funny pics in Uyuni Salt Flats? You can add your own to your album whilst in Atacama Desert. Bolivia is just a couple of hours away, being the salt flats the closest attraction. You can go by yourself, though timing is crucial as they are HUGE. The best option would be on a guided 2 day expedition and stay overnight, as the contrast of the flats with the starred skies in there is something epic.
7. Walk through the abandoned, ghostly Chacabuco Nitrate Village
This is your opportunity to replicate those Far West films that your dad used to make you watch… This village is between Antofagasta and Calama. Once a very successful nitrate mine, it was abandoned due to the resulting crisis of the industrialization. Later, during the dictatorship, it became a political prisoner camp. It is a very spooky, strange place that is well worth a visit. Cost $2,000CH / $3USD.
8. Stay in a mud hut in San Pedro de Atacama
Atacama Desert is a very unique place, though its capital village San Pedro is something out of this world. The natives used what they had on hand to build their houses, resulting in a whole village made of branches and clay. Even the church is made of mud! Picture the Flinstones’ village, probably that’s the closest description of it. I opted for a very traditional mud hut, though you’ll find even a 4 star hotel. The village is full of life and there are plenty of shops, restaurants and tour agencies. Something I didn’t quite expect, though it wasn’t unpleasent at all.
9. Climb Lascar Volcano
The only active volcano in north Chile, Lascar is just about 70km from San Pedro, which makes it easy to access. It’s an adventure that’s not for the heart fainted as it starts at a booming 4,600masl and the summit is as high as 5,630masl. The altitude can affect you very badly there, so allow yourself some time in San Pedro to adapt to the altitude and try smaller hikes if you haven’t been to that altitude before. The views of the Andes are incredible and you can look into the smoking crater… An incredible adventure! Book your climb here.
10. Take in all the desert’s energy and sooth your soul
Atacama is a magical place. Even an sceptical, rationalist like me felt a very special energy there. The mix of incredible landscapes, beautiful skies full of stars and the natives being so connected with the earth brigns up a special aura that relaxes you and soothes your soul almost instantly. Breathing the fresh air, feeling the burning sun, admiring the marvelous natural formations… You should really book yourself a trip there.
If you have any questions or want some more details to plan your trip to the driest desert in the world, leave a comment or drop me a message. I’m only a whatsap away!