San Pedro de Atacama what to see

Here are 5 must-do hikes

San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, is one of those places, from which you never want to leave. There are those who continue to extend nights in hostels and those who have found themselves living there for a lifetime from a weekend. Those who went abroad and then returned. In short, San Pedro has something magnetic that hooks travelers. In fact, it is a beautiful town, with no paved roads, 3,159 meters above sea level, and a diverse expat community. Here’s what to see in San Pedro de Atacama: explore the desert aboard a 4×4, see the sunset from Valle de la Luna while sipping a Pisco Sour, wake up at dawn to walk through geysers, stroll the city streets and stop to listen to live music in a casona, have a French breakfast and dinner with typical Chilean dishes. Then book a tour that takes you to the Uyuni Salar in Bolivia in three days by jeep. This will be the beginning of an unforgettable adventure.

Why go to San Pedro de Atacama

This town is famous for the desert by which it is surrounded; it is the starting point for a number of incredible excursions. Ideally, you should arrive in San Pedro, usually by plane, and then stay put for at least a couple of days.

Before venturing out of doors, it is best to get used to the altitude, as in all these places, which exceed 3 thousand meters above sea level. On the third day it is possible to do some hiking and even go as far as Bolivia.

I recommend you choose a hotel with a pool, because if you go to San Pedro de Atacama during the summer, it can get very hot. You can have a drink by the pool and relax.

Photo by Juan Manuel Núñez Méndez on Unsplash

I remind you that in San Pedro, all but one bar cannot serve alcohol exclusively, with every order you have to ask for food as well, be it even a tiny snack.

I imagined it was because of the altitude issue, Because drinking at high altitudes can have negative consequences. But surely there are other reasons as well, partly because this beautiful town is also known for streamers in the middle of the desert, high drug and alcohol use, perhaps due to the fact that it is so isolated from the world. But these are just my considerations.

🇨🇱 Diary of a long journey: Chile

Chile represented my second month of traveling alone, always with an oversized backpack and a one-way ticket. And Chile also represented my first five-day solo trek in Torres del Paine National Park, along with a long stay in San Pedro de Atacama, the highest desert in the world. Read the full article on Substack, it’s in Italian and in English.

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While you spend two days in total idleness (consider that you don’t have much energy to do anything else, given the really rarefied air) you can inquire about tours at the travel agency.

Along the main street there are a number of agencies all offering the same tours: adventures exploring geysers, the red stone desert, sunrises, sunsets and tours dedicated to constellations, as well as a 4×4 trip of three to four days to reach the legendary Uyuni Salar in Bolivia.

Photo by Benjamín Gremler on Unsplash

What to eat in San Pedro de Atacama

If one day you don’t know what to see in San Pedro de Atacama, perhaps because it’s raining, I recommend lounging around the quiet town, from which you can enjoy breathtaking sunsets after the storm.

San Pedro is a great place to try the typical cuisine, which is quite heavy and portions are large, and remember to leave room for dessert.

I fed on ceviche (marinated raw fish), but you can also taste the pastel de choclo (a corn pie with an outer crust and inside a soft heart of spiced meat, onions and hard-boiled eggs), the cazuela (a soup with meat, vegetables, and corn), all accompanied by pebre sauce (made from cilantro, chopped onion, vinegar, oil, and chili).

Water it down with a good michelada, a beer brewed with tabasco, chili pepper, salt, and lemon.

San Pedro De Atacama what to see

Mini-guide San Pedro de Atacama

Taste typical Chilean cuisine, have breakfast in a French bar, and listen to live music late into the night. Here is a mini-guide to San Pedro de Atacama to make the most of your days, in one of the places where time seems suspended and the landscape is truly lunar. You will also find directions to a good travel agency.

Buy your mini-guide

What hiking to do in San Pedro De Atacama

In my opinion, places worth visiting are: Valley of the Moon, Tour of the Stars, Piedras Rojas, Geysers del Tatio, and Salar de Uyuni. I discussthe latter in a separate article, which you can read here.

You can take these excursions with an organized tour that you can book directly on site, or before you leave. Find a few options below, and the others can be found directly on the Viator site.

If you book from my affiliate link below, in a small part you support my travel blog.

1) La Luna Valley

The Moon Valley tour is perhaps the shortest and is also the one you can do on the second day while you are acclimatizing. As the name implies, it is a valley, a large canyon 15 kilometers from the city. You can go there by bicycle, an incredible effort through these climbs and unpaved roads, both at sunrise and sunset. The easiest option is to join an organized tour and do it at sunset, sipping a Pisco Sour. I remember that Pisco, which is basically a schnapps, is the national drink. I did not take this tour, because during the time I was in San Pedro de Atacama (in March) it rained every night, so it was not worth it.

Diego Marín on Unsplash

2) Astronomical Tour

Same with regard to, the astronomical tour that takes place every night starting at 10 pm. You need to check the weather to see if it is worth it. Consider that in San Pedro, the sky is one of the most limiting and astronomy enthusiasts and experts come from all over the world to see the stars. Then a couple of weeks a year, it rains and it’s cloudy and you have to get lucky. I obviously didn’t have any.

Johnson Wang on Unsplash

3) Piedras Rojas Tour

This hike lasts about 10 hours, is the most comprehensive and gives you an idea of how the desert, with its varied landscape, works. I saw Tropic of Capricorn, Piedras Rojas, which are red rock formations as the name implies, flamingos, and a salt marsh. You travel in minivans, with about ten people, have breakfast in the open air with coffee, bread, cheese, avocados and tomatoes. First stop is the Tropic of Capricorn, which makes quite an impression to know that you are at that height of the world. The main stop on the tour is an area where there are red rock formations, hence the name: Piedras Rojas. For the first time in my life I saw flamingos, in this case in a salt marsh.

Photo by Alex Wolowiecki on Unsplash

4) Geysers Tour

In the San Pedro de Atacama desert there is a Geyser field. There are 38 of them and it is the third largest field in the world. We set off at 4:30 a.m. because the Geyser steam is best seen at dawn. We are at an altitude of 4300 meters, so we had better be “acclimatized” already. It is an enchanting sight and truly worth the effort.

David Vives on Unsplash

5) Salar de Uyuni

Last recommended excursion is the one that takes you up to the Uyuni Salar in Bolivia, and I talk about this adventure in a separate article because it is an intense experience that lasts three days. There are two options: you can either book the tour from San Pedro de Atacama and have it drop you off in Uyuni, or you can choose the tour that returns to San Pedro de Atacama and that requires an extra night. The tour can be done in reverse, from Bolivia to Chile.

Sifan Liu on Unsplash

You can reach San Pedro de Atacama by plane, a one-hour flight from Santiago and I advise you not to skip this wonderful place, both for the small town, which is something unique, you breathe an international atmosphere, but at the same time very authentic, and for the many excursions you can do in the surrounding area.

The townspeople love music and are proud of their land and traditions, so they will be eager to welcome you and explain a little more about the characteristics of this moonscape place. Don’t forget to take out travel insurance, I’ll leave the information below.

Photo credits: Unsplash

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