5 reasons to visit the Atacama Desert

If you’re after unique landscapes, a little bit of adventure and warm weather – then take a look at the Atacama Desert in Chile’s north.

San Pedro de Atacama is located just across the border from Bolivia and offers lunar like landscapes, volcanoes, geysers and even salt flats.

Here’s 5 reasons why you should visit more than Santiago and Valparaiso in Chile.

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  1. Visit the unique lunar landscapes of the Moon Valley

Valle de la Luna (translated to Moon Valley) is San Pedro de Atacama’s main attraction. Every tour agency in town offers a trip to Valle de la Luna, with buses leaving at 4pm daily. The cost varies but is around 14,000 Chilean pesos (about $28 AUD) at most agencies. There’s also an extra 4000 Chilean Pesos ($8 AUD) worth of reserve entrance fees when you get to the valley.

You can also visit the valley independently by renting a car or bike.

Valle de la Luna was formed by the accumulation of sand, clay and salt into mountains which were destroyed by the earth’s movements, but shaped by wind and water over time.

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There’s six stops on the standard tour starting with the Death Valley lookout. Then it’s over to the breathtaking Stone of Coyote viewpoint; a fun walk through a salt cavern; and a look at the Amphitheatre and Tres Marias rock formations.

The final excursion is up to the sunset viewpoint. You’ll get a good view of smooth sand dunes from here as well as seeing the sun set behind the mountains, creating a rosy glow across the desert.

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2. Get high, trekking style

There’s a number of trekking options in San Pedro de Atacama – and many of them are at altitudes above 5000 metres.

One of the most popular hikes is up Cerro Toco, which gets you up to 5,604 metres above sea level! That’s higher than Everest Base Camp.

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Cerro Toco is a fairly easy option if you want to bag a high altitude peak in San Pedro de Atacama as the hike starts at 5,200 metres above sea level.

But don’t let the distance fool you, the altitude (and the cold) will still take your breath away.

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If you want a harder option, you can hike up 5,592 metre Laskar Volcano, starting at 4,600 metres above sea level, or do the two day trek up 5,950 metre Licancabur Volcano.

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3. Get some cool photos at the salt flats, geysers, valleys or lagoons

There’s dozens of tour options in San Pedro de Atacama and you’re sure to find one that suits your tastes and budget.

Options include tours to the coloured landscapes of Valle de Arcoiris (Rainbow Valley), El Tatio geyser field at sunrise, Tara Salt Flats, and thermal pools.

Rainbow Valley features unique green and red coloured mountains and rock formations.

Many of the tour options can also be reached independently by hiring a car.

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4. Have a go at sandboarding in the desert

One of the most popular activities in San Pedro de Atacama is to go sandboarding down the desert sand dunes.

Tours run regularly during the day, and also at night if there’s a full moon.

5. Witness some of the best stargazing night skies in the world

The night sky in the Atacama Desert is said to be the best in the world due to the lack of pollution and regular clear skies. This is one of the driest places in the world.

Stargazing tours take you out to South America’s largest public astronomical observatory and you can gaze into the stars through high powered telescopes, and learn from an astronomer about constellations and other night sky features.

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How To Get To San Pedro De Atacama:

  • San Pedro de Atacama can be reached from the Bolivian border by pre-arranging a transfer when you book a Uyuni Salt Flats tour in Bolivia.
  • San Pedro de Atacama can also be reached by Tur Bus bus from Salta, Argentina or Iquique, Arica or Calama in Chile.
  • To move on from the town, buses leave at least once daily to Arica and Iquique or to Calama and Antofagasta several times a day. You can buy your ticket at the bus station.

 

 

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