With its rugged landscapes, geysers and lagoons, these are the best places to visit in the Atacama Desert, Chile.
This region of northern Chile is a place full of magic, wonder, and photos just waiting to be taken. When I arrived, I just couldn’t believe the variety of landscapes. Where else in the world do you have epic salt caves, close to vast sand dunes, impressive lagoons, volcanoes, salt flats and geysers. Oh and of course there’s the desert too – officially named the ‘driest place on earth’.
As you can imagine, it’s a region packed full of things to do. I’d recommend spending around a week in the Atacama Desert. It’ll give you a bit of time to acclimatise (after all, this is a region at high altitude) as well as venture off on a few exciting day trips.
I fell in love with the region, and my time in Atacama was the highlight of my entire trip to Chile. I’ve recommended it to countless friends, and several have now been and come back absolutely over the moon I put it on their radars! So, if you’re considering a trip, here are a few tips along with my guide to the top 5 places in the Atacama Desert.
Where Is The Atacama Desert Located?
The Atacama Desert is located in northern Chile. Unless you’re travelling overland, the best way to reach the region is by catching a flight to Calama Airport. From there you can catch a bus or a hotel transfer to reach the main town of San Pedro De Atacama. From there, you can easily tick off the top places to visit.
Public transport is virtually non-existent to the key sites, so rather than hire a car, I’d recommend booking organised tours for all of these. Not only do you have the added benefit of tour guides full of information, but also many of the roads are dangerous, with deep ravines and lots of bends.
We saw one car completely upside-down at the side of a road near El Tatio Geysers – for the sake of a few pesos, it’s just not worth it.
5 Best Places To Visit In The Atacama Desert
Wake Up Early For Sunrise At El Tatio Geysers
Experiencing sunrise at El Tatio Geysers was a magical start to the day. As I stood looking out over the geyser field, watching water and steam erupting, just as the first sun of the day cast its eerie light, I knew it was worth the early start.
While it was a chilly morning, after a dip in the geothermal hot springs, I was nice and toasty! This tour also stopped at some stunning viewpoints, including a picture-perfect mirror lagoon.
Explore The Valley Of The Moon – El Valle De La Luna
Trekking through salt caves as the white crystals glistened, climbing up sand dunes, and catching a breathtaking sunset overlooking the Valley of the Moon – this was one of the most magical experiences in the Atacama region.
I’d recommend reading my Valle de la Luna travel guide where I’ve written all about this tour. You can find out everything including what you’ll see, what to wear and a few tips to make the most of your day out.
Take A Tour Of Atacama Salt Flats and Chaxa Lagoon
Chile is home to the world’s second largest salt flats. Be sure to take a trip to Chaxa Lagoon in the heart of the salt flats to see pink flamingos in their natural habitat.
The scenery is stunning, with perfect mirror reflections and a backdrop of the Andes Mountains.
Visit Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons
Up in the Atacama highlands you’ll find two of Chile’s most picturesque lagoons, known as the lagunas altiplanicas. With its deep turquoise colour, Miscanti Lagoon sits under the active volcano of the same name.
Moments away, Miñiques Lagoon is a rich blue hue, and a great spot for spotting vicunas (similar to llamas) in the wild.
Find out more about visiting Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons here.
Spend Time In San Pedro De Atacama
The Atacama Desert’s tourist town is bohemian and cool, with its main streets full of white and pale brown adobe (mud bricks) buildings. Life here revolves around tourism, with over a hundred tour operators, plenty of restaurants (from budget to fine dining) and bars.
Don’t miss the cute plaza with it’s 17th century white church – reported to be one of the oldest in Chile.
This area is also paradise for stargazers, so don’t forget to look up and take it all in. It’ll make you feel pretty small! In my opinion, one of the best things to do in San Pedro De Atacama is spend an evening just a few minutes from the town, where there’s no light pollution, and look up at the incredible starry sky.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the top things to do in the Atacama Desert! Are you planning to visit soon? Which places can’t you want to see for yourself? Let me know in the comments below!
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6 thoughts on “Top 5 Places To Visit In The Atacama Desert, Chile”
I visited San Pedro last year; it’s such a magical place! I loved visiting all of these. I also enjoyed exploring Valle de la Muerta. And going for a drive (we rented a car) in just about any direction was beautiful!
Hey Kaylene, Thanks for commenting! It really was such a magical experience for me. Easy to forget how amazing the world is until you visit somewhere like this. I would have loved to have a car there (despite my terrible driving) as the landscapes were beautiful. Did you see any more of Chile? Cx
“This place really is out of this world!!!”
Totally! I just don’t know what country has landscapes as crazy and diverse… but hey I’ll keep looking!!
What a great post to find! How many days do you recommend to fit these all in? 3?
Hi Anne, I’d probably recommend 4-5 days so you can get used to the altitude on the first day too! It’s an amazing place!