Home Adventure Top 5 Places To Visit In The Atacama Desert, Chile

Top 5 Places To Visit In The Atacama Desert, Chile

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El Valle De La Luna, Atacama, Chile
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Unlike anywhere else on the planet, 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.

Hanging out in the Atacama Desert, Chile

Hanging out in the Atacama Desert, Chile

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. Book a tour to El Tatio Geysers here.

El Tatio Geysers at sunrise, Chile

El Tatio Geysers at sunrise, Chile

El Tatio Geysers, Chile

El Tatio Geysers, Chile

Lagoon on the way from El Tatio Geysers to San Pedro De Atacama

Lagoon on the way from El Tatio Geysers to San Pedro De Atacama

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. Book a tour to visit El Valle De La Luna.

El Valle De La Luna, Atacama, Chile

El Valle De La Luna, Atacama, Chile

Driving through El Valle De La Luna, Chile

Driving through El Valle De La Luna, Chile

Sunset over El Valle De La Luna, Chile

Sunset over El Valle De La Luna, Chile (Photo: @BackpackerMacca)

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. Book a tour to the Atacama Salt Flats here.

Flamingos flying over Chaxa Lagoon, Chile

Flamingos flying over Chaxa Lagoon, Chile

Flamingo at Chaxa Lagoon, Chile

Flamingo at Chaxa Lagoon, Chile

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.

Miscanti Volcano and Lagoon - Chile's lagunas altiplanicas

Miscanti Volcano and Lagoon – Chile’s lagunas altiplanicas

Miñiques Lagoon - Chile's lagunas altiplanicas

Miñiques Lagoon – Chile’s lagunas altiplanicas

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.

San Pedro De Atacama, Chile

San Pedro De Atacama, Chile

San Pedro De Atacama Church, Chile

San Pedro De Atacama Church, Chile

Hanging out in San Pedro De Atacama, Chile

Hanging out in San Pedro De Atacama, Chile

Night Photography - San Pedro De Atacama, Chile

Night Photography – San Pedro De Atacama, Chile

Are you planning to visit the Atacama Desert? Which places can’t you want to see for yourself? Let me know in the comments below!

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6 comments

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6 comments

Kaylene 3rd May 2016 - 12:00 pm

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!

Reply
Chloe Gunning 3rd May 2016 - 12:08 pm

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

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Macca Sherifi 20th July 2016 - 2:29 pm

“This place really is out of this world!!!”

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Wanderlust Chloe 20th July 2016 - 3:14 pm

Totally! I just don’t know what country has landscapes as crazy and diverse… but hey I’ll keep looking!!

Reply
Anne 28th October 2018 - 2:38 pm

What a great post to find! How many days do you recommend to fit these all in? 3?

Reply
Chloe Gunning 13th November 2018 - 8:33 am

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!

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