In northern Chile by the border with Bolivia is the driest non-polar desert in the world, the Atacama. Thanks to the towering Andes, the Atacama fault and its altitude of 2,408m there are plenty of mesmerising landscapes to feast your eyes on here. Spurting geysers, arid salt flats and towering volcanoes are just a few of the natural wonders you’ll discover.
How To Get There
Flying is the most viable option as San Pedro de Atacama is so remote. Take a flight to the Chilean capital, Santiago (not to be confused with Santiago de Compostela in Spain where the flights are a lot cheaper!) then onwards to Calama. British Airways have direct flights to Santiago, while Air France or American Airlines tend to be cheaper as they have a connection.
The flight to Calama takes just over two hours with either Sky or LATAM and is often cheaper than the bus, provided you aren’t taking luggage. From the airport, there are a number of airport shuttles that go directly to San Pedro de Atacama and take around an hour and a half. Or most hotels can organise a private transfer too.
“For those with time, a road trip could be just the answer”
The direct bus from Santiago to San Pedro takes approximately 23 hours with Tur Bus. Departing from Terminal Alameda (Metro Estacion Central) in Santiago. Bus companies Pullman, Andimar, Atacama VIP among others also travel to Calama, and if you’re willing to make this long journey, a cama (wider seat that reclines further) is recommended. See bus timetables here.
For those with time, a road trip could be just the answer, stopping en route at La Serena, Pisco Elqui and the Mano del Desierto – an enormous hand in the middle of the desert. Head north from Santiago along the Panamericana 5 North Highway to Baquedano in Antofagasta, then take Highway 25 towards Calama. Peel off onto Highway 23 to San Pedro de Atacama.
Things To Do In San Pedro De Atacama
Geologists, photographers and nature enthusiasts can all agree that the landscapes in the Atacama are both surreal and spectacular. Choose between cycling to Valle de la Luna – named Moon Valley for its spacey aesthetics – horse riding to Devil’s Canyon, bathing in the Termas Puritamasor and photographing the burnt Red Rocks of Piedras Rojas which lie next to a milky turquoise lake.
Lagunas Baltinache – also known as the hidden lagoons – are in the ‘Valley of Patience’ 40km from San Pedro along a road lined with flat tires. Once there, float in the highly salty pools that look like a beautiful blue iris from above.
Home to pink Andean flamingoes, the Salar de Atacama is highly ‘grammable as the water paints a perfect reflection of the Andes behind. In the Salar, Laguna Cejar is a lake with saline waters and natural flotation – you could lie here for hours. Just try not to accidentally drink the salty water!
Spurting smoky plumes like a heavy-duty power station, the natural El Tatio geysers are the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere. At an altitude of 4,320m, it’s a wonder how these geysers have so much energy. After exploring the geysers, you can dip into the thermal pool. But be warned, at altitude and in the morning it’s a lot warmer in than out.