Recommended Atacama Desert Tours
Moon & Death Valley Tour
The Moon & Death Valley Tour is a perfect introduction to the Atacama Desert, if you arrive into San Pedro in the afternoon, you can take this tour on your first day. View the eroded desert badlands. Test drives for the Moon and Mars rover expeditions took place here. Explore Moon Valley’s ridges, the salt caves, and the sand dunes, while watching the sunset.
Atacama Salt Flats Tour
This tour takes you to a subterranean lake that has sunk and become a salt flat. Nearby are the lagoons of Miscanti and Miniques. You’re likely to spot flamingoes, coots, grebes, and other birds. Also stop at the town of Tocanao, which was built using volcanic stone for much of its architecture.
Tatio Geysers Tour
Take this trip early in the morning, when the geysers are most active. Plumes of smoke rise up out of the ground, some over 7 meters tall. Wrap up warm as this tour starts before dawn and reaches an altitude of over 4300 meters (14,000 feet) so temperatures can be very low. A great addition to this trip is a swim at the Puritama hot springs.
Atacama Desert Stargazing Tour
The desert usually has extremely clear skies making this a perfect place for an astronomy tour. Visit an observatory where you can view the stars through telescopes and learn how to read a sky map.
Puritama Hot Springs
The Baths of Puritama, (indigenous word for hot water), are about 20 miles north of town, nestled in the heart of the Atacama Desert. Although these hot springs were discovered centuries ago by locals, they only recently opened to the general public. The waters flow up from the ground at temperatures close to 33° C (91.4°F). The hot springs provide a revitalizing experience to relieve stress and fatigue.
Puritama is the ideal spot for travelers that want to take in the fantastic landscape but enjoy modern and comfortable facilities. The thermal center features outdoor pools, a waterfall, sauna rooms, changing rooms, and baths that connect to the pools by wooden footbridges.
Add-on to Your Atacama Tour
Depending on your interests and how long you are staying in San Pedro de Atacama, you may enjoy taking some extra tours to these places:
Pukara de Quitor Fortress
The Pukara de Quitor fortress was built into the side of the cliff and watches over the San Pedro river valley. The Tulor village and the Pukara de Lasana are also interesting to visit. These ruins are well-preserved because the arid climate has prevented deterioration over the centuries. The Padre Le Paige Archaeological Museum features artifacts gathered from throughout the region, many collected by a Jesuit priest for which the museum was named.
Padre Le Paige spent much of his life researching the Atacameno people and cataloging thousands of artifacts found in the 1950s. Visit the Cejar Lagoon, a beautiful turquoise lagoon rimmed with salt. Often you’ll see flamingos and other migratory birds roosting here.
Tours from Iquique
Iquique is on the Pacific Coast, to the west of the Atacama Desert. Tours from here can take you to the Atacama desert ghost towns such as Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. There are more than 200 former saltpeter works in the area and this is an intriguing and unusual destination for an in-depth Atacama trip. Workers lived here in company towns that developed a distinct culture of their own. The industrial ruins here are bleak yet fascinating especially for people interested in the industrial revolution.
Tours from Arica & Putre
The far north of Chile has some of the Atacama Desert’s less-visited regions. Take a tour to Vicuña National Reserve and Salar de Surire for some otherworldly landscapes and wildlife including llamas, alpacas, flamingos, and many other birds.
For almost all visitors, San Pedro de Atacama is a much better base for tours than Calama, the two towns are about 45 minutes apart. Chuquicamata Mine is near Calama and can be visited on a guided tour. It is a massive open-pit copper mine.