San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile receives thousands of visitors each year. Some say they feel a special energy there, while others simply want to enjoy the desert’s beauty and its clear skies at night. Temperatures drop at night, so make sure you plan accordingly.
We recently visited San Pedro de Atacama with my family and it truly exceeded our expectations. It was high season (in December) so it was packed. If you plan to go in December or early January, make sure to book in advance not only your lodging but your tours, too. Restaurants also fill up quickly.
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The altitude can affect some, so remember to hydrate and rest. Also, if you go to El Tatio, avoid alcohol the night before and eat a light meal. If you start to get a headache or feel ill, please alert your tour guide. Most times ibuprofen and sleep will help, but I’ve hard of people actually needing oxygen to feel better.
Best things to do in San Pedro de Atacama
- El Tatio: the geysers at El Tatio are worth the 4 am wake up call and the freezing temps. We did a sunrise tour, which means leaving your hotel around 4:30 am, depending on the time of year. The drive there is quite bumpy, so I would advise against driving on your own in the dark. Tours include a snack break with hot tea and coffee, which are extremely welcome to warm up a bit. Tip: dress in layers, take gloves, boots, and hats or earmuffs. If you will continue exploring other areas, you will want to take off your parka and sweater. Temps climb once the sun rises and you descend from El Tatio.
- Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley): perhaps one of the most popular San Pedro attractions is this valley, that many liken to walking on the moon. It is a beautiful hike, with salt caves but it can get brutally hot in the summer. Don’t forget the sunscreen and drink much water. You can also visit the Valle de la Muerte (death valley), which is nearby. Tip: schedule the tour during the afternoon so you get to see the gorgeous sunset.
- Termas de Puritama: these hot water springs provide a beautiful oasis in the middle of the desert. Many visit them on the way back from El Tatio. They can get quite crowded, unless you are staying at the ulta luxurious Explora, which has a private area. There are several small pools of water and I totally recommend you try them all. The water temperature varies, some areas have small waterfalls, others have a better view, so you should explore until you find your personal favorite. We hired a private driver to take us and he was worth every penny, because as a local, he knew San Pedro de Atacama’s history better than any tour guide we met. Message me if you ever need his name.
- Star-gazing tour: also called by locals “tour astronómico”, this star-gazing tour takes you to the home of two astronomers late at night so you can take advantage of Atacama’s clear skies. We went at 11 pm! They seat you outside and explain everything you can see in the sky. It was incredible to see the Milky Way without needing a telescope. Using a special laser pointer, they also showed us the constellations and stars like Orion. We were also able to see other galaxies and stars using special telescopes. Our gracious hosts provided wine, juice, tea, and hot chocolate, aside from blankets. I can’t recommend this enough. My kids still rave about it! We booked through Una Noche con las Estrellas. Tip: dress warmly. It gets freezing cold at night in the desert!
Have you ever been to San Pedro de Atacama?
Photos: (c) Jeannette Kaplun.