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Set on the arid high plateau of Northern Chile, San Pedro de Atacama is surrounded by dramatic landscapes including geysers, deserts, hot springs, salt flats, and volcanoes. It also happens to be one of the best places in the world to go stargazing!

I ended up here on a whim on my way to Bolivia, and am so grateful because it ended up being one of my favorite stops in South America. The landscape surrounding San Pedro de Atacama is so unique and different from anything I’ve seen. Here are my recommendations for the best places to visit in San Pedro de Atacama.

Jumping over the sun in San Pedro de Atacama

Best Things to do in San Pedro de Atacama

Floating lagoons

Lora floating in a lagoon in San Pedro de Atacama
Floating without effort in the salty lagoons

The Atacama desert only gets about 30m of rain a year but that’s enough to create these small lagoons of water you can swim in. Due to the high concentration of salt flats around the lagoons the water is extremely salty, which means you will float in it without any effort!

This is something I have always wanted to experience and did not disappoint. The sensation is so unique to experience, and the water is nice to cool off from the heat of the desert. The only downside is that afterwards you come out extremely salty which is pretty uncomfortable, so leave time a shower which they have near the lagoons!

Moon valley

Lora walking through moon valley outside of San Pedro de Atacama
Walking through Moon Valley

This is an area just 15 minutes outside of San Pedro town which feels like you have left earth. The landscape is completely dry and desolate but covered in incredibly interesting rock formations.

There is also a cave that you can crawl through as you explore the area and desert dunes that you can climb up nearby.

Walking through caves in moon valley
Walking through caves in moon valley

Moon valley is also one of the cheapest tours you can do from San Pedro town and definitely worth an afternoon!

Sand Dunes near Moon Valley in San Pedro de Atacama
Sand Dunes near Moon Valley

Stargazing

Star Gazing in San Pedro de Atacama
Star Gazing in the Atacama Desert

The night sky in San Pedro is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. The desert is one of the clearest stargazing spots in the world and every night you can see billions of stars infinitely around you. I did a tour called Una Noche con las Estrellas which was amazing.

You go to an astronomer’s house nearby town and they will give you a crash course in astronomy, then you get to view the night sky through his giant telescopes. We saw Neptunes, Jupiter, and twin stars! It was so cool.

You can also see the stars from town but if you head about 10 minutes out you will get an even clearer sky.

Stars in the Atacama Desert
Stars in the Atacama Desert

Desert Party

The nightlife in San Pedro isn’t anything to run home about, they actually used to have a law that prohibited dancing! That being said every night they have a party in the desert just outside of town which is pretty fun because of the amazing night sky above you. There is a fire in the middle, music, and they sell drinks there. 

The Landscape – High lagoons & Salt flats

High lagoons in the Atacama Desert

The landscape around San Pedro is so interesting with the salt flats, high lagoons and surrounding mountains reflecting in them.

Salt flats and lagoons in the Atacama Desert
Salt flats and lagoons in the Atacama Desert

You can do several full-day tours which will take you to most interesting viewpoints.

A pack of vicunas walking on the salt flats in San Pedro de Atacama
A pack of vicunas walking on the salt flats in San Pedro de Atacama

Wildlife

The concept of wildlife and the desolate desert doesn’t exactly go hand in hand but I was pleasantly surprised to discover these creatures in my time in San Pedro:

Wild Ostriches

A wild ostrich in the Atacama Desert
A wild ostrich in the Atacama Desert

Vicuñas

A pack of Vicuñas in the Atacama desert
A pack of Vicuñas in the Atacama desert

Vicuñas are related to Alpacas and Llamas but these creatures aren’t domesticated. We found several of them them throughout the region.

Viscacha

a wild viscacha hiding in the rocks
a wild viscacha hiding in the rocks

I didn’t even this species existed before this trip but we saw it hiding in the rocks. They are a rodent native to South America and look most like rabbits. Pretty cute!

Flamingos

Flamingos in the Atacama Desert

In the surrounding lagoons, you can find three different species of Flamingos living in huge packs. They look amazing reflecting in the water!

Aside from all of this San Pedro de Atacama also has many other interesting places to visit including geysers and hot springs, but I decided not to spend my money on these as I would be seeing them over the next few days on my way to Bolivia via 4×4.

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3 Comments

  1. I am traveling to South America this summer and can’t wait to use your recommendations! Thank you for sharing!!

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