San Pedro de Atacama: The Desert’s Entrance Door

Our Product Manager, Pablo Dutilh, has visited San Pedro de Atacama on countless occasions, and on this column he shares the reasons why he thinks this small town located in Región de Antofagasta is the best starting point to experience Atacama Desert.

By Pablo Dutilh

San Pedro de Atacama is a small town with a rich local culture that, despite its tourist attractions (it’s filled with 5-star hotels), has been able to maintain the rustic style and Atacameño essence that make it a ‘must’ in Chile and South America. Small and simple as it may seem, San Pedro has a strategic location and a number of archaeological and tourist hot spots in its surroundings. The town is a platform for some of the most amazing scenarios of Atacama Desert, most of which are very close if you consider the vastness of the desert and Chile’s Northern area.

For example, Moon Valley and Death Valley are located 10 (6,2 mi) and 15 kms (9,32 mi)away respectively. Both of them made up an otherworldly landscape, characterized by its geological landmarks and rock formations that have been eroded by the wind and water. 12 kms (7,5 mi) away there is Atacama Salt Flat, with its gigantic salt layer floating on brine, and also the lagoons Chaxa, Cejar, and Teviquinche. 20 kms (12 mi) away you will find Puritama River, on a landscape filled with columnar cacti, next to which you will find the famous Puritama Hot Springs.

Another destination you cannot miss is the Tatio Geysers, located 60 kms (37 mi) away. Walking on this amazing natural phenomenon is a unique experience, for it is a plate containing the steam which is about to erupt. There are also several hills, mountains, and volcanoes belonging to the Cordillera de La Costa (Coastal Range). You can get in your car and reach 4000 mts msl (13.000 ft) easily. Some of the most important massifs are Licancabur and Láscar.

Last but not least, there are the Atacameño towns. There is a variety of nearby villages you that can visit and which are a great opportunity to get in touch with the Atacameño and Aymará cultures. The most popular ones are Toconao and Caspana, famous for their churches, stone houses, terrace crops, and locals. There are others like Aldea Tulor and the Pukarás of Quitor and Lasana, which portray the legacy left by the Incas in this area.

Other destinations are more remote, but if you have time, I cannot recommend them enough. Some of them are: the Altiplanic lagoons Miscanti and Miñique, Tara Salt Flat, and the Pakana ‘Monks’ (huge rock formations famous for their similarity with the Moais in Easter Island). For the more adventurous, I recommend suggest crossing the Bolivian border and visiting Uyuni Salt Flat, the largest in the world.

Lastly, and considering the harsh Bolivian Winter that takes place in January and February, I recommend going to San Pedro de Atacama between July and August. It’s true, the temperature at night is really low (-5°C to -10°C/ 23°F to 14°F), but during the day the weather is nice with an average of 20°C (68°F), and a sun that does not provoke the severe dehydration of the summer. This allows you to enjoy more activities and get around more comfortably.

I guarantee you can visit this town many times and always find new destinations that will surprise you with their natural and cultural richness. The desert in San Pedro is out there, only one step away from you.