How to see Chile’s otherworldly Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth

Tips on how to see Chile’s otherworldly Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth

>Northern Chile ismarked by the dramatic, sweeping landscapes of the Atacama Desert. Flanked by the Andes to the west and the chilly Pacific Ocean to the east, Atacama is the driest desert on the earth. The Pacific Ocean is saved chilly by the Humboldt present heading north from Antarctica, that means there’s little precipitation or probability of rain clouds forming. The few that do are saved at bay by Chile’s Coastal Mountain Vary.

The Atacama Desert receives so little rain that its residents can go years with out seeing it. However the mighty Andes vary traps storms, whose water seeps underground and emerges within the Atacama’s japanese edge. This water creates, over millenniums, briny lakes, salt flats, weird salt sculptures, and otherworldly geology. The Atacama Desert’s excessive circumstances and strange vastness make it a bucket listing vacation spot for adventure-seeking vacationers, panorama photographers, and outside fans. It’s even certainly one of our favourite locations to take children.

Most guests to the area selected to base themselves within the small city of San Pedro de Atacama, a groundwater-fed oasis. San Pedro is positioned near the Atacama Desert’s distinguished landmarks, from salt flats to volcanoes. The city heart is crammed with tour operators who provide guided desert actions corresponding to horseback using, sandboarding, and stargazing. These excursions are the easiest way to take full benefit of the Atacama’s pure wonders surrounding San Pedro.

No matter what you propose to do on this particular place, you’ll wish to arrive geared up and arranged. Right here’s what it’s worthwhile to know earlier than reserving a visit to the Atacama Desert in Chile.

When to go to Chile’s Atacama Desert

Photograph: Delpixel/Shutterstock

There are three distinguishable seasons within the Atacama, regardless of it being a desert. For the reason that Southern hemisphere’s summer season season is from November by February, that is the preferred time for vacationers to go to, regardless of the times being lengthy and scorchingly sizzling. Temperatures attain upward of 90 levels Fahrenheit throughout the day, and the dry local weather exacerbates the warmth.

Most excursions and actions in the summertime season run within the early morning or late afternoon to attempt t to keep away from the most popular a part of the day. Nevertheless, as soon as the solar units, temperatures cool off and keep round 60 levels since there’s no moisture within the air to retain the warmth.

The Atacama is the least crowded throughout its shoulder seasons, from March to Might and September to November. Temperatures throughout these months are usually in a pleasing vary between 75 and 80 levels. To keep away from the blistering warmth and crowded excursions and resorts, take into account visiting throughout the winter. From Might to September, each day temperatures hover round 70 levels and might drop under freezing in a single day.

Tips on how to get there

entrance road to San Pedro de Atacama, desert Atacama, Chile, Atacama Desert

Photograph: Nataliya Hora/Shutterstock

From Santiago, you’ll be able to take a two-hour flight to Calama and ebook a automotive switch to San Pedro. The automotive journey takes round one hour and is normally included in resort charges. That is the simplest and quickest option to arrive within the Atacama, nevertheless it’s not the one manner. Since having a rental automotive is good for exploring the area, you might additionally lease one on the airport and drive to San Pedro. Your rental will nearly definitely be a desert-road-ready, four-wheel-drive car.

Alternatively, you’ll be able to take a neighborhood bus. From Santiago, you’re wherever from 20 to 25 hours of an extended, gradual slog. These planning to courageous the bus journey ought to take into account breaking it up with stops in different cities alongside the best way.

Getting round

SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA, CHILE - NOVEMBER 24, 2013: Unidentified people drive car in Valle de la Luna in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile., Atacama Desert

Photograph: Dmitry Chulov/Shutterstock

Renting a automotive is the optimum option to get across the Atacama Desert, particularly if you wish to have complete freedom over your explorations. And not using a car, you’ll be fully depending on reserving excursions to move you into the desert. A rental will inarguably offer you extra liberty to discover the pure sights at your leisure and in your schedule. Additionally, should you’re hoping to hit up landmark places at particular hours for lighting and pictures, having a automotive is important.

Rental Vehicles is a wonderful useful resource for locating the choice that’s proper to your finances. Sadly, vacationers outnumber out there automobiles within the desert, particularly throughout peak season, so be sure you ebook your rental as far upfront as doable. Nevertheless, many lodging in San Pedro are comparatively near the city heart, so you must be capable to stroll out and in of city with no drawback.

View on cyclist in Death Valley by San pedor de Atacama - Chile, Atacama Desert

Photograph: streetflash/Shutterstock

Bike leases are one other inexpensive transportation various to get you into city however are usually not really helpful as a way to get you to the farther afield. You’ll find bikes to rent at a lot of distributors within the city heart, and most lodging provide bike service. Store round earlier than you lease and be sure you attempt to haggle — you must be capable to negotiate for as little as $4 per day. Relying on the place you keep, your lodging might also have a restricted variety of bikes out there for visitors.

The place to remain in San Pedro de Atacama

Whereas there’s loads of lodging to select from in San Pedro de Atacama, put together to spend greater than you’ll in different elements of Chile. There’s additionally a extra vital hole between what hostels and resorts present right here. Funds choices within the Atacama could be very bare-bone so far as facilities are involved. For instance, breakfast, Wi-Fi, towels, and even mattress linens will not be all the time assured. Double-check all the pieces that’s included whenever you make your reserving so that you just aren’t stunned upon check-in.

Tierra Lodge

outside of Tierra Atacama hotel, Atacama Desert

Photograph: Tierra Lodges

The rooms on the Tierra Lodge overlook the Andes mountain vary, and cultural nods are built-in into their design within the type of cowhide rugs and handcrafted pottery. The resort has by some means managed to seek out the proper stability between clear, minimalist interiors whereas incorporating the encompassing pure panorama. Tierra Lodge’s massive draw is its swimming pool, which is bound to chill you off a sizzling desert day. As well as, they’ve bigger household rooms for these touring as a bunch.

The place: San Pedro de Atacama, Antofagasta, Chile

Aji Verde Hostel San Pedro

Aji Verde Hostel gives finances vacationers the possibility to completely embrace their desert environment by sleeping in tents equipped with fundamental cots. Aji Verde is barely a brief stroll from San Pedro’s heart, the place you’ll discover eating places and native operators to ebook excursions with. Free Wi-Fi and chilly showers make the hostel a pleasant place to chill off and unwind after a day spent out within the warmth. Aji Verde is a favourite amongst backpackers seeking to meet fellow vacationers.

The place: Ckilapana 69 c, San Pedro de Atacama, Antofagasta, Chile

Lodge Desertica

bed in Hotel Desertica Atacama, Atacama Desert

Photograph: Desertica Lodge

Any lodging positioned in the midst of a desert that encompasses a backyard certainly units the benchmark for luxurious. Throw in a pool, hammocks swinging within the shade, and delightful linen cabanas, and also you’ve acquired the makings of a memorable keep at Lodge Desertica. Sustainability is on the heart of the resort’s ethos. It makes use of photo voltaic power and provides visitors with regionally sourced, biodegradable grooming merchandise. This lodging choice is ideally fitted to {couples} in search of romance and respite within the desert.

The place: Caracoles 455, San Pedro de Atacama, Antofagasta, Chile

Issues to see and do in Chile’s Atacama Desert

Nature lovers will discover no scarcity of issues to maintain them busy within the Atacama. Lots of the main landmarks and outside recreation right here require reserving a information by a tour operator. These are discovered throughout San Pedro’s city heart. Most resorts and hostels can also ebook excursions for you.

Piedras Rojas — Purple Rocks

Piedras Rojas, altiplano in the Atacama Desert, Chile.

Photograph: obscur/Shutterstock

Piedras Rojas, or Purple Rocks as you could have heard them referred to, are a marvel of nature. Shaped by the oxidation of iron, Piedras Rojas are as crimson in actual life as they’re in any images on-line. Many journey firms in San Pedro provide excursions to the Purple Rocks, with guides who can speak you thru their geological significance. Ensure you convey chapstick and one thing to guard your face for the reason that flat, ruby-colored panorama is vulnerable to robust wind gusts.

Puritama — Termas de Puritama

Photograph: In artwork drops

Termas de  - Puritama thermal baths, Atacama Desert

Photograph: Gonzalo Sanchez/Shutterstock

Puritama, which suggests “sizzling water” in a pre-Incan language indigenous to the world, is a sequence of thermal swimming pools set on the backside of a canyon. Ninety-degree water flows from underground, pumping into the pure sulfuric swimming pools to your soaking pleasure. Many locals consider the water in every pool incorporates therapeutic properties that scale back stress, fatigue, and arthritis. Admission to Puritama is roughly $24, nevertheless it’s value each penny — a sizzling pool on the finish of a sandy day within the desert feels nothing if not rejuvenating. The one merchandise to think about apart from the expense is transport. Puritama’s location 19 miles north of San Pedro requires that you just ebook a tour to get you there or have a rental automotive to drive by yourself.

Valle de la Luna — Valley of the Moon

Atacama desert, Andes, Chile

Photograph: Joolyann/Shutterstock

A number of miles west of San Pedro is the Valle de la Luna. The distinctive stones on this Valley of the Moon have been shaped over time by wind and water erosion. Photographers delight within the pure textures and patterns of the valley. The sky turns into cotton sweet colours because the solar units, so time your go to at golden hour if in any respect doable — you received’t be sorry.

Mano de Desierto — Hand within the Desert

Mano del Desierto, Desert Hand, Chile, Next to Public Highway taken in 2015, Atacama Desert

Photograph: Lukas Bischoff {Photograph}/Shutterstock

You’ve undoubtedly seen Mano de Desierto in your Instagram feed. Mario Irarrázabal sculpted the enormous hand within the Nineteen Eighties to symbolize Mom Nature embracing the panorama. Attending to the 36-foot-tall artwork set up requires you to have a automotive. In case you’re very, very adventurous (and in good bodily health), you’ll be able to bike out to the hand, however this isn’t really helpful for the typical vacationer as a result of dashing visitors. Mano sits off the Pan-American freeway, which has a status for vans zooming alongside its well-maintained asphalt.

Horseback using

Horseback riding Atacama Chile, Atacama Desert

Photograph: Atacama Horse Journey/Fb

On horseback, the immensity of the Atacama Desert feels amplified. Taking devoted trails throughout sand dunes and thru photo-famous canyons will make you are feeling like a Morochuco — a Peruvian cowboy. No earlier horseback using expertise is required, as you’ll be led by professional wranglers.

Most horseback excursions are both half-day or full-day excursions, however some horse ranches provide multiple-day treks with in a single day tenting. A full day using can price wherever from $120 to $250, relying on the ranch you ebook your tour with. Most full-day using excursions embrace lunch within the desert, however be sure you pack your individual water and a few snacks for further sustenance. There are just a few tour operators operating journeys, however Atacama Horse Journey and Rancho Cactus provide two of the higher experiences.

Sizzling air balloon journey

One of many spendier issues to do within the Atacama Desert is taking a sizzling air balloon journey at dawn. You’ll end up hovering above native landmarks just like the Valle de la Luna, Volcano Licancabur, and Laguna Cejar, appreciating the desert’s vastness from above.

Usually, the ballooning firm you booked your journey with will choose you up out of your resort earlier than daybreak. You’ll be transported into the desert, the place big, colourful balloons are laid out on the bottom, being ready to your flight. The period of the recent air balloon journey relies on the native climate circumstances, primarily the wind. Rides begin at roughly $250 per individual. It’s very chilly within the early mornings, so put on heat layers to make sure your self a cushty flight. Some of the respected firms providing excursions is the Phaway Atacama Ballooning Expertise.


Someplace between browsing and snowboarding lies sandboarding. The intense sport dates again to the traditional Egyptians, nevertheless it’s a long-standing favourite amongst vacationers visiting the Atacama. The title of this sport type of provides all of it away: Primarily, you journey a board alongside the highest of a sand dune proper all the way down to its base. Sandboarding guides will provide you with helmets, elbow and knee pads, and the board you’ll be utilizing to glide. You’ll be able to ebook your sandboarding tour in San Pedro’s city heart, and also you’ll usually get a greater worth by doing so in individual since most operators attempt to beat their opponents. That mentioned, should you’d like to arrange upfront, Sandboard San Pedro gives wonderful experiences.


Milky way in Licancabur volcano at Atacama Desert

Photograph: Fotografo de los Andes/Shutterstock

The absence of skyscrapers or spotlights makes the Atacama perfect for spending a night having fun with the wonders of the nights’ sky. Not like the Northern Lights phenomenon within the reverse hemisphere, seeing the celebs within the Atacama is a certain factor. Astronomers have referred to as it among the finest locations on Earth to check the sky as a result of it’s at a excessive altitude and devoid of precipitation, which not solely causes cloud protection but in addition distorts photos seen through telescopes.

SPACE is very respected for its stargazing excursions, however there are loads to select from on the town. Tales of the constellations within the pitch-black are provided in French, Spanish, English, and German, so be sure you ebook the precise tour language for you. Like rental automobiles, stargazing excursions ebook up nicely upfront — and normally solely happen throughout moonless evenings — so don’t hesitate to make a reservation should you do desire a information.

There’s all the time the choice to stargaze with no tour group, however doing it by yourself will imply you miss listening to the native myths hooked up to main star clusters. Excursions additionally embrace the bonus of wanting on the stars by a telescope.

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