If you are traveling to Chile, one stop that NEEDS to be on your itinerary is the Atacama desert. I LOVE deserts. I have been to countless around the world, but there is something extra special about the Atacama. This high desert is located in the extreme northern area of Chile and borders Bolivia. The Atacama boasts hot springs, flamingos, volcanos, geysers, and, because it is one of the darkest places in the world, the stargazing is out of this world!
The town of San Pedro De Atacama will be your base for hotels and excursions — the absolute best place to stay is at Tierra Atacama, (Read about my hotel review here). As soon as you arrive at the hotel, the excursion team helps with coming up with a plan given the countless options and ways to experience the beautiful Atacama Desert.
Our first day we took it easy, opting to head into town and allow our bodies to get used to the high altitude: I highly recommend this as altitude sickness can be a problem for those who push themselves too quickly. San Pedro De Atacama is a bustling little town full of shops, and fabulous restaurants.
On the second day, we were ready to explore and thought that the best way to get a true feel of this moon-like landscape was by horseback, and we were right! We rode across flat plains, deep canyons, and galloped over steep sand dunes.
After lunch, we thought we would rest our weary bones in the Puritama Hot Springs. Set deep in a canyon, this desert oasis is the perfect way to unwind and relax as you sit in the natural pools serenaded by the cascading waterfalls.
Night time was my favorite! TIP: Don’t forget to look up! Each night we would grab a Pisco Rika-Rika and head outside to sit underneath a bowl of stars. One of the main draws to the Atacama was the promise of the most spectacular star gazing. We were in awe as we gazed upward and looked upon galaxies, planets, and countless shooting stars. And NO trip to the Atacama is complete without visiting the local observatory where you will gaze through a MASSIVE telescope to see galaxies far far away! TIP: Book this first as this fills up very quickly and is AMAZING!
As the sun broke the horizon on our third day we were already on our way to take in the marvels of the Tatio Geysers. It is a bit of a drive but so worth it; the plumes of smoke rising into the frigid morning air back lit by the morning sun was incredible. TIP: Don’t forget to bring warm layers, when we arrived it was only 13 degrees F! We finished off the morning with piping hot coffee and breakfast as we watched the geyser smoke shoot into the sky!
On our way back to our hotel, we stopped at the quaint village of Machuca. Set in a beautiful valley, this small village is home to a stunning historical church and as an added bonus you can try fresh-grilled llama skewers and piping-hot fried cheese empanadas that will make you leave wanting more!
Later that afternoon we opted to hike the Cornices. This stunning hike gives you 360 degree views of the valley below and the volcano off in the distance. The steep rocky cornices give way to the soft sand dunes, which you then get to run down!
On our final day we headed to the Atacama Salt flats. The sea of white salt-laden earth looked like something from another world. Dots of pink periodically interrupted the white as flamingos waded through shallow pools of water.
To continue our lunar like landscape tour of the Atacama, we headed Moon Valley. The wind and rain shaped rocks of the Moon Valley are perfect for photo opportunities. You can take short hikes to breathtaking vistas and then end the day enjoying a sundowner. As the sun sets, the stunning landscape of the Atacama is set aglow.
I hope this inspires you to get lost in the desert: the Atacama is the perfect place to disconnect and combine both adventure and relaxation!