Known as the driest desert in the world, the Atacama Desert is a must for travelers with a passion for beautiful landscapes, history, and adventure. In this article, we tell you everything you need to know to fall in love with the Atacama Desert.
The Atacama is a desert located in the northern part of Chile in South America. It is popularly known as the driest desert on Earth, and it is also the place with a landscape most similar to the surface of Mars.
It rarely rains in the region because the ocean currents from the Pacific Ocean cannot pass into the desert due to its altitude. The Andes Mountains also act as a barrier, since the moisture coming from the Amazon is trapped in this natural barrier. In the central region of the desert, for example, some areas go hundreds of years without rain.
Thus the climate is hot during the day and cold at night. Throughout the year, the weather is dry, with temperature variations ranging from 0 to 40 degrees. This is because there is no vegetation or buildings that could conserve the heat of the day for the night.
The best times to visit the desert are from March to June and from September to December. In the fall and spring, respectively.
Although the region presents severe natural conditions, there is life here. The flora is composed of small trees and bushes that have managed to adapt to the aridity and lack of water.
The animals, also adapted to the climate, are limited to small species, such as:
- And flamingos.
Tourism in the Atacama Desert
One of the most common activities in the region is tourism. Archeological tourism, with the remains of the Chinchorros, and adventure tourism. Thus, the city of San Pedro de Atacama, with about 3000 inhabitants, is very busy and receives a large number of visitors all year round.
Backpackers, photographers, astronomers, and adventurers arrive in San Pedro in search of lodging and the city’s bars and restaurants.
What to do in the Atacama Desert
The Atacama has many special attractions and it is almost impossible to see everything in one trip. A valid tip is that, in most cases, it is not worth booking your tours in the Atacama in advance.
Another important tip is the question of acclimatization. The Atacama Desert is at an altitude of 2,408 meters. And on certain tours, this altitude can increase to over 4,000 meters. Therefore, it is good to be aware of symptoms such as nausea, headaches, and difficulty breathing. Before embarking, find out about soroche, the dreaded altitude sickness.
Because of the altitude, the best thing to do in the Atacama Desert is to do the tours in increasing order of altitude, so you get used to it little by little and do the acclimatization. You can start with Valle de la Luna and leave the Geysers del Tatio for the last day, for example.
Valle de La Luna and Valle de La Muerte
The scenery at Valle de La Luna and Valle de La Muerte looks truly out of this world, combining dunes, canyons, and salt formations.
Valle de La Luna is about 17 km from downtown San Pedro. Usually, the tours combine the visit to Valle de La Luna with Valle de La Muerte, which is nearby. Since they are relatively close to the center of San Pedro, it is possible to rent a bike and do the tour by yourself.
Laguna Cejar, Ojos del Salar and Laguna Tebinquinche
These three tours are usually done together. They usually start the tour at Laguna Cejar, a breathtaking lagoon. Bathing is not allowed in Laguna Cejar – it is for contemplation only.
The Ojos del Salar are practically two miracles in the middle of the desert: two round lagoons, one next to the other with perfect water.
The day ends with a tour to Laguna Tebinquiche, which was formed by the thawing of the Andes. To get there you must have an authorized guide. Leave it last on your itinerary and enjoy the incredible sunset over the stunning landscape that mixes volcano, snow, salt lagoon, and dunes all at once.
Salar de Atacama, Lagunas Altiplânicas and Piedras Rojas
Another option that combines different destinations in a single tour.
The Laguna Chaxa at the Salar de Atacama is where you will be able to observe a large number of flamingos
Piedras Rojas has rocks in the area that have turned a beautiful reddish color, which makes a nice contrast with the white of the salt flat and the light blue of the lagoons.
How to get to the Atacama Desert
The main gateway to the Atacama Desert is the capital, Santigo. Then it is necessary to take a two-hour flight from Santiago to Calama and a land transport of approximately one and a half hours to the city of San Pedro de Atacama.
A good tip is to make a stopover in the city of Santiago since you will pass through there any way to take a connecting flight.
Another very common logistical option for those traveling to the Atacama is to arrive by land from Uyuni. Uyuni is a city in Bolivia very famous for its salt desert called Salar de Uyuni.
Book your stay at the stunning Hotel Cumbres San Pedro de Atacama!
The official currency of Chile is the Chilean peso (CLP) and in the village of San Pedro de Atacama, there are many stores that exchange real and dollars. Credit cards are also well accepted.
About the language, the official language in Chile is Spanish, but if you don’t speak Spanish, you can manage with English and Portuguese.
What did you think of our tips? Have you ever visited the Atacama desert? Tell us about your experience in the comments.