Top 5 things to do in Atacama desert

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February 2018, San Pedro de Atacama – Chile

There are so many activities for adventure lovers in Atacama: from trekking and climbing, to archaeological sightings, astronomy tours, and even sand boarding in the desert.

If you have a limited time, take a look at our guide of top things to do in Atacama desert.


How we ended up here: the 24-hours bus ride

We’ve been crossing South America for more than a month now. It’s our third 24-hours bus ride. But we’re convinced that, after we get out of Chile, it’s time to chill and relax (yeah, wishful thinking).

We get down the bus in San Pedro de Atacama, on a scorching heat. San Pedro is actually a small town of around 2000 people, set on an arid plateau in the Andes. There are no paved streets, only dust. Old houses, built of adobe with thatched and mud roofs, are lined up along the alleys.






Atacama Desert: is a desert plateau in South America covering a 1000-km strip of land on the Pacific coast, west of the Andes. The Atacama desert is one of the driest places in the world, and the only one to receive less precipitation than the polar deserts.

San Pedro de Atacama: is a Chilean town in El Loa Province, Antofagasta Region. San Pedro de Atacama grew, over centuries, around an oasis in the Puna de Atacama. Its first inhabitants were the Atacameños, who developed basketworks and ceramic pottery crafts.

We find out we’re already at 2400 meters of altitude. Oh, so this is why we feel so dizzy and tired. Thankful for touching ground again, we head to the accomodation, accompanied by a pack of friendly(/hungry?) stray dogs.



After a well-deserved rest at the pool, we ask for advice from the owner, of what to do around. And oh, boy, there are plenty of fun activities.

You can choose out of dozens of tours for each time of the day. Here’s what we did in 24 hours (points 1 to 4), and a bonus (point 5) if you have more time and adrenaline left.


1.MOON VALLEY in the morning

Use your mornings wisely. There is no better place to go for a first touch and feel of the desert, than the spectacular Moon Valley. Especially when you can get all soaked up in a storm, like we did. 🙂







Even if we didn’t find any piece of meteorite in the desert (although we really tried), we discovered a fascinating meteorite museum at the edge of San Pedro de Atacama, along with an excellent audio guide.



Climb on the highest viewpoint of Valle de la Luna at sunset, to end the evening in style.




4.STARGAZING at night

It’s our last night in Atacama and we’re desperate for a clear sky. As we’re transported to a location nearby, the surrounding keeps getting darker and darker, until there is nothing else you can see. Except when looking up.


And when you do, you have the most amazing celestial scenery you’ve ever seen. On its black velvet cloth, the Universe draws the Milky Way. Under the spell of drinking a pisco brandy, we stare at billions of stars, light-years away.


5.UYUNI SALT FLATS 3-4 days offroad

And finally, if you feel really adventurous, make your way to the Uyuni Salt flats of Bolivia, with the most spectacular off-road trip in South America.

We didn’t have enough time to see everything Atacama has to offer in terms of gheizers, lagoons, thermal waters, salt flats, but the crazy 3 days tour San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni had it all!





How to get to San Pedro de Atacama

Santiago – San Pedro de Atacama: long distance bus (24 h)

Santiago – Calama by plane (2 h) + Calama – San Pedro de Atacama by shuttle (1.5 h)

 Where to stay in San Pedro de Atacama

We found Casa Algarrobo to be a little relaxation oasis in the middle of the dusty town. Our only regret is that we didn’t stay more!

Where to eat in San Pedro de Atacama

Todo Natural basically became our ‘to-go’ place for delicious food and drinks, any time of the day.


  • Long distance bus from Santiago de Chile

100 USD/pers/1 way (Turbus)

  • Accomodation

80 USD/night/double room

  • Food

25 USD/day/pers

  • Tours

Moon Valley with Whipala Expedition: 12 000 CLP (20 USD)/pers + park entry 3000 CLP (5 USD)/pers

Meteorite Museum: 3500 CLP (6 USD)/pers

Late night astronomical tour with Atacama Mistica: 20 000 CLP (33 USD)/pers

In January 2018 we booked one-way tickets, took our backpacks and left cozy old Europe, for (hopefully) the greatest adventure of our lives: South America. If you like our story, don’t forget to spread the word!

South America in 2.5 months – all you have to know to do it yourself

Happy travels and stay safe!

6 thoughts on “Top 5 things to do in Atacama desert

    1. Oh yeah, the highlight of Chile for sure, and one of the best parts of our South America journey! Can’t forget the night with such a clear sky that you could see millions of stars on the sky! 😁

      Liked by 1 person

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