The Atacama desert is the driest desert in the world. In some parts of the desert, no rain has ever been recorded since record-keeping began there.
Abandoned towns lie scattered throughout the Antofagasta Region. The Salindes Grandes, the Valle de la Luna, and the El Tatio Geysers seem like otherworldly landscapes.
In the Atacama Desert, you can go on incredible Chile Atacama tours that reveal vastly different landscapes, breathtaking wildlife, and small pueblos where the local Atacameños survive and thrive in rather inhospitable climates.
To get the most out of your Chile Atacama tour, we recommend staying at the 5 star luxury resort, the Explora Hotel Atacama. The Explora has the most comfortable accommodations that you’ll find anywhere in the Atacama region. There are 4 swimming pools throughout the resort, and 50 spacious guest rooms that overlook the surrounding desert landscape. The resort is all-inclusive, so all meals, transportation, guides, and tours are included in your stay. You can choose from tons of activities such as those mentioned below, plus horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, and more.
A 3-5 day Chile Atacama tour is the perfect length of time for exploring the desert. Begin your Chile Atacama tour in the city of Calama, and then head to San Pedro de Atacama.
This high elevation town is the best jumping-off point for many excursions in the Atacama. The main plaza features a Spanish church built in the 16th century, as well as an adobe house of the Spanish conquistador and first governor of Chile, Pedro de Valdivia.
Nearby is the Cordillera de la Sal (Salt Mountain Range) and the Licancabur Volcano, creating a stunning backdrop to the Atacama desert. Visit the Valle de la Muerte and the Valle de la Luna. This area is famous for its moon-like appearance. In fact, test drives for the Moon and Mars range rover expeditions have occurred here. Explore the Moon Valley’s ridges, the salt caves, and the sand dunes, while watching the sunset.
Also visit the nearby ruins of pre-Inca civilization the Atacameno people. The Pukara de Quitor fortress was built into the side of the cliff and watches over the San Pedro river valley. The Tulor village and the Pukara de Lasana are also interesting to visit. These ruins are well-preserved because the arid climate has prevented deterioration over the centuries. Don’t miss the Padre Le Paige Archaeological Museum, which features artifacts gathered from throughout the region, many collected by a Jesuit priest for which the museum was named. Padre Le Paige spent much of his life researching the Atacameno people and cataloging thousands of artifacts found in the 1950s.
There are several geological features worth visiting while you go on a Chile Atacama tour. Near San Pedro, visit the Cejar Lagoon, a beautiful turquoise lagoon rimmed with salt. Often you’ll see flamingos and other migratory birds roosting here.
Another popular destination are the Puritama Hot Springs, a natural hot springs where you can soak in the therapeutic thermal waters and enjoy the scenery of nearby volcanoes.
A bit farther away from San Pedro are the Atacama Salt Flats, which is actually a subterranean lake that has sunk and become a salt flat. Nearby are the lagoons of Miscanti and Miniques. In all the regions you’re likely to spot flamingoes, coots, grebes, and other birds. Also stop at the town of Tocanao, which was built using volcanic stone for much of its architecture. Particularly impressive is the church bell tower, known as the Torre Campanario.
The El Tatio Geyers are definitely worth seeing, especially early in the morning, when they are the most active. Plumes of smoke rise up out of the ground, some over 7 meters tall. Nearby is a hot springs where you can swim. On the way back from the El Tatio Geysers, visit the small town of Machuca, which is a symbol of the hardy locals who live and adapt to the harsh desert climate. This farming village was once on the verge of becoming a ghost town, but a few entrepreneurial farmers had solar panels set up, which has allows the town to make the constant desert sunshine an ally in providing electricity to the town.
We recommend extending your Chile Atacama tour with an excursion into southern Bolivia, which also has many stunning landscapes, lagoons, salt flats, and volcanoes. View our Chile Atacama tours to learn more.