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6 Worthwhile Excursions in the Atacama Desert, Chile

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The Atacama desert in Chile is one of the driest place on earth, covering a 1,000-kilometre strip of land on the Pacific coast, west of the Andes mountains.

Here you will find vast tracts of red sand, active volcanoes, felsic lava, salt-lakes and a variety of animals and plants.

The Atacama desert offers a spectacular and unforgettable experience. You can see numerous volcanoes, visit the El Tatio Geysers, watch flamingos at the Salar de Atacama, hiking in the Moon Valley, take mountain bike tours and much more!

View over Atacama Desert in Chile

View over Atacama Desert in Chile

While staying at the luxurious Awasi Hotel by Relais & Chateaux in San Pedro de Atacama, we had a private guide and a modern 4WD “doble cabina” utility vehicle to help you discover the remote but stunning landscape. Our guide, Jorge, grew up in the San Pedro de Atacama vicinity and delights in showing tourists places that they have never seen.

Awasi guide Jorge Corantes Fernandez and travelmemo's Walter

Awasi guide Jorge Corantes Fernandez and travelmemo’s Walter

We were blown away by the spectacular scenery where nature has crafted its shapes and materials in the desert.

Here are some suggestions for worthwhile excursions in this vast region of Atacama Desert:

Salar de Atacama & Laguna Cejar

The Salar de Atacama is the largest salt flat in Chile and it’s located a short ride south of San Pedro de Atacama. The setting is dominated by the view of the vulcano Licancabur and the surrounding desert.

Salty Salar de Atacama

Salty Salar de Atacama

The Laguna Cejar is a small salt lake in the middle of the Atacama desert. The water of the lagoon is a crystal-clear, decorated by a white salt crust. Due to the high salinity and the pleasant temperatures of the water, you can get the perfect experience floating!

Swimming in salty Laguna Cejar

Swimming in salty Laguna Cejar

El Tatio geysers

One of the most fascinating excursion was certainly the one to the Tatio Geysers. El Tatio Geysers is a field of geothermal springs with fumaroles activity and mineral deposits. It’s located at 4’200 meters above sea level and approx. 80 km from the town of San Pedro de Atacama (approx. 2 hours drive).

Tatio geysers at sunrise

Tatio geysers at sunrise

Make sure you arrive early before sunrise since the geysers are most active in the early morning.
The natural spectacle is overwhelming … water and steam rising up from everywhere and when the sun goes up, the sun light sparkles in between – just awesome!

Tatio Geysers at sunrise

Tatio Geysers at sunrise

Remember to take along some warm clothes since you will expect some chilly temperatures! Even though we are quite used to cold temperatures (since Switzerland is not exactly one of the warmest countries) we felt quite freezing.

Walter Schaerer & Katja Birrer at El Tatio geysers in the Atacam

Valle de la luna (Moonvalley)

The so-called Valley of the moon is famous for its resemblance to the surface of the moon. An amazing array of colors mark the landscape, including plenty of reds, oranges, and browns of course.

Salt statues "Las tres Marias" - Valle de la Luna

Salt statues “Las tres Marias” – Valle de la Luna

Within the valley you will see the great dune path; for thousands of years strong winds have affected these relifs, creating huge fields of sand dunes. Awesome!

Hiking in the “Valle de los Cordones”

On our last day we opted for an easy, but not less fascinating, hike through the “Valle de los Cordones”. We very much enjoyed the hike and the mix of foxtail plants, cactus and rocks in this valley.

Foxtails and Candelabro cactus in Cardones gorge

Foxtails and Candelabro cactus in Cardones gorge

Stargazing

Another amazing experience was the “Stargazing night with Jorge“. What an overwhelming night!

Stargazing at Southern Cross in Alto Atacama hotel

Stargazing at Southern Cross in Atacama desert

Not only was the viewing of billions of stars spectacular, but also our guide’s wealth of knowledge on the subject was impressive! It certainly enhanced our perception and understanding of the subject.

Where to stay in San Pedro de Atacama

We spent several nights at San Pedro de Atacama, in the following two luxurious and stylish hideaways leave nothing to be desired! Click at the links to read the detailed review about these fantastic hotels:

Awasi patio and hotel pool

Awasi patio and hotel pool

Please check out our review of renowned Hotel Awasi by Relais & Chateaux

Alto-Atacama-desert-lodge

Alto Atacama desert lodge

Here’s our travelogue from Alto Atacama

Please find some more impressions from stunning Atacama Desert here:

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About Author

Katja is travelmemo.com’s destination research and booking expert. She always has the upper hand on itineraries and travel details. When not on the road Katja is a corporate communications and events manager.

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