Three days in San Pedro de Atacama give you chance to explore the surrounding desert in a myriad of ways; see geysers, lunar landscapes, flamingos. You’ll also be able to soak up the town’s atmosphere and learn about its history. Here’s how.
Day 1: Head to Another Planet
San Pedro de Atacama is best-known as a base for adventures wanting to discover the surrounding desert, but the town itself offers plenty to see and do. Spend the morning exploring the historic center; tick off the centuries-old adobe church in the Plaza de Armas, the roof of which is made partially of dried cactus, and the R.P. Gustavo Le Paige Archaeological Museum, which exhibits more than 1,000 artefacts collected by a Belgian priest.
In the afternoon, take a trip to the Valley of the Moon (Valle de la Luna), where lunar landscapes have been shaped by wind and water over millions of years. Tours from San Pedro de Atacama typically also visit Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) and are timed to coincide with sunset over the desert.
Day 2: Geysers, Hot Springs, and the Stars
Begin your second day bright and early with a pre-dawn tour of El Tatio, one of the biggest geothermal fields in the world. The trip north from San Pedro de Atacama takes around two hours, so letting someone else drive allows you to catch up on sleep in the vehicle. Watch the sunrise as dozens of steaming geysers burst into the air, then take a dip in a geothermal pool. Tours from San Pedro de Atacama typically include breakfast and some also add on a visit to the village of Machuca, where you’ll see grazing llamas and have chance sample goat’s cheese empanadas.
Spend your afternoon soaking in the thermal pools of Puritana Natural Springs; tours tend to include hotel transfers and admission tickets. In the evening, discover why the Atacama Desert is one of the world’s best places for stargazing on a night tour of South America’s largest astronomical observatory.
Day 3: Salt Flats and Flamingos
Your third day begins with another early start, but it’s more than worth it to see the Atacama Salt Flats, one of the largest salt flats in the world. Highlights of typical full-day tours include seeing flocks of brightly colored flamingos at Chaxa Lagoon, part of Los Flamencos National Park, and exploring the high-altitude lakes of Miscanti and Miñique, which are framed by bright-white mineral deposits and yellow pampa grass. Tours tend to also visit the village of Socaire, where a traditional Chilean lunch made with regional produce is often included, and Toconao, where you can admire a 18th-century whitewashed church, see buildings made from volcanic stone, and browse craft shops for treasures made from alpaca wool and volcanic rock.