The charming land of volcanos, Salt lakes, Hot springs, Lamas and Flamingos. That´s Atacama desert top attractions.
Download GPS file of Atacama desert top attractions HERE
The complete gallery of Atacama desert top attractions
Introduction and the best time to visit Atacama desert top attractions
Despite it´s hyper-aridity and potentially hostile environment the tourism here is blooming and growing each year. Volcanos, Salt lakes, Lamas and Flamingos, sure no surprise the charm of the place is huge. It´s not a magnet only for adventure travelers, but also for people searching for tranquility and everlasting good weather. The Atacama desert is one of the driest places in the world and is often compared to Mars. The best time to visit is from September to November and March to May, but also the shoulder season is OK as there are fewer tourists.
10. Lagunas Miscanti y Miñiques
Due to its relatively easy access, this place can be annoyingly crowded in high season. Despite that it´s still worth to see amazing round lakes embraced by high colorful mountains.
9. San Pedro de Atacama
Tiny town designed for all needs of tourists. You can find everything to prepare yourself before setting-off to any part of Atacama desert. Good restaurants, bars, and hostels as well as many shops and souvenir stalls with local products. You can also book a wide range of tours from local agencies.
Over the day the town is pretty calm and You can visit nearby swimming pool to rest, but in the evening the town gets alive. You can get literally everything in this Chilean. If You are searching for a party I have to disappoint you there is a ban for night actions and all pubs must close quite early at night. However, there is a illegal desert party just a few hundreds of meters behind the town but sometimes terminated by a police patrol.
It´s not the place or an attraction, but due to no regulations in Chile it´s completely legal. Don´t make a mistake and use guided tours! Rent a 4WD and enjoy every part of this amazing piece of land. You can reach places which most tourists will never reach. Don´t be scared and set off for an adventure offroad ride over desert and high roads. Definitely one of Atacama desert top attractions.
7. Ollague and stargazing
Pretty away from beaten tourist path, but still very attractive for its raw nature and amazing offroading. Ollague is an old forgotten railway station used for transporting mineral from Bolivia to Chile. Now out of operation and You can see the hopelessness of this place which gives a bit of attractivity to the place. If You have a really capable car, You can use an old military road leading almost to the top of volcano Ollague. The road will bring You to an altitude of over 5500 meters. The car will not thank You but can be quite fun. Also observing salt lakes on foot of volcanos from above is a mind-blowing experience. Make sure You will stay at clear night to have a chance to observe the deepness of sky full of stars.
6. Valle del Arcoiris
The rainbow valley located approx 90 kilometers from San Pedro de Atacama. This place holds the name due to the variety of colors that can be seen in the hills of the valley. Make sure You come to experience sunset here to highlight the color saturation.
5. Los Flamencos National Reserve
Very vast altiplano sand desert with plenty of lakes and salt flats. If You are interested in bird watching especially Flamincos or Lamas, this reserve is the right for You. Salar de Tara is a breathtaking place, but it´s not really easy to get there. No roads are leading to this place and You definitely need 4WD capable car, lot of supplies and petrol. On the way here you will pass wonderful area of chimney-like rock formations also popular for rock climbing. In order to enjoy the place to the maximum spend a night here. The altitude is just over 4300 meters. Also Lagunas Helada and Aguas Calientes are worth to visit in this reserve.
4. Sairecabur volcano
It is a stratovolcano located on the frontier between Bolivia and Chile and It is part of the Andean Central Volcanic Zone. Sairecabur proper is 5,971 metres (19,590 ft) high. Because of the sulfur mine located in an altitude over 5600 m.a.s.l. And if You have a 4wd car this place is quite easily accessible. If searching for a real adventure this can be a great tip for You to ascent to almost 6000 meters. I´m not saying it´s an easy hike, and about You have to ascend “only” 400 altitude meters.
However, I definitely do not recommend it without any prior acclimatization as it can be fairly dangerous. Also, You will be up there on Your own and don´t expect any other tourists or help in case of emergency. Acute altitude sickness is a severe issue! In conclusion, don´t be a hero without proper preparation. Once You will reach the volcano You will be rewarded by breathtaking views to all directions as well as to Bolivia. For some of You, the Saireccabur will be definitely the highest mountain in your life.
If You are interested in our experience with ascent including pictures and other tips read HERE.
3. Valle de la Luna – Moon valley
You will experience rugged mountain ridges, various stone and sand formations which have been carved by wind and water. Valle de la Luna are ridges, valleys as well as sandy deserts stuffed with unusual geological formations with impressive range of colors. The top spot is for sure the “big sand dune” and a formation “The Amphitheater”.
You have to prepare Yourself for arid and hot environment with no place to hide from the ever-shining sun. Therefore rather choose long sleeves and trousers for the trek than a T-shirt and shorts. Also there is an entrance fee for the park which can be passed by when entering from the back entrance. In this case unfortunately You can not enter with the car and the walk to the main attractions is fairly long.
2. Puritama hot springs
Perfect hideaway from the burning sun in hot days and for sure one of Atacama desert top attractions. Warm geothermal river Rio Vilama flowing thru series of 8 large pools. Despite there is an entrance fee 19.500 CLP it´s definitely worth it. As the river has just the right temperature to keep you inside for entire day. Hot springs are located in a narrow canyon in height of 3500 m.a.s.l. so great place for acclimatization before any treks in the area. Many people are coming in the morning so we recommend to come later afternoon to enjoy more privacy.
1. El Tatio geysers
Maybe the best of Atacama´s attractions. This geothermal geyser system is hidden 100 kilometers away from San Pedro de Atacama in height of 4,320 meters. So please don´t attempt to visit the first day you arrived to the Atacama, You can experience terrible headache here. Geyser plateau is surrounded by local high volcanoes and smoking mud pools are giving an impression like being on another planet. Most of the tourist buses are arriving very early and tours are starting at 5 a.m. in San Pedro. If You aim to avoid crowds rent a car and visit the place afternoon. Not only You will be ba alone here, but we also stayed here in the house of the park administration for free.
Enjoy Atacama desert top attractions!
No matter what attraction You are up to always keep safe and treat the desert with respect. I´m sure Yu will have plenty of very good time here as this land is simply great. If You think there are some points missing please leave a message or comment I will try to add it to the post to help other travelers.