Top 14 Unique Things To Do In San Pedro De Atacama, Chile

In the heart of the driest desert in the world lies San Pedro de Atacama, in north Chile, a small town bursting with natural wonders and historical treasures. Coming from Peru, I embarked on a journey to explore the top things to do in San Pedro de Atacama before continuing to Bolivia. From ethereal landscapes to ancient rock formations, the Atacama desert is a place that is so unique it has so many great things to see. Here are my favorites.

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The Atacama desert is a unique place that has so many great things to see and do. Here are my top things to do in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
The village of San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile

Best things to see in the Atacama Desert

The Atacama desert is an amazing high-altitude desert of 105,000 km2 (41,000 sq mi) in north Chile. Edged between Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina, the Atacama Desert packs some amazing natural sights and unique experiences.

No wonder people flock to the region and the town of San Pedro de Atacama to explore the desert. Most sights in the desert can be visited on a (guided) tour with pick-up in San Pedro. Here are my top picks for the best things to see in the Atacama desert.

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Beautiful San Pedro de Atacama

1. Piedras Rojas or Red Rocks

A two-hour drive southeast of San Pedro leads to Piedras Rojas. Here, you’ll find typical desert landscapes with striking red rocks against the turquoise waters of the nearby lagoons. They make for a breathtaking view and offer a nice escape into nature. 

The stark contrast of colors under the clear desert sky is a sight you’ll never forget. 

Perfect for: Hikers, photographers, and tranquility seekers.

Time Spent: Full-day tour with an early morning start and quite some driving, some hiking, and depending on the tour,  visits to the nearby lakes and lagoons

How to get there: Book your Piedras Rojas Tour here.

The Atacama desert is a unique place that has so many great things to see and do. Here are my top things to do in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Amazing Piedras Rojas

2. Flamingos watching at Laguna Chaxa

A visit to the Chaxa Lagoon is sometimes part of the Piedras Rojas tour and can be easily combined. 

You’ll find this flamingo haven 50 kilometers south of San Pedro. At the Los Flamencos National Reserve, you can see the pink birds wading through the shallow waters. Their pink feathers are a stark contrast with the blue sky and the white salt.

Perfect for: Bird watchers, photographers, and nature enthusiasts.

Time Spent: You can spend as much time as you like watching the flamingos, but your tour will probably give you 1-2 hours. Often Chaxa Lagoon is a stop on a full-day tour of the Piedras Rojas.

How to get there: Book your Chaxa Lagoon Tour here.

3. El Tatio Geysers

For this El Tatio Geysers tour, you need to rise before dawn as the National Park is located 90 kilometers north of San Pedro at an altitude of 4,200 meters (13,780 feet). 

You arrive around sunrise, to see the geysers at their most active. At this moment, the plumes of steam bursting into the cold morning air combined with the delicate sunrise make for the best photographs. 

Of course, there is time to walk amongst the bubbling pools and spouting geysers, and admire the raw geothermal energy of the earth. 

Even if you’ve seen the geysers in Yellowstone National Park in the USA, don’t miss the El Tatio Geysers for a unique Andean twist in this high-altitude desert of San Pedro de Atacama.

Perfect for: Adventure travelers, geology enthusiasts, and photographers.

Time Spent: Set the alarm super early for pick-up and expect roughly 7 hours on a tour. But you’ll be back in San Pedro around noon or early afternoon so you can catch up on some sleep or pack in another amazing tour in San Pedro de Atacama.

How to get there: Book your El Tatio Geysers Tour here.

The Atacama desert is a unique place that has so many great things to see and do. Here are my top things to do in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Amazing El Tatio Geysers blowing off some steam

4. Be inspired at Rainbow Valley or Valley Arcoíris

Get your coloring books out and be inspired by the colors at Valley Arcoíris or Rainbow Valley. Located 60 km north of San Pedro de Atacama, this tour brings you back 1,000 years ago.

You’ll visit amazing petroglyphs (rock carvings) and walk among the colored rocks of Valle de Arcoíris. Here, the clay and minerals deposits form different colors, similar to the Rainbow Valley in Peru or the Salta region in Argentina. Some tours also stop in the adobe village of Río Grande so you can pick up some artisan souvenirs.

Perfect for: Adventure travelers, geology enthusiasts, and photographers.

Time Spent: A tour will take roughly 6 hours with different stops and ample free time.

How to get there: Book your Arcoíris Valley Tour here.

The Atacama desert is a unique place that has so many great things to see and do. Here are my top things to do in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
The different colors in the rocks of Balley Arcoíris

5. Summit Láscar Volcano at high altitudes

If you feel the high altitude of the Atacama desert is not enough, and you’re looking for some adrenaline adventure, you can always hike to the summit of a volcano!

Drive southeast of San Pedro to arrive at the base of Láscar Volcano at 4.600 meters (15,091 ft.) altitude. Together with the guide, you’ll climb to the summit of Volcán Láscar at 5.590 meters (18,340 ft.). Of course, you have to catch your breath and enjoy the swiping vistas of the Andes, blue lagoons, and the volcanic landscape around you.

Perfect for: Adventure travelers, hikers and mountaineers

Time Spent: This can only be done with a certified tour guide and it will be an all-day event. Of course, you have to be aware of altitude sickness and you need to give yourself time to acclimatize to the high altitude. 

How to get there: Book your Láscar Volcano Summit Trip here.

Be inspired by my photo guide and start planning your trip to northern Chile to visit the Valle de la Luna near San Pedro de Atacama.
Valley of the Moon with the Vulcano lurking in the back

Top Things to do close to San Pedro de Atacama

All these amazing tours take you outside of San Pedro de Atacama to explore nature’s phenomenon and the hostile landscape of the Atacama desert.

If you’re looking for things to see and do closer to San Pedro de Atacama, here are some other ideas. Of course, some can be booked as a tour, or you can explore on your own.

6. Stargazing in San Pedro de Atacama

San Pedro de Atacama is renowned for some of the best stargazing in the world. Because of the high altitude and because there is virtually no light pollution, the night sky here is incredibly clear. 

I joined a guided tour that provided telescopes and expert knowledge. Therefore making it easier to reveal the wonders of the Milky Way, distant galaxies, and even Saturn’s rings. 

Stargazing in San Pedro was one of my top favorite things to do and I highly recommend looking for a nice night tour.

Perfect for: Families, couples, astronomy enthusiasts.

Time Spent: Evening/night tour of a couple of hours 

How to get there: Book your Etno-stargazing tour here.

Stargazing in San Pedro de Atacama is a must do tour in North Chile. Because of the altitude and dryness of the Atacama desert you'll have a great night out
Stargazing in the desert

7. Walk Around the Village of San Pedro de Atacama

With all the tours darting in and out of town, you’d almost forget that San Pedro de Atacama is actually worth a visit. 

You’ll find a charming blend of adobe buildings, narrow streets, and vibrant markets. When you stroll through town you can discover local handicrafts, sample traditional Chilean cuisine, and visit the San Pedro Church. Or very practical, get your laundry done and visit the bank!

The laid-back atmosphere is a delightful break from all the rugged adventures in the surrounding desert.

Perfect for: Families, cultural enthusiasts, and leisurely travelers.

Time Spent: A visit to the juice bar can be 15 minutes or you can go shopping all day. But whatever you do, take as much time as you need to unwind and relax.

How to get there: A good place to start is the Plaza de San Pedro de Atacama

The Atacama desert is a unique place that has so many great things to see and do. Here are my top things to do in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
San Pedro is such a cool lack-back village to relax in for a few days.

8. Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley)

Just 13 kilometers west of San Pedro de Atacama lies Valle de la Luna, a landscape so alien it feels like stepping onto another planet. 

Formed by centuries of wind and water erosion, this valley’s unique rock formations and salt flats create a lunar-like appearance. 

This is an easy, shorter half-day tour with an added bonus that you don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn. We hiked through narrow canyons and climbed some of the towering sand dunes to marvel at the surreal beauty around us. Most tours depart in the afternoon for a magical sunset over the Valley of the Moon.

Perfect for: Adventure travelers, photographers, and nature enthusiasts.

Time Spent: Half-day tour with little driving at different times of the day or you can rent a bike in town and take as much time as you’d like.

How to get there: Join a half-day sunset tour of the Valley de la Luna here, or join an E-bike tour here, or rent a bike from one of the outfitters in town. You can find them on Caracoles street.

Woman sitting at the edge of a cliff overlooking a red rocky landscape with odd rocks.
Enjoying the Valley of the Moon

9. Visit the Pukara de Quitor (Quitor Fort)

The Pukara de Quitor is an ancient Inca fortress dating back to the 12th century, located only 3 kilometers from San Pedro. 

Perched on a hill, it offers panoramic views of the surrounding valley and mountains. 

Depending on your fitness level you can either walk there or rent (electric) bikes in town.

Time Spent: Depending if you’ll be hiking, biking, or driving, you’ll need about 2-3 hours. Of course, make sure to bring plenty of water and appropriate footwear.

How to get there: Pukara de Quitor is located on the road called Camino a Quitor. It’s quite a hike to the site and the viewpoint.

The Atacama desert is a unique place that has so many great things to see and do. Here are my top things to do in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
The old Inca ruins make for great framing pictures

10. Wander Around the Death Valley

Also known as Valle de la Muerte (or Valley de Marte / Mars Valley), this area is characterized by its dramatic, arid landscapes and towering sand dunes. 

Located just a few kilometers from San Pedro, it’s an ideal spot for hiking and sandboarding. Explore the stark, rugged beauty of the valley by (electric) bike and take in the panoramic views from several viewpoints.

Perfect for: Adventure travelers, hikers, and thrill-seekers.

Time Spent: You can hike or bike to the Valle de la Muerte and combine it with a visit to the Pukará de Quitor. Outfitters in San Pedro de Atacama can help you with bikes or sandboards. But, some tours to Valle de Luna also include stops at Death Valley.

How to get there: The ticket office is located at the bend of the B-241 and you can’t miss it on your right-hand side.

The Atacama desert is a unique place that has so many great things to see and do. Here are my top things to do in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Amazing views of the Atacama desert around San Pedro de Atacama

More relaxing things to do in San Pedro de Atacama

San Pedro is a great hub for all kinds of adventure tours of the Atacama desert. However, if you’ve had enough of getting up at 5 am and being bounced around in a 4×4 vehicle, then here are some more relaxing things to do in San Pedro de Atacama. 

Of course, some can still include a tour and some driving, but trust me, you’ll be more relaxed afterward! 

11. Fly in a Hot Air Balloon Over the Atacama Desert

Unfortunately, my time in San Pedro de Atacama was limited. But how can a hot air balloon ride over this surreal landscape not be on the list of best things to do in San Pedro de Atacama? If you’d ever take a hot air balloon journey, this is the place!

For a truly unforgettable experience, the balloon departs at dawn for that special golden light of sunrise. You’ll float silently above the Atacama desert. The aerial view can provide you with a whole different perspective on the scale and beauty of the Atacama region.

Perfect for: Couples, adventure seekers, and photographers.

Time Spent: The tour will take 3 to 4 hours between the transport, safety briefings, and breakfast. The actual balloon ride is about 1 hour in the sky.

How to get there: Book your hot air balloon ride here.

12. Float in Laguna Baltinache

Also known as the Hidden Lagoons of Baltinache, this series of 7 saltwater pools offers a unique floating experience similar to the Dead Sea

Located about 60 kilometers from San Pedro, the drive through the desert is an adventure in itself. 

Because of the buoyancy of the water, it is super easy to float effortlessly. All the while, you’re surrounded by the white and salty landscape of the desert.

Perfect for: Families, relaxation seekers, and unique experience hunters.

Time Spent: A tour will take roughly 5 to 6 hours, including pick-up and driving. But you’ll have around 2-3 hours of pool time. As always, make sure to bring your bathing suit and/or clothes to easily change into.

How to get there: Book your Hidden Lagoons of Baltinache tour here.

The Atacama desert is a unique place that has so many great things to see and do. Here are my top things to do in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Amazing salt-water pools

13. Treat yourself to an afternoon at Spa de Puritama

Located not far from San Pedro, you’ll find the Spa of Puritama. Immerse yourself in one of the 8 natural pools. Surprisingly, these pools are surrounded by nature and connected with wooden walkways.

Let the thermal waters do their work as you gaze at the surrounding mountains and nature. As a result, you’ll be totally revitalized for new Atacama adventures or to continue your travels.

Perfect for: Families, relaxation seekers, and off-the-beaten-path wanderers.

Time Spent: A tour will take 4.5 hours, including pick-up and driving. You’ll get 3 hours of free time to enjoy the pools.

How to get there: Book your Spa de Puritama Experience, with transport, here.

The Atacama desert is a unique place that has so many great things to see and do. Here are my top things to do in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Lovely natural pools at Puritama

14. Travel from San Pedro de Atacama to the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia

After a few days in San Pedro de Atacama, you might want to continue your travels, either in Chile, Argentina, or Peru. Or continue to Bolivia with an amazing Uyuni Salt Flats tour.

Depending on the tour, your trip will be 3 or 4 days, stopping at interesting historical or geothermal places, and slowly climbing to the altiplano border with Bolivia.

As a highlight, you’ll traverse the hexagon-shaped white salt flats of Uyuni. Of course, there are plenty of photo-stops for a unique opportunity of perspective-challenging images.

Some tours will bring you back to San Pedro de Atacama or drop you off in Uyuni (Bolivia), so these tours are a great way to get from A to B without backtracking.

Perfect for: Backpackers and everyone else as it is such an amazing tour.

Time Spent: The tours last from 3 to 4 days, depending if you’ll make a round trip back to San Pedro or be dropped off at Uyuni (Bolivia).

How to get there: Book your 3-day San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni tour here, or your 4-day Uyuni round trip here. Of course, you can also try one of the local tour agencies in town. You can find them on Caracoles street.

I share my 30-day South America backpacking itinerary. I tell you where I stayed and what I did in Peru, Chile and Bolivia and I share my costs for lodging.
Sunrise at the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

As you can see, the small town of San Pedro de Atacama is great to use as a base to explore the Atacama desert and the north of Chile. Depending on what things you’d like to do in San Pedro de Atacama, you’ll need a couple of days, to a week to do the place justice. Hopefully, my guide will help you determine what things to do fit your travel style best, depending on how much time you’ll have.

Helpful tips and tools for your Chile trip

  • Read all my content on Chile here
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Let me know if you have any specific questions or need help planning your own trip. If you thought this post was helpful or fun to read, let me know in the comment section below. Or share it with your friends or on social media! And make sure to come back for more travel stories next time.

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