What’s the big deal about San Pedro de Atacama?

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

After seeing some photos from the area, we almost never bothered coming to San Pedro de Atacama. We weren’t too impressed. We’ve seen plenty of desert before.

I guess we should’ve known that often photos don’t do some places justice. Somehow we found ourselves pleasantly charmed by the landscape around this small, adobe lined town with its dusty streets and overpriced cafes.

The desert is not for everyone, of course. It’s beauty is always a little understated with its muted colors and harsh sunlight. Barren landscape dotted with knee length growths – so skinny and naked it’s not right to call it a bush just yet. Just clumps of sticks, really. And there’s the sand. Miles and miles of grey, boring sand.

But this northern part Chile is all that and more. Much more.

Laguna Miscanti

Jack in front of Lake Miscanti
Jack in front of Lake Miscanti

Laguna Miscanti, Chile

Laguna Miscanti’s water is so blue it looks like a 4 year old has cranked the saturation slider in Photoshop waaay up. This lagoon is blue-er, prettier, and more impressive than we had expected.

Salar de Tara (or Agua Calientes)

Salar de Agua Calientes, Chile

A play of color between the white of the salt and the turquoise water was unlike anything we’d seen before. For us, this salt flat was more interesting than the its more famous neighbor, the Atacama salt flat.

Even better was the fact that we had the place for ourselves since our tour company is the only one that goes here.

Valle de La Luna and Valle del Muerte

Valle de Muerte, Chile
Valle de La Luna, Chile
Valle de La Luna, Chile

Almost all tour companies in San Pedro offer a tour to these two valleys that end with a sunset over Valle de La Luna. The sunset was nice, but it was nothing spectacular. What was more interesting for us was the information we got from our guide on the geology of the area, and a walk through a canyon formed by house-sized blocks of salt.

However, the real highlight was running down the sand dunes in Valle de Muerte. Check out Jack’s happy jump over the sand dunes in the photo.

Visiting San Pedro de Atacama

We’re so glad we didn’t give the desert around San Pedro a miss. If your travel takes you to northern Chile, definitely give San Pedro de Atacama a peek and a look. Between the lagoons and the salt flats, the mountains and the desert…

It’s one of those places where pictures can’t seem to do them justice.

Tell us

Know of any other place like that?


Info box
Many tour agencies in town can arrange trips to these destinations. We went with Cosmo Andino for two reasons:
– They’re the only company that goes to an extra salt flat (that turned out to be our favorite) as part of their Laguna Altiplano tour.
– They use re-usable plates and cups for their meals (as opposed to styrofoam cups like the other agencies). Definitely scored major points with us.

16 Replies to “What’s the big deal about San Pedro de Atacama?”

  1. I loved this place! I too didn't know what the beg deal was before I went but thought I should go and see what all the fuss was about – turns out that seriously paid off! I also have a very similar photo the Valle de la Luna at sunset.

  2. Great post! I just stumbled across it and am really glad you wrote about it. I was in San Pedro de Atacama last February and absolutely loved it. I agree that it is one of the most stunning deserts in the world, and many photos don't do it justice!

  3. I'm so glad I read this post– what an amazing place. I have not been to Chile but will get there someday… And thanks for adding your reasons for choosing the tour company. The reusable cups, etc. is an important point for people to consider ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Great photos! Nice to see the landscape hasn't changed since our Atacama visit in 2009. We went by ourselves (no tour company) by renting bikes and sandboards. It was awesome– we were the only ones on the dunes!

  5. Wow…. it's so BIG. I think a lot of the times it's difficult to capture scale in a photo, which makes things like deserts and oceans seem less impressive. You guys did a great job, though – your photos seem to capture it well (at least to someone who has never been there before!).

  6. Great photos guys! I especially love the Valle de Muerte and the sand from the shoe while running down the dune. Perfect capture!

  7. Loved loved this place as well when I was there! My pics look exactly like this and so blue my family thought it wasn't real. Glad you guys made it to the desert…..oh how reading this brought back memories. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I'm going to San Pedro de Atacama on Friday and I can't wait, everybody who has been in our hostel says it is incredible. I watched the 'Top Gear – Bolivia Special' for the first time last night and the Atacama Desert looks so incredible. Your pictures are beautiful, I hope I can get some good ones too ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. I can think of lots of places that pictures don't do justice… most deserts, in fact! Most oceans too! Prince Edward Island. But the real reason I'm commenting today. Sand dunes. Sand dunes are my favorite natural formation. I LOVE that jumping picture!

    P.S. I highly recommend "What is your favorite natural formation" as a travel game with new travel buddies. Almost no one has been asked that before, and you get some neat answers and a little glimpse into people's souls!

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