San Pedro de Atacama is full of amazing things to do. It is definitely a must see destination not to be missed in Chile. We had so much fun seeing and taking photos of all the best things to do in San Pedro. But first, some context…
Having never heard of San Pedro de Atacama before, upon arrival in Santiago we were told by a number of Chileans this was their favourite place in Chile. Due to its convenient location to the Uyuni Salt Flats, we decided to check out what all the fuss was about. In the end, we were very pleased with our decision to follow the locals advice and make the stop as San Pedro really is a desert paradise with beautiful lakes, sand dunes, pink flamingos, geysers and hot springs – what more could you ask for?
What are the best things to do in San Pedro de Atacama?
Visit the Salar de Tara
The Salar de Tara otherwise known as the Tara Salt Flat is located approximately 100 km outside of San Pedro. This is an area that is really best covered by a tour. We attempted to visit in our Sedan rental and it was not entirely successful. The entrance to Salar de Tara is an unmarked dirt road which is difficult to find. Once we eventually found the dirt road by following some tour operators, it was extremely difficult to drive with our Sedan rental. We attempted it for a while and saw the famous Monjes de Pacana. Despite not being able to venture further, we had a great day enjoying the scenery nonetheless. On the drive home we saw the most amazing thunderstorm with a ridiculous amount of lightening. An incredible thunderstorm is apparently quite common for San Pedro. If you want to visit Salar de Tara, it is best to go on a tour. A tour from San Pedro will cost around 50,000 pesos pp. As far as we ventured, there was no entry fee to Salar de Tara.
Reserva National de Flamencos
On your way to Salar de Tara, you will pass through this reserve. It is a really nice drive with gorgeous scenery. Highly recommended to hire a car and check it out if you have the time!
The best place to view pink flamingos if you are not going onto a Salt Flat tour is Laguna Chaxa. The flamingos are usually a fair way away so it is helpful to bring a camera with a good zoom for the best photography. The lagoon takes an hour and a half to reach from San Pedro by car and costs 3,000 pesos entry. A tour to the lagoon is often part of the Altiplano tour, costing around 50,000 pesos per person.
Visit Salar de Aguas Calientes
This spot is also known as Salar de Talar or the Altiplatic Lagoons. It is located nearby Piedras Rojas. This was our favourite attraction in San Pedro due to the picturesque scenery. The lagoon is located about a 2.5 hour drive by car outside of San Pedro. It is mostly located on good roads but for approximately the last half hour you will travel on dirt roads. This was an achievable feat in a Sedan rental car. On the way, you will pass a couple a couple of picturesque but very small towns including Sicare. There was no entry fee to this attraction. If you prefer to visit this attraction on a tour, it usually also includes Lagunas Miscanti & Miniques and Laguna Chaxa and costs around 50,000 pesos per person. However, we liked the ability to see the attractions at our own leisure.
Cejar Lagoon is located south of San Pedro and takes about 30 minutes by car to reach. It used to be a very popular spot to take a dip as the high concentration of salt allowed swimmers to float, much akin to the dead sea. Tourists are also drawn to see the lagoon due to its aquamarine colour and it’s salt rock formations. However, recently due to a high degree of arsenic found in the water, people are no longer allowed to swim in the water. Due to the high entry cost of 10,000 pesos per person, we do not believe it is worthwhile to visit the lagoon if you are also doing a Salt Flat Tour as you will see many beautiful lagoons on this tour.
Valle de la Luna
One of the closest attractions to San Pedro and most highly rated is the Valle de la Luna. As it is located only 6 km outside San Pedro, many people chose to bike to this location. However, note, the ride is not for the faint hearted in the middle of summer and we were extremely pleased with our car as we saw other tourists struggling along with their bikes. The cost of bike rental is 10,000 pesos per day. You can easily spend 6 hours in Valle de la Luna as there is quite a lot to do including numerous hikes to fantastic lookouts and an interesting cave system to navigate. One of the most popular things to do in Valle de La luna is to stay for the sunset. If you alternatively chose to go on a tour of Valle de la luna, the tour starts at 4pm, costs around 10,000 pesos per person and waits for the sunset. However, the tour does not allow you much time to visit the other attractions at Valle de la Luna. The entry price to Valle de la luna is 2,500 pesos per person.
The Tatio geysers are located north of San Pedro and take approximately 2 hours to reach by car. Tatio geysers are a morning activity in San Pedro as they reach their peak activity between 5.30 and 7.30am when the water spurts up to 10 metres high. The geysers cost 10,000 pesos entry and close daily at 10am. Many people who have also gone on a salt flat tour, been to yellowstone national park or Iceland have felt underwhelmed by the geysers. Therefore, if you are a budget traveller and are also visiting the salt flats, this might be an activity to skip. If you haven’t rented a car, a tour costs between 20,000 – 25,000 pesos pp and usually includes a stop to the hot springs on the return journey. This area gets very cold in the morning, even in summer, so wear warm clothes.
Puritama Hot Springs
The Puritama hot springs are located in the same direction as the Tatio Geyser and are often visited after the geysers on the way back to San Pedro to warm up. The cost of entry is 15,000 pesos. If you don’t have a car, they are usually visited in the same tour as the Tatio Geysers. Note, hot springs are also visited after the geysers in the Uyuni Salt Flat Tour so budget travellers might want to skip this activity.
Lagunas Miscanti and Miniques
In the same direction as Salar de Talar, you will find Lagunas Miscanti and Miniques. They are only located 1.5 hours outside San Pedro at a high altitude of over 4000 metres above sea level. It is possible to visit the lagoons in a cheap rental car however, the last 10 to 15 minutes of the drive is on an unpaved rocky road. While they are rated the number #1 attraction in San Pedro, we found them underwhelming compared to the lagoons that you see on the Salt Flats Tour. The entry cost is 2500 pesos. These lagoons are usually visited as part of the Altiplanic tour which costs around 50,000 pesos pp.
Pukará de Quitor
If you are planning on hiring a bike, this is another attraction which is close to San Pedro (about 3 km outside of town) and is doable on a rental bike. This site is particularly enjoyable for those who like archeological sites and also boasts a great view of San Pedro. The price of entry is 3000 pesos per person.
Where to stay in San Pedro?
San Pedro is not a cheap location for tours and accommodation alike. A basic dorm bed will set you back around 12,000 pesos. There are mostly hostels in San Pedro. Instead if staying in a dorm room, we decided to camp at Camping Altos de Quitor. The camping here was more like glamping with full beds in each tent. The facilities were also very good and clean. They also have breakfast included for around 25,000 pesos for 2 persons. If you don’t have a car and would prefer to stay closer town, we would recommend Hostal Nueve Amanecer. Or, for something a little more fancy, we would recommend Masairi Bed & Breakfast.
If you are arriving/leaving San Pedro through Calama, we would highly recommend Hostal Espana. This hotel is very clean & comfortable with private rooms & bathrooms and also costs around 25,000 pesos with breakfast included.
Food in San Pedro
A lot of people chose to cook their own food in San Pedro as the cost of eating out can be a little pricey. San Pedro only has tiny overpriced supermarkets so if you are hiring a car in Calama, it is worthwhile to make a supermarket trip before arrival in San Pedro. In saying that, we found reasonably priced food including 1000 peso empanadas and giant two man empanadas for 3500 pesos. If you feel like something a little fancy, Casa Picasso is the best rated restaurant in town.
How to get around San Pedro
You can see all the attractions listed above by a tour. However, tours of San Pedro can be quite pricey. An alternative to this is to hire bikes at a cost of 10,000 per person per day. However, you can only reach a few attractions including Valle de and Pukará de Quitor. The bike rental place will provide you with a map with attractions that are reachable by bike.The third option and one we preferred, was to hire a car. We got a good deal with econorent and paid 40 USD per day for the rental. The only attraction which we found difficult in a small rental car was Salar de Tara. Our go to place to compare car hire prices is AutoEurope.
Note: The rainy season in San Pedro can get extremely muddy so be prepared for that, whatever your preferred mode of transportation!
How to get to San Pedro
From Santiago, you can either fly or take a 24 hour bus to San Pedro with Turbus. While Turbus offers fully reclined cama executive seats, at the time we were travelling, the bus was more expensive than flying at a cost of 50,000 pesos (on a special deal!). The flight cost us 40,000 pesos with Sky Airlines. For a review of our flight see here.
Suggested time & itinerary
Three full days would be plenty of time to explore the best of San Pedro’s attractions. Below is a suggested itinerary of how you can break up your days:
- Morning (sunrise) – Tatio Geyser & Hot Springs
- Evening (sunset) – Valle de la Luna
- Morning – Laguna Chaxa & Lagunas Miscanti and Miniques
- Afternoon – Salar de Aguas Calientes
- Morning – Drive through Reserva National de Flamencos to the beginning of Salar de Tara
- Afternoon – Visit Pukará de Quitor
We hope you found this guide useful in helping you to plan your trip to San Pedro. If you have travelled to San Pedro and have anything to add, please leave a comment below!
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