San Pedro de Atacama: Best tours and things to do in the desert

by on 14th February, 2020


What are the best tours to do in San Pedro de Atacama?

Here we give you our suggestions of the best things to do in San Pedro de Atacama.


San Pedro de Atacama


San Pedro de Atacama is a small Andean town in the Altiplano of Chile’s Atacama Desert. It is an oasis at 2,400 metres above sea level and only a 90 minute drive from Calama airport.

This small town of around 12,000 inhabitants is a popular destination as many of the desert’s attractions such as spectacular scenery, salt flats, hot springs, geothermal fields and much more are easily accessible from the town.

evening san pedro chile

Evening in San Pedro

Length of Stay

Most visitors will spend three or four nights in San Pedro where they will find a wide range of accommodation options. There are luxury hotels which offer all inclusive packages such as the hotel Tierra Atacama or they can choose a hotel and tours to tailor make an itinerary like that found in our San Pedro de Atacama Desert Tour.

With 4 nights and a morning arrival, one could have a half day tour on the afternoon of the arrival day and then three days for full day tours or combinations of half day tours.


Hotel Tierra Atacama


Best tours to consider when in San Pedro


Half day tours


Moon & Death Valley (Valle de la Luna y Valle de la Muerte)

This is a popular tour and a short drive from San Pedro. The Moon Valley is spectacular due to its “lunar” landscape and giant sand dunes. The Death Valley impacts with its landscape and salt formations.

This is a great excursion to do in the afternoon and see the changing colours of the desert as the sun sets.

Valley of the Moon, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Valle de La Luna


Cejar Lake (Laguna Cejar)

This is a lake or sink hole on the edge of the Atacama Salt Flat. Its turquoise waters are laden with salt and bathing is permitted. As well as a swim, participants in this tour will have the chance to spot flamingos and Andean ducks. This is a popular excursion for the afternoon due to the privileged setting from which to view the sunset.


Archaeological excursion

San Pedro has a rich archaeological heritage dating back to Pre-Columbian times.

Sites to include on the tour should be: Pukará de Quitor, a Pre-Hispanic stone fortress; the site of the village of Tulor where remains dating back to 200 BC have been found; the Church of San Pedro, this 17th Century church is the second oldest in Chile.

Church, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Church of San Pedro de Atacama


Star gazing

The skies in the Atacama are some of the clearest in the world. The sky at night is an incredible spectacle making a star gazing tour obligatory if the conditions are right. Not available when there is a full moon. Best time with little or no moon.


Toconao and the Atacama Salt Flat

Toconao is a small town 40 km south of San Pedro and en route to the Atacama Salt Flat. It has an interesting bell tower which was built separate to the church.

The Atacama salt flat in the Flamencos National Reserve is the home to Andean, Chilean and James flamingos. Visitors will be able to spot the flamingos as well as take in the views of part of this 3,000 km2 expanse of salt.

Atacama Salt Flat, Chile

Atacama Salt Flat


Puritama Hot spings

30 km from San Pedro are the Puritama hot springs. These flow into a series of 8 natural pools and the temperature of the waters varies from 25° to 30°C. Facilities include wooden walkways, bathrooms and dressing rooms.

Termas de Puritama, Atacama, Chile

Puritama hot springs


Rainbow Valley (Valle del Arcoiris)

This valley is 90 km from San Pedro. It is best known for the different colours of its hillsides ranging in tones of red, beige, green, white and yellow. This, in contrast to the blue of the sky and the white of the salt formations, offers a beautiful and colourful panorama.


Trekking Guatin

The more adventurous might wish to consider a trek through a rocky canyon following the river. It can be a bit scrambly and the route takes you down with several river/stream crossings.  Along the way you will be surrounded by giant cacti so this trek is sometimes also known as Cactus Valley. Trekking time is approximately 2 hours.

Guatin trek and cacti, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Trekking Guatin


Trekking Quebrada del Diablo /Vilama

This is a two hour hike following an old caravan route in the Cordillera de la Sal. It is not difficult with flat portions along a river bed and a slight ascent finishing at an ancient fortress, Vilama. Incredible views throughout.


Full day tours


Tatio Geysers

This tour sets off before sunrise in the early hours of the morning and begins with a 1.5 hour drive into the mountains to the Tatio Geysers which are at 4,300 metres above sea level.  As the sun rises the geysers will begin their activity. There are up to 80 active geysers and some can send columns of water vapour reaching 12 metres in height.

The return journey is an opportunity to spot wildlife such as guanacos, vicuñas, foxes and many bird species. Arrive back in town in time for lunch.

Tatio Geysers, Atacama, Chile

Tatio Geysers


Altiplanic Lakes of Miñiques and Miscanti

120 km from San Pedro at over 4,000 metres above sea level are the altiplanic lakes of Miñiques and Miscanti. Formed by ice melt, their spectacular setting with the mountain backdrop reflected in their waters creates a beautiful spectacle. This excursion is usually combined with a stop at the Atacama Salt Flat en route.



Many more options

There are many more options that can be explored in this area such as multi-day treks, visiting altiplanic villages, motorbike tours, hot air balloon rides, mountain bike, horse riding, mountaineering, volcano ascents and more.

Atacama desert Chile

Horse riding



If you plan to visit the area, contact us at Andean Trails and we can start planning your San Pedro de Atacama adventure.



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