From Santiago to Calama

A Quick Guide To Atacama Desert

Chile is with Brazil the longest country in the world and stretches over a diverse range of climates and landscapes. From the bustling capital of Santiago, the otherworldly landscapes in the Atacama Desert, the mesmerizing Lake District, the enchancing Eastern Island, to the stark towers of Torres Del Paine National Park in Patagonia. Chile offers a unique cultural blend from the Rapai Nui Culture on the Eastern Island, the Aymara culture of the seafaring Kaweskar culture in Patagonia, the Altiplano in Atacama, and the Mapuche culture concentrated around the Chilean Lake District.

Chile is a country full of natural and cultural wonders only waiting to be discovered. Embark on a journey through vast expanses of super natural beauty, a place where the horizon of the desert melts with the clearest night sky on the planet – The Atacama Desert.


Language:

Chilean Spanish

Country:

Chile, South America

Closest Airport:

CJC – Calama El Loa Airport


Alto Atacama Desert Lodge, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, South America | Bare Escape

How To Get To The Atacama Desert

Plane:The most convenient way to reach the Atacama Desert would be by plane. LATAM and SKY Airlines offer daily flights from Santiago to Calama El Loa Airport, located 1h drive from San Pedro de Atacama.San Pedro de Atacama is the closest town to all the must does and most popular sights within the Atacama Desert. Bus:Another less popular choice but the cheapest way to travel from Santiago to the Atacama Desert, would be by bus. Turbus offers a non-stop service from Terminal Alameda, Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama. The drive takes around 23 hours and starts at 25.000clp for an overnight bus. However, make sure to check flights first since sometimes they are the same price as taking a bus.We personally recommend to just fly.

Once you arrive at Calama El Lao Airport, choose your preferred transportation to conquer the last 100km that separate you from San Pedro de Atacama.The most convenient option would be to hire a Transfer Service such as TRANSVIP or PAMPA or Licancabur for 12.000clp (~$17). You will find the counters right when you leave security.Another option and a quite popular one would be to rent a car. This way you are flexible and don’t depend on Tour operators to take you to all the must-sees within the Atacama Desert. However, everything within San Pedro de Atacama is walking distance so if you are not planning on exploring on your own then it will be cheaper to get a transfer service.

Terrantai Lodge, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, South America | Bare Escape

Where is the Atacama Desert located?

The Atacama Desert is located in the northern part of Chile in South America. It is stretches from southern Peru to nothern Chile and covers a 1,000 km of land. San Pedro de Atacama is in the center of Atacama making this town the perfect base when exploring the region from the Atacama Salt Flats to the Moon Valley.

What to pack for the Atacama Desert?

Make sure to bring lots of layers. The desert is typically hot during the day and quite cold in the morning and in the night. Depending on your chosen activities and the time of the year you can expect to need at least one warm Jacket, a few pullovers, T-shirts, hiking boots and a beanie or hat to either protect you from the sun or from the cold. Sunscreen is a must anytime of the year and to avoid altitude sickness make sure to stay hydrated, bringing a water bottle is never a bad idea.

Atacama Desert
Alto Atacama Desert Lodge, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, South America | Bare Escape

Best time to travel to the Atacama Desert?

The Atacama Desert is a good all year round travel destination. However, it is a desert after all so temperatures during the summer month can be uncomfortuably hot. If you are looking to combine your trip with a visit to the famous Torres Del Paine National Park in Patagonia or other regions within Chile then it would make sense to choose a month that offer the best weather conditions in all areas of the country. Please keep in mind that Chile is south of the the equator, so the seasons are the opposite to the Northern Hemisphere.Generally speaking end of November – March is high season (Summer). April – June (Spring) and October experience the least amount of visitors and July, August, September and October is shoulder season (Spring).

Best time to visit Torres del Paine & The Lake District: The actual National Park is open all year round, however the winters can be quite wet and very cold. Since these regions of Chile experience all four seasons it is recommended to limit your visit to the summer months (November - March). We traveled to the Atacama Desert during September. We chose the shoulder season due to lower temperatures, less tourists and cheaper prices for outstanding lodging. Most camps and hotels in Torres Del Paine Park open their doors from September until May.

Alto Atacama Desert Lodge, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, South America | Bare Escape
Atacama Desert

What to do in the Atacama Desert?

The Atacama Desert offers everything from historical sights, adventurous hiking excursions to moderate sightseeing activities. There lies astounding beauty in the driest and darkest desert in the world and while you might be fascinated by the sights around you during the day, don’t forget to appreciate the clear night sky. This might be your chance to catch a glimpse of Saturn and its shining gold ring, a wondrous sight thanks to the absence of light pollution, arid climate and high altitude.

Atacama Salt Flat & Chaxa Lagoon:

The Chaxa Lagoon is placed in the middle of the 3,000 square kilometer Atacama Salt Flats and part of the Los Flamencos National Park. It is a short 50-minute drive from San Pedro and an easy accessible flamingo – breeding site. Here you can spot all three species the James, Chilean and Andean Flamingo. Since the park doesn’t open until 8am you won’t be able to witness the sunrise but sunsets are unbeatable. Watch the sun disappear behind the horizon painting the Andes mountains in deep purple and pink hues. If you are lucky you will see the occasional flamingos fly by in all their grace. Entrance: 3000clp ($5 USD) Recommended Tour Operator – Trekana Trekana will take you on a 5-hour excursion to the mesmerizing Atacama Salt Flats to witness the Chaxa Lagoon with its beautiful inhabitants, the flamingo. The trip starts at your hotel in San Pedro from where you will ascend about 1000 meters until you rich Talabre. This small village has 64 citizens and sits at the foot of the Lascar Volcano. Enjoy a short tour by an indigenous tour guide into the Kezala canyons, a place that takes pride in preserving and sharing the ancient rock paintings. You will reach the Atacama Salt Flats just before sunset and enjoy a light snack and drinks with incredible views.

Moon Valley ( Valle De Luna):

Only minutes from San Pedro de Atacama is Valle de Luna, an otherworldly landscape living up to its name. Here you will find surreal sand and stone formations that were formed by the wind and floods leaving behind a natural coliseum of great dimensions. Entrance: 3000clp ($5 USD), or 2500 clp ($5 USD) before midday. Recommended Tour Operator – Trekana. However, if you would like to see this valley in purple and pink hues then make sure to book a sunset tour but be prepared for crowds. Trekana thinks outside the box and does everything the exact opposite to the crowds. While 100s of people fight for the best view point spot and empty valley shot during sunset you and a max of 10 people will have the whole Moon Valley to your own. You will get picked up just before sunrise at your hotel and enjoy a slow morning atop before venturing out into the

Stargazing:

The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on earth and due to hardly any clouds as well as little to no light pollution the Atacama Desert turns out to be one of the best stargazing places in the southern hemisphere. Recommended Stargazing Tours: Spaceobs - best stargazing company in the region. We also recommend staying at Alto Atacama an all-inclusive luxury lodge located on the outskirts of San Pedro de Atacama which offers a one of kind complimentary stargazing experience at the only open air observatory in the region. If you are lucky you might even see the ring of Saturn or some moons of Jupiter through a powerful telescope.

Andean Lagoons:

Hidden among volcanos in the altiplano of the Antofagasta Region you will find Miscanti & Miñiques. These mesmerizing crystal blue lagoons are a 2h drive from San Pedro. Drive through the southwest region of San Pedro and make it a point to stop at one of the most important crossroads during the days of the Inca, the Tropic of Capricorn. Before you reach the famous Andean Lagoons of Miscanti and Miñiques you will pass bya local village named Socaire, which is known for its traditional Church and historical terraced plantations of quinoa and purple potatoes. Alto Atacama offers a variety of outstanding guided tours. The half day tour to the Andean Lagoons is no exception.

Alto Atacama Desert Lodge, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, South America | Bare Escape

El Tatio Geysers:

Located 4.300 meters above sea level the El Tatio Geysers is located high in the Andes Mountains in the northern part of Chile. Located 95km outside of San Pedro the 2.5h drive is scenic, passing cone- shaped volcanos and lakes reflecting the surreal surrounding like a mirror. As you make your way from the parking lot to the field you can see the white steam columns dance in the sun sending you sulfur stuffed welcome clouds. Watch the bubbling blue water laps against the orange colored sandstone formations but don’t touch, temperatures can reach over 86C. Recommended Tour Operator – Trekana  Due to the high altitude of the El Tatio Geyser Field, it’s recommended that a day or two be spent at the lower altitudes in the Atacama in order to acclimate and avoid altitude sickness. While other tour operators pick you up as early as 4.30am, Trekana prefers to avoid the crowds by leaving just a little bit later, 7am. Your first stop is going to be a small town called Machuca. You will arrive at the Geyser field right when the last tourist bus is leaving the parking lot. Explore the Geyser and enjoy lunch with views over the Geyser field. Before you return to San Pedro you will have one last stop at the Cactus Valley.

Andean Lagoons:

Lascar Volcano is located in northern Chile and one of the most accessible and climbable Volcanos. It takes about 3 hours to reach the active crater for those interested in climbing atop the most active volcano in northern Chile. Your hike will start at 4,600m after enjoying a light breakfast and the sunrise at Lejia Lagona. The crater of the volcano is at 5,630m. Recommended Tour Operator – Supernova Expediciones (Lascar Volcano)

Atacama Desert

Recommended Restaurants:

• La Manada Atacama• Las Delicias de Carmen Restaurant chilenischen with live music• Baltische Tuesday & Wednesday closed open at 7pm• Kimal paacha Restaurant• Babalu ice cream place


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