Alpaca standing in the Atacama Desert look at the mountains in the background

Atacama Desert

About Atacama Desert

When I told my husband that we would spend three days in the driest desert in the world – the Atacama Desert, he didn´t show a lot of enthusiasm. He was afraid that it would be boring to spend three days in the desert.

But the opposite was the case and we both would have stayed much longer. Yes, the Atacama Desert is dry – but it also offers a very varied landscape and lots of highlights.

The Atacama is a coastal desert and as I said, it is the driest desert on earth. There are areas where it hasn’t rained for four years and some weather stations haven’t received any rain at all since records began. The area is so dry that planetary scientists used it to test prototypes of Mars rovers. The average annual precipitation is 0.5 mm.

Nevertheless, you should not underestimate the temperatures and work with the onion layer principle – there are very big differences between the maximum temperatures during the day (30 °C) and the minimum temperatures at night (-15 °C).

We flew to Calama and took a rental car to San Pedro de Atacama, where our guesthouse was. The drive takes a little more than an hour, on a well-constructed and lonely road. 

San Pedro de Atacama

In the evening we only explored San Pedro a little bit, had a very tasty dinner and then fell into bed early.

On the first day we didn’t drive so far, or rather uphill, to acclimatize. San Pedro itself is already at 2.408 m above sea level and the sights at the Atacama desert can be far above 4.500 m above sea level. Thus, in order not to suffer from altitude sickness, you should take some time to get used to the circumstances.

Laguna Chaxa

Our first stop was the Laguna Chaxa. The lagoon is located 62 km south of San Pedro de Atacama and belongs to the Salar de Atacama which is part of the National Reserve “Los Flamencos”.

The landscape here is beautiful and the mixture of white salt crust, blue and turquoise water and the pink flamingos is unique.

By the way, even the drive here is already an experience and the landscape is more varied than I expected.

Valle de la Muerte of the Atacama Desert

Afterwards we drove back via San Pedro to Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley). The Valle de la Muerte is famous for its sand dunes on which you can also see some sandboarders. That is snowboarding on sand, more or less.

Valle de Luna

At sunset we went on to Valle de Luna (Moon Valley), which is often compared to a moon landscape. NASA also likes to use this area for tests and investigations. Recently they tested for example the Mars Rover, because the Atacama Desert is the place on earth which comes closest to Mars.

Unfortunately it was already quite late and we didn’t have enough time left to look at everything here. Therefore it was only enough for the Duna Mayor. It is a huge sand dune, which is no longer accessible but still gives a fantastic picture. The dune is famous for a beautiful sunset – it was really worth seeing, although not the most beautiful I have ever seen. Moreover, you should get here in time, as it attracts an unbelievable amount of tourists.

Tatio Geysers

On day two we had to get up very early – at 4 am to be precise, because today the Tatio Geysers were on the agenda. The best time to visit the geysers is at sunrise, when the golden light and the cold air make the steam look especially beautiful. That’s why we got up early, because the 95 kilometres from San Pedro take about 90 minutes. It is also possible to travel with a travel company, then you can sleep a little more in the bus. Since we love our independence, this was out of question for us. The Tatio Geysers are located at an altitude of 4300m and they constantly shoot water jets and clouds of steam spectacularly into the air. It is the third largest geyser field worldwide.

Be sure to bring warm clothes, as the temperatures at this time of day are often well below freezing.

For the return trip you should take some time, because the landscape in the Atacama Desert is once again beautiful and very varied. Those who like to take pictures will probably make one or the other photo stop.

Absolutely unique – the stars in the Atacama Desert

In the evening we looked at the famous and really unique starry sky. Therefore, you should get away from San Pedro in order to avoid all other light sources. We just drove south on the road and then at some point we turned into a gravel road.

Lagunas Miscanti and Laguna Miñiques

On the third day we headed for the beautiful Lagunas Miscanti and Laguna Miñiques – two blue pearls in the desert. Here the air has become a little thinner again, with over 4000 m.a.s.l.

After these two stunning lakes we drove further south – a very beautiful road with again an amazing landscape. I could have stopped every other minute to take a picture.

Piedras Rojas

Now we went on to the Salar de Talar, which is also called Piedras Rojas because of the red stones on the shore – a surreal landscape in pastel colours.

Swimming in the middle of the Atacama Desert

On the way back to San Pedro we made a stop at the Laguna Cejar. In one of the lagoons you can swim, for an entrance fee, and the water is so salty here that you can easily float on the surface. This is a strange experience – it is almost difficult to keep your feet under water. By the way, you have to wash yourself thoroughly beforehand, as in order to protect the environment, you are only allowed to go into the water without sun lotion. You should also keep to this – after all, we want to experience nature and not destroy it. Showers are available on site. You will also need them afterwards, because as soon as you come out of the water you directly feel all the salt on your skin.

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