San Pedro de Atacama in Chile left me speechless. The surrounding landscapes are unreal, mind blowing. Mountains and volcanoes, lakes and salt flats, red stones and white valleys compose a region which seems taken from another planet.
Chile is underrated.
Or just tell me: was it only me who didn’t know all that Chile has to offer?
During the three months I traveled in Chile I was surprised many times: cities who reminded me of my hometown Barcelona, great food, wonderful street art, off the beaten path regions, stories of volcanoes and earthquakes, a never ending coast with incredible sunsets, interesting culture, friendly people…
After three months, I thought I had seen everything.
I was wrong.
San Pedro de Atacama, my last stop before Bolivia, left me speechless. While the village has nothing special, the surrounding landscapes are unreal, breathtaking, mind blowing. Mountains and volcanoes, lakes and salt flats, geysers and thermal water, red stones and white valleys compose a region which seems taken from another planet.
The village is full of agencies who offer tours to visit the major attractions:
- Geysers del Tatio / Tatio Geyser (early morning)
- Valles de la Luna y de la Muerte / Moon and Death Valleys (afternoon)
- Lagunas altiplánicas y salar / High plateau lakes and salt flats (morning)
- Piedras Rojas, lagunas altiplánicas y salar / Red stones, high plateau lakes and salt flats (all day).
There is no public transport to reach these places so visiting them by yourself is a difficult option (though is not impossible I guess). I hardly ever take tours but in this case I took two and they were completely worth.
First day: Piedras Rojas, lagunas altiplánicas y salar (Red Stones, high plateau lakes and salt flats.
Piedras Rojas (Red Stones)
I was picked up early morning and after a quick stop for breakfast we were already crossing the Atacama desert in direction to our first destination: Piedras Rojas.
We were traveling in a van and had a guide in addition to the driver. I think we were lucky: the guide was fun and told us many interesting things, and the driver drove carefully and stopped when ever we passed by some animals so we could take photos.
“Look, that’s Pablito and his ferrari!” our driver told us when we were overtaken by another van, which was indeed a red one and went much faster than us! While it could be fun to drive fast in that terrain, like it was a rally, I was happy our driver drove slower so we could enjoy the landscapes.
Soon after we arrived at Piedras Rojas.
I thought I was a “green landscapes” person but I was mesmerized by those colors palette: from while, yellow and ochre to orange, brown and red.
If that wasn’t enough to make it spectacular, next to the red stones there was a salt flat, Salar de Aguas Calientes (Hot water Salt Flat), called like this due to the thermal sources of the water. Due to the low temperatures (we were at about 4000 meters above sea level) the water was half frozen. With that, the intense blue sky and some random clouds, the scenery was stunning.
Lagunas altiplánicas (high plateau lakes)
I was sad to leave Piedras Rojas but we still had other places to visit. Our next stop was the lakes, the two Lagunas Altiplánicas: Miscanti (the big one) and Miniques (the small one). We were told that Miniques receives subterranean water from Miscanti.
They’re at about 4000 meters above sea level and they’re both surrounded by yellow grass and red mountains. Both lakes are blue, amazingly deep blue. Really, where did they find these incredible colors?
None of them has an external “exit” for the water such as a river, so the salt gets cumulated on the shore. Miniques, the small lake, is a natural reserve for birds. These birds eat algae and create “island-nests” in the water.
When we finished visiting the lakes it was already lunchtime. We were going to the restaurant when we met a group of hitchhikers. The guide and the driver asked us (the people who had paid for the tour) if we didn’t mind picking them up (since there were a few empty seats in the van). We all agreed so they came in. They were a group of 5 guys and girls who were climbing several of the surrounding mountains. Wow!
Tropic of Capricorn and Inca Trail
After lunch we continued the tour. I’m not sure if the next stop was in the program or it was the idea of our guide and driver, because I hadn’t heard of it before. Anyway, we stopped at the exact point where Tropic of Capricorn starts.
And another surprise awaited for us there: an inca trail! it was the beginning of a path built by the incas which goes all the way until Cusco, in Peru. The chaskis, the inca messengers, used to run all the way.
Salar de Atacama (Atacama Salt Flats)
The last stop of the day was the Salar de Atacama (Atacama Salt Flats) and the Laguna Chaxa (Chaxa lake).
It was impressive to see so many salt together! Kilometers and kilometers of flat surface, all white, all salt. Surrounded by volcanoes. Amazing.
Next to the salt flats there is a lake, Laguna Chaxa. It is a beautiful lake that perfectly reflects the surrounding mountains.
Additionally, it is a natural reserve for flamingos! The guide told us that there are three different species of flamingos in the lake: andinos (Andean), chilenos (Chilean) and James. It’s possible to tell them apart from the color of the legs and tail, even though it was difficult due to the distance. The flamingos eat shrimps from the lake, moving the water with their legs and filtering it with the beak.
The flamingos on the lake with the surrounding mountains, the reflection on the water, the colors, the light… it made such a beautiful image. A great way to finish a wonderful day.
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GOOD TO KNOW
- Most popular tours around San Pedro de Atacama and approximate prices (August 2015):
- Tatio Geyser: 20000 – 22000 chilean pesos (+5000 for the entry)
- Moon and Death Valleys: 10000 chilean pesos (+3000 for the entry)
- High plateau lakes and salt flats: 25000 – 35000 (+5500 for the entry)
- Red stones, high plateau lakes and salt flats: 45000 – 60000 chilean pesos (+5500 for the entry)
- Which agency is best?
- The tourist office has a paper book with positive and negative reviews from previous customers. Check it to see which company has good reviews (check the recent ones).
- I personally booked the tour with Atacama Connection. They offered me a discount since I booked three tours: Red Stones and Moon & Death Valley in Atacama, and the three-days Uyuni tour in Bolivia. I really enjoyed the Red Stones and Moon & Death Valley tours in Atacama. On the other hand I wouldn’t recommend them for the Uyuni tour since they transferred me to another company without any notice.
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wow Laia . .. these are calendar pictures, Thanks for sharing. Are you still in Thailand ?
Wow, thanks Sivam, you made my day!
I just came back from Thailand, I stayed there for one month.
Diana Garcés says
Genial post, Chile se ve un lugar mágico y maravilloso y con tus imágenes y tu historia la verdad es que nos haces viajar contigo a ese maravilloso y bello paisaje.
Me ha gustado conocer los lugares que visitaste de este país con tus ojos, una mirada limpia y con ganas de compartir.
Thanks alote 🙂
Muchas gracias por tus palabras, me alegran mucho! No sé si será porque tengo buenas amigas en Chile pero la verdad es que es un país que me gustó mucho por todo, tanto por los paisajes como por la comida y sobretodo su gente 🙂
Pinay Flying High says
Oh my goodness! What a beauty! It’s hard to choose which would be my favorite if I was in this tour but the Tropic of Capricorn sounds like a great surprise, specially the Inca Trail which goes all the way to Cusco! Amazing!
Yesss it’s such a beautiful place!
And the Tropic of Capricorn stop was a great surprise, I didn’t expect it! It’s mind blowing to think that it goes all the way to Cusco and people used to walk (or run) all the way!
Looked like they come alive from a travel magazine! Really awesome photos here!
Thank you! So happy you liked the photos, it’s a gorgeous place 🙂
These are great pictures. We hired a car in Atacama and toured around the lagoons also. I think the place is completely underrated.
Thanks Caroline! Hiring a car sounds like a very good option as well! Then you can explore at your own speed.
I would love to visit Chile but I have always focussed more on the deep South and the glaciers: I hadn’t realised this area is as beautiful as it is! Your photos are amazing and it’s great to hear some of these landscapes can be visited with oganised trips: I usually prefer independent travel, when possible, but in this kind of environment (and with my 2 small kids) I feel the organised trip would be a much better option
Hi Marta! Both the north and the south of Chile are amazing places, and very different from each other! I had also heard more about the south, and I went to San Pedro de Atacama only because my Chilean friends told me I couldn’t miss it. And they were right!
The landscape is simply mesmerizing. i think I’d stay there for hours, just relaxing, taking a break from it all, enjoying the view. I took a small “trip” through your photos – they are great!
Thanks Lori! Yes, the landscape is mesmerizing… I’d also be able to go back and stay for hours 🙂
I can’t stop looking at your pictures, the Atacama is gorgeous!
Yes, it’s really a stunning place!
Meg Jerrard says
Your photos are obviously absolutely spectacular – and you’ll love Bolivia too – just as much stunnign nature – can’t wait to see your photos from Uyuni!
Thanks Meg! Yes, I loved Bolivia too, Uyuni was as breathtaking as the Chilean side. Similar and different, both absolutely worth. You just reminded me that I haven’t written about Uyuni yet!
Natalie Deduck says
Wow wow & wow!
Your pictures are stunning!
And I didnt know about the trail till Cusco, impressive!
Really considering going to Chile after visiting my family in Brazil next year.
Thanks Natalie! Yes, the trail to Cusco was a surprise for me as well! Chile is worth a visit, and nearby the Atacama region you have Uyuni in Bolivia which is stunning as well. It can make a wonderful trip!
I agree with you – that color combination of blue to red to white is so stunning and other-worldly. My guess is that it’s also pretty uncommon. I would love to really linger in Chile like you did, exploring at a slow pace, and I’ve heard a lot about this area in particular. Thanks for the detailed review!
Thanks Drew! I think this combination of colors is indeed uncommon, I’ve traveled quite a lot and didn’t find it anywhere else!
I spent three months in Chile, and the country has sights to spend even more (I missed the extreme south and the extreme north… it’s a long country!). I hope you can make it there 🙂
You are so right this is so beautiful, I especially like how the dark reds highly the snowy capped mountains.
Yes, me too! Thanks Danielle!
You are so right, Chile has so much to offer. We loved San Pedro de Atacama, though did not do as many excursions as you did. We went stargazing and loved the experience. So much to do and see. Loved the food…did you?
Hi Rosemary! Yes, so much to do and see in Chile! And yes, I loved the food. I was there for three months and put on weight, haha! I went stargazing in Valle del Elqui, it’s a great experience as well 🙂
Chile is mind blowing. The Atacama especially. We had no idea either when we first crossed from Bolivia into Chile. The Atacama is like nowhere else! Such a stunning landscape. Thanks for the great article!
It is a unique area, right? So stunning! Glad to hear that you enjoyed it too! I also liked the other parts of Chile but I think Atacama was the most surprising 🙂