Is the Atacama Desert worth traveling alone? Of course it is! They say it is the most arid place on the planet, and that leaves landscapes to let imagination fly and postcards that you will never forget.
Considerations for traveling alone to the Atacama Desert
You know that many times I have told you that traveling alone you are never alone and that is what will happen to you in Atacama. Going alone, completely alone in the desert may not be the best of ideas. On the one hand, because of the wide range of temperatures, with heat during the day and very cold at night. On the other hand, the lack of reference elements makes it easy to get lost and disoriented. Therefore, the easiest and safest way to travel alone to the Atacama Desert is by taking tours.
Whether you hire them online or wait to hire them in San Pedro de Atacama, there are dozens of different tours to visit each of the most important attractions in the surroundings, as well as to cross to Bolivia and take the tour to the Salar de Uyuni. The best of all this is that you will be able to meet a lot of people and that it will be very easy for you to get to incredible places that are very far away and that you could not visit unless you moved in private transportation. The bad thing is that in the end it’s quite expensive, because not only do you have to pay for the tour, but also the tickets to the places to visit are paid separately.
You also have to take into account the big difference in temperature between day and night. During the day it is usually quite hot, but as soon as it gets dark it is very cold. In some tours, you can also reach a high altitude, so you can suffer from altitude sickness.
How to get to the Atacama Desert
The Atacama Desert region is located in the north of Chile, occupying an area of more than 100,000 square kilometers. The main city in the area is Antofagasta, one of the most populated cities in the country, but it is not the most visited city in the region, as travelers prefer to go and see the most amazing part of the desert, which is near the border with Bolivia.
For this purpose, the town chosen as the center of operations, and therefore the most visited, is San Pedro de Atacama. It has only 5,000 inhabitants, but receives tens of thousands of tourists every year who want to marvel at the desert’s landscapes.
To get there you can fly from Santiago to Calama. The flight lasts a few hours and you can find good prices with low cost airlines. From the airport you can take a minibus to get to San Pedro de Atacama.
You can also reach San Pedro de Atacama by bus, although not directly. First you must go to Calama from other cities in Chile (Iquique, La Serena, Arica…) and, once there, take another bus to San Pedro de Atacama. This one has 3 frequencies a day, costs 3.000CLP (about 4 ?) and takes an hour and a half.
What to see in the Atacama Desert
Although the Atacama Desert is very extensive, in this post I will tell you only those places to see near the San Pedro de Atacama area, as it is the one I know and the most visited.
San Pedro de Atacama
The center of everything to see in this part of the Atacama Desert is the town of San Pedro. The town itself does not have much to see, except for its church and the atmosphere created by the low adobe houses. However, it is the best place to establish your center of operations to go out and visit everything around.
The Valley of the Moon and the best sunset you will ever see
If this desert is known for anything, it is for its landscape. It is as if you were on Mars! One of the most representative places of the Atacama, in fact, has been baptized as the Valley of the Moon, which, according to you, is not another planet, but it must have a surface very similar to the one you will travel there.
You can book the tour here. Once there, the entrance to the Valley of the Moon costs 3,500 Chilean pesos (about 4 euros) and you will be able to walk among rocks of different shapes, like the 3 Marias, which is so called because it resembles 3 women praying, so don’t forget to let your imagination fly.
You can also admire the Great Dune, one of the few dunes that exist in this desert and, finally, have a privileged view of the entire valley from the viewpoint of the Koyote Stone. This is where all the tours in the valley end right at sunset and I assure you that it is worth it just for that. It is difficult to see such a magical sunset!
Cejar and Piedra Lagoons
Did you know that there is a place similar to the Dead Sea in Chile? It is here and it is called Laguna Cejar. Next to it is the Laguna Piedra and they are two places located in the Salar de Atacama that collect rainwater where a large amount of salt is concentrated. You can bathe in them, but I warn you of two things: it costs 15,000 pesos (about 20 euros) and the water is very cold!
In this excursion we also visit other interesting places. One of them is the Ojos del Salar, which are two other lagoons, this time without salt, where you can take another dip (sorry to say that they are also cold). Finally, the day ends next to the Tebenquiche Lagoon where you are offered a drink while you watch the sunset.
El Tatio Geysers
Another of the most incredible places in the Atacama Desert are the Tatio geysers. This is a geothermal field of activity with 100 geysers that are constantly releasing steam.
The visit to this area leaves San Pedro de Atacama around 5 in the morning, so you arrive at night and gradually see the fumaroles and the landscape appear at dawn. The entrance fee is 6,500 Chilean pesos (about 8 euros).
Later you can bathe in the hot springs and on the way back the tours stop in Machuca, which is a typical small town in the area.
It is a highly recommended experience, but keep in mind that the geysers are over 4,000 meters high, so don’t forget to keep warm. A hat, gloves, scarf, two pairs of socks… all clothes are not enough. And if you are going to bathe in the hot springs, don’t forget your swimsuit, towel and clothes to change into.
The spectacle of the geysers at dawn is a good reason to travel alone to the Atacama Desert
In the Atacama Desert you can make as many excursions as you want. The above are the most popular, but you can also visit the Salar de Atacama, its altiplanic lagoons and Toconao or take an astronomical tour in one of the cleanest skies in the world.
If you are not going to go to the Salar de Uyuni, then it is advisable to do it because you will see beautiful landscapes. Now, if your plan is to cross to Uyuni, then it is better to save that money because you will see several colorful lagoons with flamingos and surrounded by mountains, just like the ones you can see in the Chilean side.
Can you do the Salar de Uyuni from San Pedro de Atacama?
Yes! And I highly recommend it because it is a great experience. The tours leave in an early minibus from San Pedro de Atacama to the border, where you change to the 4×4 car and go through passport controls. Once in Bolivia, you will travel for 3 days and 2 nights with 5 more travelers and the driver through the National Andean Fauna Reserve Eduardo Avaroa (you have to pay the entrance fee apart from the tour) and the Salar de Uyuni.