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The Atacama Desert: The Frontier of the Stars

Unlock the secrets of the Atacama Desert, where every vista is a masterpiece crafted by nature’s hand. From the enchanting Moon Valley to the vibrant hues of Salar de Atacama, prepare to be spellbound by the desert’s captivating allure.

Explore the Moon Valley’s labyrinth of salt formations and sculpted dunes, reminiscent of another world. Stand in awe as flocks of flamingos grace the tranquil waters of Salar de Atacama, creating a scene of surreal beauty against the desert backdrop.

After landing in Chile, set out, with a guide, for up to a week of luxurious desert exploration and pampering at Awasi Atacama Lodge, Explora Atacama, or Tierra Atacama.

To feel the awe and magic that fills the air while you are on these high Andean plains, contact us at Surtrek to start planning an unforgettable Atacama Desert tour!

Atacama Desert Tours

Alto Atacama

Highlights

Atacama Desert, Valley Inca Trek, Petroglyphs, Excursion, Devil’s Throat

From
US$ 1950
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Glacial Fields of Patagonia

Highlights

Chile, Valparaiso, Viña del Mar, Atacama Desert, Puerto Montt, Chiloe Isla

From
US$ 2700
Discover

Cumbres Atacama

Highlights

Atacama Desert, Moon Valley Exploring, Horseback Riding, Death Valley Mount

From
US$ 1011
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Tierra Atacama

Highlights

Chile, San Pedro de Atacama, Mountain Biking, Horseback

From
US$ 1550
Discover

Explora Atacama

Highlights

Chile, Atacama Desert, Trekking, Mountain Climbing, Horseback Rinding, Moun

From
US$ 2577
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Awasi Atacama

Highlights

Chile, San Pedro de Atacama, Highland Salt Flats, Hike, Lake Mountain Bikin

From
US$ 3000
Discover

Full Length Chile

Highlights

Santiago de Chile, Atacama Desert, Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, Torres del

From
US$ 2422
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Faq’s About Atacama Desert

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What you’ll experience on an Atacama Vacation

With flamingo-filled lakes and rainbow-colored rock formations spread out over thousands of square miles, a luxury stays in the Atacama Desert is filled with both rugged adventure and all the creature comforts.

Head off on an excursion to witness the beguiling geology of Moon Valley, where the light transforms rugged rocks into a rainbow of color.

Set out on horseback along a narrow dirt road to Death Valley, back-dropped by surreal clay formations and imposing dunes.

Spend a day with your private guide on a 4×4 excursion to the Aguas Calientes salt flats, whose turquoise-colored ponds are inhabited by wild ducks and pink flamingoes.

Experience these and so many more otherworld outdoor excursions while indulging yourself in all the pleasures of Atacama’s atmospheric lodges. The possibilities are unlimited.

Is it safe to visit the Atacama?

The quaint desert village San Pedro de Atacama serves as the gateway to the desert’s main attractions. Fortunately, this laid-back little tourist town is known for having virtually no violent crime, though an occasional bicycle theft occurs every now and then.

While the desert itself harbors no major endemic hazards such as lethal diseases or poisonous animals, care should be taken when hiking, cycling, visiting volcanic geysers, or participating in any other outdoor activities; keep in mind that the Atacama is somewhat remote and possesses only a single small medical facility.

This points to the fact that the most significant safety concerns in the Atacama are those related to staying healthy, particularly with regard to AMS (acute mountain sickness), alleviated with locally available infusions. In addition, the desert poses the threat of potentially dangerous levels of UV rays, easily addressed with sunblock, sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, and long sleeves.

Things to do in Atacama

The Atacama Desert in Chile offers a unique and breathtaking landscape with a variety of activities to enjoy. Here are some things you can do while visiting the Atacama Desert:

  • Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon): Explore this lunar-like landscape with its salt formations, sand dunes, and unique rock formations. Sunset tours are particularly popular for the stunning views.

  • El Tatio Geysers: Visit one of the highest geyser fields in the world. Watching the sunrise over the geysers is a spectacular experience.

  • Stargazing: The Atacama Desert is renowned for its clear skies and excellent conditions for stargazing. There are several observatories and tours available for experiencing the night sky.

  • Laguna Cejar: Float in the saltwater lagoon, similar to the Dead Sea experience. The high salt concentration makes it easy to float and offers beautiful views of the surrounding landscape.

  • Salar de Atacama: Visit the largest salt flat in Chile, where you can see flamingos and other wildlife in their natural habitat.

  • Tatio Salt Flats: Explore the vast salt flats and enjoy the unique scenery. The flat terrain and reflective surfaces make for great photo opportunities.

  • Atacama Salt Lake: Visit this picturesque lake surrounded by volcanoes. It’s a great spot for birdwatching and enjoying the tranquil scenery.

  • Trekking and Hiking: There are numerous trekking routes in the Atacama Desert, ranging from easy walks to more challenging hikes. Explore canyons, valleys, and high-altitude lakes.

  • San Pedro de Atacama: Explore the charming town of San Pedro de Atacama, which serves as a hub for exploring the surrounding desert. Visit the church, browse local artisan markets, and enjoy delicious Chilean cuisine.

  • Biking and Sandboarding: Rent a bike or go sandboarding on the dunes for an adrenaline-filled adventure.

  • Flamingo Watching: Visit the various lagoons in the area to spot different species of flamingos, including the Andean flamingo, Chilean flamingo, and James’s flamingo.

  • Visit the Atacama Salt Flats and Chaxa Lagoon: These areas offer stunning landscapes and great opportunities for photography, especially during sunrise and sunset.

Remember to stay hydrated and wear sunscreen, as the desert sun can be intense. Additionally, it’s a good idea to acclimatize to the high altitude gradually to avoid altitude sickness.

What to pack for the Atacama Desert

Keep in mind at least a couple of points when packing for the Atacama Desert:

  • Pack in layers: Despite being the desert, Atacama’s high altitude makes its winter and nights fairly chilly. Therefore, it’s a good idea to layer your clothing, taking off or adding items as the day or evening progresses.
  • Protect your skin: As you’ll be vacationing at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, the sun will be quite strong; so, be proactive about protecting yourself. Using a sunhat, sunscreen, and protective clothing are just a few ways to take care of your skin. Also, try to stay out of the sun during the middle of the day.

In addition, we have compiled the following basic list of recommended items to take on your trip to the Atacama Desert.

[NOTE: These are the essential items to bring along from home specifically for Atacama. Once you’ve decided on your trip, including all of the other destinations you plan to visit, Surtrek will provide you a more detailed packing list.]

CLOTHING:

  • Hiking boots – Sturdy, ankle supporting, with anti-slip rubber soles, and comfortably broken in. (Note: The Atacama Desert offers some excellent hiking, especially around the Valle de Luna (“Moon Valley”) and Valle de Arcoiris (“Rainbow Valley”), both close to San Pedro de Atacama)
  • Sturdy sandals (like Tevas) – For non-hiking day-activities such as hot springs and lake visits, and horseback riding
  • Hiking socks – Moisture-wicking, lightweight, with little or no cushioning
  • Thermal underwear – For high ascents such as visits to the Tatio Geysers, especially during winter
  • Hiking pants – Lightweight and airy for the heat of the day (even unzipping pants for the desert) & shorts
  • Long pants (jeans or leggings) – For walking around town, horseback riding and the cooler evenings and mornings
  • Long-sleeve thin shirts or t-shirts – To protect your arms from the desert sun
  • Micro-fleece jacket – With a hood, &/or light sweater or sweatshirt (nights and mornings are cool, as is Moon Valley)
  • A wide-brimmed hat or sun hat – With a chin strap
  • Swimwear – Plus a long-sleeve t-shirt to wear while swimming if you sunburn easily

PERSONAL CARE

  • Sunscreen – Not only are you in a desert but in a high altitude one. This means that the sun is extremely strong here and the white sands and salt flats act of highly reflective surfaces. So, be sure to apply sunscreen (SPF 50 or higher) all over and reapply throughout the day.
  • Eye drops – For those who use contact lenses or prescription lens, the dry climate of the high desert may be a strain on the eyes, so don’t forget some eye droplets to add a little moisture.
  • Medication – If you have any prescription medication, be sure to bring along plenty for the trip, just in case the pharmacies where you’re staying don’t carry what you need. Also, keeping some Advil or Ibuprofen on hand in case of headaches caused by the altitude is a good idea.
  • Remedies for altitude sickness – Altitude sickness is a frequent problem for visitors to the Atacama. However, most symptoms are relatively mild and go away within a few hours or a day or so. Regional solutions for dealing with altitude sickness include drinking coca tea or chewing coca leaves, while medications from your home country can also be brought along. Otherwise, actions like drinking plenty of water, slowing down and taking deep breaths when feeling out of breath or fatigued, sitting down when feeling lightheaded, eating carbs, and avoiding alcohol are several ways to help your body adjust to the altitude.
  • Lip balm – with SPF protection
  • Basic first aid – Even though your guide and lodges will have first aid kits, it never hurts to bring some Band-Aids along on day trips …just in case.
  • Aloe vera lotion – In the event you do get a sunburn, keep some aloe vera lotion on hand to massage onto the burn at the end of the day. This helps soothe the burn and to speed up healing.
  • Beach towel (quick-drying micro-fiber travel type) – For use after hot-spring baths and floating in salt lagoons.

GEAR:

  • Backpack, duffle bag, or duffle-backpack
  • Day-pack – For day trips, you’ll need a comfy pack to carry your essentials: sunscreen, water bottle, hat, glasses, layers, etc. Something lightweight would be best, made with a breathable, airy material.
  • Sunglasses – The high-desert sun can cause serious eye damage, so be sure to pack some shades! For those who wear contact lenses, we recommend swapping them for prescription glasses for the duration of your trip, as the Atacama can get windy and sand can blow into your eyes, get under your contact lens, and irritate your eyes.
  • Camera – The Atacama is a visually stunning place, with volcanoes, geysers, salt flats, shimmering high altitude lakes, and diverse wildlife, and you’ll want to bring a good camera to capture those sights.
  • Binoculars – The vast distances of the Atacama Desert and excellent camouflage abilities of the animals that live here can make it tricky to notice wildlife or passing points of interest while hiking or driving, so pack a pair of travel binoculars to use in such moments.
  • Reusable water bottle – Not only is using a reusable water bottle environmentally friendly, it’s also important! Spending time in the high, arid desert of southern Chile takes a toll on your body so drinking plenty of water throughout the day, whether you’re physically exerting yourself or not, is important.

Getting to Atacama

To reach the Atacama Desert, most travelers land first in the Chilean capital of Santiago de Chile, where you will be welcomed by a Surtrek representative as soon as you touch down at the city’s Arturo Merino Benítez Airport. (Keep in mind that you will be accompanied and assisted by Surtrek staff or partners throughout your Atacama vacation).

Given the relatively long flight times for reaching Chile, we recommend you take a tour that includes at least one day in historic Santiago de Chile, where you can rest up for your upcoming desert adventures.

From Santiago, you will be assisted in taking a one-hour flight to the northern Chilean city of Calama, where you will be met and accompanied on a scenic ground transfer to your luxury Atacama lodge in the oasis village of San Pedro de Atacama, in the heart of the Atacama Desert.

The best time to experience Atacama

To enjoy the most pleasant temperatures and the fewest tourists during your Atacama Desert adventure, we recommend the off-peak shoulder-season months of March to May (considered “fall” in South America)) and mid-September to November (“springtime”). With fewer visitors during this period, you’ll feel like you have the desert all to yourself.

The December to February “summer” high season also has pleasant daytime temperatures and warmer nights, though you’ll have to deal with the crowds.

The June to early September low season (the South American “winter”) is less ideal, as the temperatures plummet to close to freezing at night and there’s a greater possibility for storms.

Why tour the Atacama Desert with Surtrek?

With over 25 years of introducing adventurous travelers to authentic, tailor-made luxury travel experiences across South America, Surtrek is adept at offering some of the best and most complete tour services in Chile’s the Atacama Desert.

With our experienced travel team of 25 members strong — including native speakers of five different languages — we will work one-on-one with you to custom-design an Atacama tour that perfectly suits your particular interests and needs.

Explore the Atacama Desert on video

Explore the enchanting landscapes of the Atacama Desert through our captivating video journey. Experience the surreal beauty of the driest desert on Earth as we unveil its stunning salt flats, lunar-like terrain, and majestic volcanoes. From the vibrant hues of sunset painting the Valle de la Luna to the ethereal beauty of the night sky perfect for stargazing, our footage captures the essence of this remarkable desert landscape. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast or a curious explorer, let our video transport you to the heart of the Atacama, where ancient wonders and natural marvels await. Immerse yourself in the magic of this extraordinary destination and let your imagination soar with our breathtaking video exploration.

Travel Info & Plan Your Trip

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Atacama Blog

Embark on an extraordinary journey through the otherworldly landscapes of the Atacama Desert with Surtrek’s immersive blog. Discover the ethereal beauty of the driest place on Earth as we unveil its hidden treasures through vivid storytelling and captivating imagery. From the surreal salt flats of Salar de Atacama to the fiery hues of Valle de la Luna, our blog is your ultimate guide to exploring this mesmerizing destination. Whether you seek awe-inspiring stargazing experiences, adrenaline-fueled adventures, or serene moments of reflection amidst lunar-like landscapes, let Surtrek lead you on an unforgettable expedition through the enchanting Atacama.

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