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Lisa Owen

My guess is you’ve never heard of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile’s north? I didn’t think so. Neither had I until I found out it was an option to end my Bolivian Salt Flats tour here.

chile moon valley

I didn’t know anything about San Pedro de Atacama when I booked my transfer there, but I thought why not? Let’s see what this town has to offer. It turns out it offers lots for the active adventurer.

San Pedro de Atacama is located about a 30 minutes drive from the southern Bolivian border. The simplest way to get here is to do a three-day Salt Flats tour from Uyuni, Bolivia and organize a transfer across the border. Many travelers take this option.

San Pedro de Atacama is surrounded by desert, massive volcanoes, lagoons, geysers and even salt flats – the perfect playground for adventurous travelers.

Here’s a snapshot of activities you can do from San Pedro de Atacama.

chile san pedro moon valley

Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley)

Valle de la Luna is the star attraction and not many travelers leave San Pedro de Atacama without checking it out. Every tour agency in town offers a trip to Valle de la Luna, with buses leaving at 4pm daily. The cost varies but is around 14,000 Chilean pesos (about USD$28) at most agencies. There is also an extra 4000 Chilean Pesos (USD$6) worth of reserve entrance fees when you get to the valley.

You can also visit the valley independently by renting a car or bike.

Valle de la Luna was formed by the accumulation of sand, clay and salt into mountains that were destroyed by the earth’s movements, but shaped by wind and water over time.

There are six stops on the tour starting with the Death Valley lookout. Then it’s over to the breathtaking Stone of Coyote viewpoint, a fun walk through a Salt Cavern, and a look at the Amphitheatre and Tres Marias rock formations.

The final excursion is up to the sunset viewpoint. You’ll get a good view of smooth sand dunes from here as well as seeing the sun set behind the mountains, creating a rosy glow across the desert.

sunset in san pedro chile

Go high altitude trekking

There are a number of trekking options in San Pedro de Atacama – and many of them are high altitude. You can hike up volcanoes, getting beautiful views over lagoons and into Bolivia.

I opted for the Cerro Toco hike, which takes you up to a whopping 18,000ft above sea level! That’s higher than Everest Base Camp.

Cerro Toco is a fairly easy option if you want to bag a high altitude peak in San Pedro de Atacama as the hike starts at 17,000ft above sea level.

But don’t let the distance fool you, the altitude (and the cold) will still take your breath away. I’d been traveling at a fairly steady 13,000ft above sea level for the two weeks prior to this hike, and the last bit sure was tiring – and I felt like I’ve never been so cold in my life!

cerro toco summit chile

The hike will take you up barren slopes as you wind your way up the peak. The guide will make sure you take it slow and check for any signs of altitude sickness.

The views at the top can only be described as incredible. You get a 360-degree view from up here, with distinctive landmarks including the Licancabur Volcano and Bolivia’s White Lagoon (Laguna Blanca).

If you want a harder option, you can hike up 18,000ft Laskar Volcano, starting at 15,000ft above sea level, or do the two day trek up Licancabur Volcano.

chile rainbow valley

Visit salt flats, geysers, valleys or lagoons

There are dozens of tour options and you’re sure to find one that suits your tastes and budget. However, if you just came from Bolivia’s Salt Flats, you will find many of the tours are very similar to what you just saw so do your research.

Options include tours to the coloured landscapes of Valle de Arcoiris (Rainbow Valley), El Tatio geyser field at sunrise, Tara Salt Flats, and thermal pools. Rainbow Valley features unique green and red coloured mountains and rock formations. Many of the tour options can also be reached independently by hiring a car.

Sandboard in the desert

One of the most popular activities in San Pedro is to go sandboarding down the desert sand dunes. Tours run regularly during the day and also at night if there’s a full moon.

Go stargazing

The night sky in the Atacama Desert is said to be the best in the world due to the lack of pollution and regular clear skies. This is one of the driest places in the world.

Stargazing tours take you out to South America’s largest public astronomical observatory and you can gaze into the stars through high-powered telescopes, and learn from an astronomer about constellations and other night sky features.

chile san pedro mountain view

With so many activities on offer, San Pedro de Atacama is a worthy stop on your South American itinerary – especially for adventurous travelers. You may find yourself staying longer than you planned.

Things You Should Know:

  • San Pedro de Atacama is a very touristy town due to its natural attractions, meaning there are many tour agencies to choose from. Best to ask your accommodation which agency they recommend, or many hostels and hotels can book it for you.
  • With a touristy town also comes lots of accommodation options. If you’re on a budget, there are dozens of hostels to choose from.
  • While there are many tours on offer, many sights can be reached independently by car. There is a small Europcar car rental agency in town with a small number of cars available. Valle de la Luna can also be reached by bike.
  • The town is located in the desert, which means it’s very hot during the day but can get cool at night so pack accordingly.
  • You can’t drink the tap water in San Pedro de Atacama, but bottled water is easily available.
  • There are only a couple of ATMs in town and many tour agencies and accommodation only accept cash. Stock up on cash as soon as you arrive as the ATMs are known to run out of money especially on weekends. Unfortunately, the ATMs charge foreign cards with a transaction fee of around 5,000 Chilean Pesos (about USD$8).
  • San Pedro de Atacama can be reached from the Bolivian border by pre-arranging a transfer with your Salt Flats tour provider, or by bus from Salta, Argentina or Iquique, Arica or Calama in Chile.
  • To move on from the town, buses leave at least once daily to Arica and Iquique or to Calama and Antofagasta several times a day. You can buy your ticket at the bus station.


Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 60 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @thelittleadventurer. Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.