Chile,Destinations

How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile?

How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

You should definitely add San Pedro de Atacama to your Chilean bucket list if it’s not included already! San Pedro and its surroundings with mountains, volcanos, lagoons, geysers, salt flats are super fascinating. And you can even see flamingos and vicuñas. It’s the kind of nature, you’ve never seen before, and you don’t want to believe that these sort of places exist. After every mountain and corner something new and even more beautiful pops up. Read my complete guide to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile if you want to find out what to do, where to stay, where to eat and how to plan your perfect trip there.

How to get to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile?

Considering the vast distances, the easiest and fastest way is travelling by plane, though San Pedro de Atacama doesn’t have an airport. The closest airport is located in Calama, which is around 100 km (1,5-2 hours by bus) from San Pedro and only domestic flights go to Calama. So first, we flew from São Paulo to Santiago and then to Calama.

IMPORTANT! Make sure to keep the PDI immigration paper you get at the airport after entering the country!

How to get to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? - Travel by plane to Santiago, then to Calama and take a bus to San Pedro - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

By bus from Calama to San Pedro de Atacama

At the airport of Calama, many agencies offer transfer to San Pedro, and it’s also possible to book your bus ticket online in advance on Turbus or PasajeBus. We booked our ticket on PasajeBus and travelled by KTUR BUS company, which wasn’t the cleanest, but we got to San Pedro 😉

When we booked our flight and bus tickets, we thought, after sitting 6 hours on planes, connection and waiting, we won’t want to sit another 2 hours on a bus to San Pedro, so we reserved accommodation for one night in Calama. IF I’D PLAN THIS TRIP AGAIN, I’D GO STRAIGHT TO SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA. Spending a day with travelling and spending the night in only one hostel is better than having multiple accommodations.

Our bank accounts were already charged with pre-booked lodging and transport, so we’ve spent that night in Calama.

The centre of Calama from the airport is around 8 km (15 min by car). Our Uber drive cost 4600 CLP (Taxi charges around 6-7000 CLP), but it wasn’t easy to catch one. The airport doesn’t have WIFI, though a helpful Chilean woman from an agency shared her WiFi with us, so we could request a drive. Our first 2 attempts were cancelled. Finally, the 3rd car drove us to our hotel, Modular Express Calama. We had dinner in the hotel because our Uber driver mentioned that the city is not that safe in the dark. The hotel was very stylish, though the room and its bathroom weren’t very functional, for one night, it was okay.

In the morning we walked to the bus station of KTUR and travelled to San Pedro.

Where to stay in San Pedro de Atacama?

The bus terminal was only a few minutes walk from our hostel, Hostal Nuevo Amanecer, where we’ve spent 3 nights. The rooms were arranged around a cosy yard. We booked a room with double bed and private bathroom. The bed wasn’t very hard, and sometimes we had to wait a lot for warm water. Otherwise, it was okay.

The hostel didn’t provide breakfast, which wasn’t a problem because the kitchen had many types of equipment and the town offers many breakfast options and on full-day tours, the breakfast is included.

Its location was perfect, the street was silent and the main tourist street, Caracoles street was around 5 minutes walk. A small supermarket was also close to the hostel.

Hostal Nuevo Amanecer - Where to stay in San Pedro de Atacama? - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile?

How many days do you need to spend in San Pedro de Atacama?

Of course, this number can depend on many things like the number of your holidays, your interest and where you’re travelling from, because getting there easily can be a full day.

During our 3 days in San Pedro, we attended 3 tours, though it would be easy to spend there more days.

  • Day 0 – travelling to Calama, Chile
  • Day 1 – arriving in San Pedro de Atacama + Valle de la Luna, finishing with sunset (afternoon tour)
  • Day 2 – Laguna Cejar and Laguna Tebinquiche, finishing with sunset (afternoon tour)
  • Day 3 – Piedras Rojas, Lagunas Altiplanicas & Salar (full-day tour)

See our detailed schedule and recommendations below.

On the following map (My Maps by Google Maps) you can see the main naturals wonders, restaurants and the schedule for our 3 days.

By clicking on the tab next to “San Pedro de Atacama”, you can see the actual points, and it’s also possible to turn off and on layers. Furthermore, you can also save this map (if you have My Maps account) by pressing the star next to the map title.

Booking tours in San Pedro de Atacama vs booking tours online in advance

Online you can find many tours on Get Your Guide, Viator and other platforms. However, we didn’t book any trips online, I was just gathering information about the trips. The centre of San Pedro de Atacama, especially Caracoles street is full of tour offices, where you can BOOK YOUR TOURS FOR A LOWER COST THAN ONLINE on the actual day or a few days in advance. If you book multiple tours at the same agency as we did, you can even save extra money (see the prices below).

Just walk around, collect brochures from different agencies to compare their tours and prices. It won’t be that easy because the street is full of agencies, so it might be hard to choose. Always ask if English speaking guide is included and what to bring.

Before booking and scheduling your tours, make some research (or just continue reading) about the altitude of the places you wish to visit.

HIGH-ALTITUDE IS NOT A JOKE. You have to acclimatise! Altitude sickness may develop above 2500 m sea level and can have not so pleasant symptoms. Our only symptom was headache. We had the luck to skip dizziness, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and insomnia. We were drinking a lot of water, made coca tea from coca leaves and even bought coca candy to prevent altitude sickness.

The altitude of San Pedro de Atacama and its nearby sites

  • San Pedro de Atacama – 2408 m
  • Laguna Chaxa – 2300 m
  • Laguna Cejar – 2340 m
  • Valle de la Luna-  2500 m
  • Puritama hot springs – 3475 m
  • Salar de Aguas Calientes – 3950 m
  • Laguna Miscanti and Miñiques (Lagunas Altiplanicas) – 4200 m
  • El Tatio Geysers – 4320 m
  • Cerro Toco – 5604 m

Try to schedule to visit the lowest places first, then go higher.

Laguna Tuyajto - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

We haven’t seen the geysers, hot spring, stargazing and the Mars valley. A few tour agencies also have offers for the adventurous type of travellers like sandboarding and volcano climbing. If you want to make the most out of your trip and see as many places as San Pedro offers, book a tour for every day. One day you can go on an afternoon or a morning tour and the next day on a full-day tour. Most of the full-day tours depart early, so keep in mind acclimatization and resting too.

Here’s a suggested schedule:

  • Day 0 – travelling to Chile + arriving in San Pedro
  • Day 1 – acclimatising + Valle de la Luna, finishing with sunset (afternoon tour)
  • Day 2 – Laguna Cejar and Laguna Tebinquiche, finishing with sunset (afternoon tour)
  • Day 3 – Piedras Rojas, Lagunas Altiplanicas & Salar (full-day tour)
  • Day 4 – Puritama hot springs (morning tour)
  • Day 5 – El Tatio Geysers (full-day tour, starts very early)
  • Day 6 – Volcano trip
  • Day 7 – travelling home

If you’re more like a self-guided tour fan, you don’t even have to book tours, just rent a car and explore Atacama at your own pace. Along the roads, every attraction has a sign, so it’s not that easy to get lost. Most of the roads are in good quality, though the way to Laguna Cejar was a bit shaky…

Watch our travel video on YouTube about visiting San Pedro de Atacama, Chile!

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How to spend 3 days in San Pedro de Atacama?

Day 1 – Valle de La Luna tour with sunset

After checking-in to our hostel, our 1st thing was heading to the centre to book some tours for the following days and have lunch. We ate at Adobe restaurant, which wasn’t low-cost, but the steaks were delicious and the staff was friendly. The restaurant has a cosy yard, which is surrounded by the tables.

We were hoping that booking a tour an hour before its beginning won’t be that hard. The 1st office, White Planet travel agency was full for that day, so we booked a tour to Valle de la Luna at the nearby Tani Tani Traveller agency.

Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) tour details

  • Tour agency: Tani Tani Traveller agency
  • Price: 12.000 CLP/person
  • Additional entrance fee: 3.000 CLP/person
  • Duration: from 4 pm to 8 pm
  • Must bring: min 1-litre water/person, sunscreen and jacket for the night (sunset), a small scarf to cover your face

Valle de la Luna is located only 10 km from the city. When entering the National Park, we paid the entry fee and had the opportunity to visit the toilets (just like at many points of the valley). Our guide, Andrés also spoke English, so he translated the exciting things for me.

The drive through the valley was incredible with the panorama to the mountains. It’s called Moon Valley because the colours and shapes of the area are similar to formations on the Moon.

The tour had 3 main stops in the valley. First, we went to the “end” of the valley and started our trip by visiting the salt sculptures of Tres Marias. Although one sculpture was damaged a few years ago when a tourist climbed on it to take a photo…

Next, the car dropped us at two viewpoints, the panorama to the mountains and the valleys were fascinating from everywhere. It was very windy, especially at the top of the cliffs, but we only cared about the scenery.

Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

The 2nd viewpoint was situated next to a large sand dune overlooking the valley and the mountains.

Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

We finished the tour by watching the sunset from the Coyote viewpoint, which is on the way to Calama, not far from San Pedro. The cliffs were a bit busy because everyone finishes the tour there. I was a bit disappointed to leave the cliffs directly after the sun went down, this way we couldn’t adore the best part of the sunset, the colours…

Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) tour finishes wit sunset from Coyote viewpoint - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) tour finishes wit sunset from Coyote viewpoint - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

When we got back to the city, a few tour agencies were still open, so we booked a trip for the next afternoon. We finished the day with a pizza at Pizzeria “El Charrua”.

Day 2 – Laguna Cejar, Ojos del Salar and Laguna Tebinquiche tour

Breakfast wasn’t provided in the hostel, so we had breakfast at Roots Coffee Music & Food. I ate a super tasty hot dog, which was filled with sausage, tomato and avocado. They also serve specialty coffee, so I could enjoy a tasty flat white.

Laguna Cejar, Ojos del Salar and Laguna Tebinquiche tour details

  • Tour agency: White & Green International Travel
  • Price: 23.000 CLP/ person (instead of 25.000 CLP)
  • Additional entrance fee: Laguna Cejar 15.000 CLP/person + Laguna Tebinquiche 500 CLP/person
  • Duration: from 4 pm to 9 pm
  • Must bring: min 1-litre water/person, sunscreen and jacket for the night, towel + flip-flops + wear your swimming suit if you wish to float in the salty lagoon

We booked the tour at White & Green International Travel, though we went by minibus and guide of Andes Travel, who was very friendly and spoke English.

Laguna Cejar, Piedra and Baltinache

After 20 km drive, we arrived at the 1st stop, Laguna Cejar, where 3 lagoons are situated: Laguna Cejar, Piedra and Baltinache. In Cejar Lagoon you can’t swim and you can watch it from a distance, so it’s barely visible. You can go closer to Baltinache Lagoon, but can’t walk on its side.

Piedra Lagoon has high salt concentration and that’s the only one where you can bath and float on the surface. However, going into the water is a bit painful because of its rough, salty ground. Floating in the water was fun, but nothing special. You’ll also find toilets, changing rooms and showers, where you can wash your salty skin. Though don’t take off your swimming suits, because the next stop will also provide an option to swim.

The salty Laguna Piedra at Laguna Cejar - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

Ojos del Salar (Salt Flat Eyes)

Ojos del Salar are two blue lagoons located close to each other. One is 18 m and the other is 20 m deep and you can jump into it or climb in on a cliff.

There are no changing facilities and toilets, so we changed our clothes in the minibus.

Laguna Tebinquiche

The highlight of the tour was Tebinquiche Lagoon. It’s the home of special bacterias, which can produce oxygen and appeared as one of the first bacterias in the world 4000 million years ago. The few centimetres shallow lagoon is partly covered with salt and we could also see some flamingos in the middle of it.

Laguna Tebinquiche - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

Laguna Tebinquiche - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

Laguna Tebinquiche - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

Finally, the bus stopped in the desert and we had some snacks, drinks including pisco sour, the typical cocktail of Chile and Peru. And most importantly, we watched the sunset and this time we waited for the colours!

Salut!

Finishing the Laguna Cejar, Ojos del Salar and Laguna Tebinquiche tour with sunset and snacks - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

Day 3 – Piedras Rojas, Lagunas Altiplanicas & Salar

On the previous day, we booked another tour with White & Green International Travel. I guess there weren’t enough people, so we travelled with another company led by Hugo (@hugo_atacama). He was a very cool and enthusiastic guy, who was very flexible with time, he didn’t say we’ll leave in 15 minutes, his concept was to take your time and enjoy. The only problem was that he didn’t speak English, so my boyfriend sometimes translated what he understood…

Piedras Rojas, Lagunas Altiplanicas & Salar full-day tour details

  • Tour agency: White & Green International Travel
  • Price: 45.000 CLP/ person (instead of 50.000 CLP)
  • Additional entrance fee: 3.000 CLP/person
  • Duration: from 7 am to 5 pm (usually it ends around 3 pm)
  • Hostel pick-up between 7 and 7:30 am
  • Must bring: min 2-litre water/person, sunscreen, jacket

The breakfast was included in the tour, which happened at our 1st stop in the small village of Socaire. We had some eggs, bread and marmalade. Everything was tasty except the coffee…

During the scenic drive, we saw many vicuñas, which are related to llamas and alpacas, just vicuñas are thinner and don’t have that long fur. Hugo always stopped the bus and gave us time to take photos.

Piedras Rojas

Our next stop was a viewpoint, where Piedras Rojas also called red stones (4860 m) and Salar de Aguas Calientes (3950 m) were visible.

Laguna Tuyajto

Laguna Tuyajto was the farthest point we travelled, that lagoon was super beautiful with its bright blue colour and the snow-peaked mountains in the background.

Laguna Tuyajto - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

Laguna Tuyajto - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

Mirador de Salar de Aguas Calientes

We turned back and stopped at a viewpoint overlooking Salar de Aguas Calientes and mountains. The salt flat is surrounded by mountains and it’s not possible to go close to its side.

Salar de Aguas Calientes - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

Laguna Miscanti and Miñiques (Lagunas Altiplanicas)

Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons (Altiplanic Lagoons) are 2 hidden blue lagoons located between mountains and volcanoes. The car stopped at Miscanti lagoon, the bigger one, where we could walk quite close to the lagoon. Miñiques lagoon was much smaller but just as blue as the other one. There’s also a toilet here, what I couldn’t find at the previous viewpoints.

Laguna Miscanti (Lagunas Altiplanicas) - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

Laguna Miscanti (Lagunas Altiplanicas) - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

Laguna Miscanti (Lagunas Altiplanicas) - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

For lunch (which was around 4 pm) we returned to the same village, Socaire. We were starving by that time, so we got almost full with the tasty Chilean bread. For the main dish, we could choose between chicken or fish.

After getting back to San Pedro, we bought some goods for the following Uyuni trip, exchanged the rest of our Chilean peso to Bolivianos (Patrícia, the agency assistant at White & Green International Travel showed us a place close to their office) and had dinner at Pizzeria “El Charrua”.

Things to know before visiting San Pedro de Atacama

Prevent altitude sickness

As I mentioned before, San Pedro de Atacama and its attractions lay on HIGH-ALTITUDE, so altitude sickness may develop. As a precaution…

  • Give yourself a few days to acclimatize before going higher
  • Walk slowly and take deep breaths
  • Make sure to drink a lot of water
  • Chew coca leaves or make tea from them. We even bought coca candy and ate it when we had a headache.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol, it dehydrates your body
  • Take pills to prevent symptoms, e.g. Acetazolamide

What to pack?

The Atacama is one of the driest places on earth. Don’t await for rain, though expect cold mornings and nights and sunny days with partly strong wind. So bring clothes for every season… Just kidding! However, you’ll need a windbreaker and/or a sweater because even if it’s sunny, on higher altitude, it can be cold and windy. PACK LAYERS to avoid being too cold or too warm.

The sunshine is stronger at high altitude, so make sure to have sunglasses and sunscreen, what you have to use every 2-3 hours to protect your skin. I’d suggest using lip balm providing sun protection as well. You might also need body lotion because of the dryness of the Atacama.

Laguna Miscanti (Lagunas Altiplanicas) - How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

ATMs in San Pedro

There are 2 banks (Banco Estado and Banco BCI) with ATMs in the town, both of them located in the centre. We’ve used Banco BCI on Caracoles street and fortunately, the ATM was never emptied. DON’T LEAVE WITHDRAWING MONEY FOR THE LAST MOMENT!

Better to always have cash with you. The tour agencies charge extra for using card and the park entrance fees have to be paid by cash.

The good news is that hostels and most of the restaurant accept card. However, my Revolut card was declined at most of the places, somehow the amount didn’t go through… Luckily my boyfriend’s card worked, so we could pay everywhere.

Our costs while visiting San Pedro de Atacama

See below our expenses during the 3+1 days trip including accommodation, transportation, food and tours. San Pedro is visited by many tourists thanks to its natural wonders, so some places can be pricey, though you can save some money by cooking your own food, what we haven’t done…

We booked our accommodations and transfer in advance. In restaurants and hostels, we could pay by card, though small supermarkets don’t accept cards. The tour prices and entrance fees were paid by cash.

During our stay in Chile, 1 USD was equal to 792 CLP, though in the following price list I counted with 1 USD ~ 800 CLP. These were the price in February 2020, be aware, prices can change anytime. I’m sharing this information, so you can calculate your future expenses.

The total costs for the 2 of us:

  • Accommodation – 147.800 CLP (~185 USD)
  • Transportation – 7.000 CLP (~9 USD)
  • Food + drinks – 98.330 CLP (~123 USD)
  • Tours + entrance fees – 203.000 CLP (~254 USD)

Day 0 – arriving in Chile

  • Uber drive from Calama airport to the centre – 4.600 CLP
  • 1 night in Hotel Modular Express Calama (breakfast included) – 43 USD (~34.400 CLP)
  • Dinner at the hotel – 5.000 CLP/person

Day 1 in San Pedro de Atacama

  • Bus from Calama to San Pedro de Atacama – 3 USD (~2.400 CLP)/person
  • 3 nights in Hostal Nuevo Amanecer (breakfast isn’t included) in San Pedro de Atacama – 113.400 CLP
  • Lunch at Adobe restaurant (2 steaks + drinks + 10% service fee) – 35.640 CLP
  • Valle de La Luna tour – 12.000 CLP/person
  • Entry to Valle de La Luna – 3.000 CLP/person
  • Dinner at Pizzeria “El Charrua” (1 pizza + drinks + 10% service fee) – 11.400 CLP
  • 2 litres of water – 1.000 CLP

Day 2 in San Pedro de Atacama

  • Brunch at Roots Coffee Music & Food (avocado hot dog + french toast + coffees) – 15.290 CLP
  • Coca leaves + coca candy – 2.300 CLP
  • Lunch (sharing quesadillas) – 7.800 CLP
  • Laguna Cejar and Tebinquiche tour – 23.000 CLP/person (original price: 25.000 CLP), snacks and drinks with sunset included
  • Laguna Cejar entrance fee – 15.000 CLP/person
  • Laguna Tebinquiche entrance fee – 500 CLP/person

Day 3 in San Pedro de Atacama

  • Piedras Rojas, Lagunas Altiplanicas & Salar full-day tour – 45.000 CLP/person (original price – 50.000 CLP), breakfast and lunch included
  • Lagunas Altiplanicas entrance fee – 3.000 CLP/person
  • Dinner at Pizzeria “El Charrua” (1 pizza + drinks + 10% service fee) – 12.900 CLP
  • Ice cream – 2.000 CLP

In San Pedro, we’ve also bought toilet paper, water and snacks for our Uyuni trip, though those will be listed in the next blog post about our 3 days Uyuni Salt Flats tour, so see those expenses there.

Do you believe now that you should visit San Pedro de Atacama? Now you know everything to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro and get ready for a new adventure. If you have some extra days, don’t miss the Uyuni Salt Flats to discover more gorgeous landscapes.

 

Have you been to San Pedro de Atacama? What was your favourite natural wonder?

Leave a comment below and pin the photos for later to have it on Pinterest.

How to plan your perfect trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? | Aliz’s Wonderland

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    José Miguel
    April 2, 2020 at 3:41 am

    Hey!

    Unfortunately Revolut has not been working that well in Chile for some weeks. It’s rejected in almost every single place – as far as I know it is only accepted in Cencosud (Jumbo, Santa Isabel, etc.)

    Best regards,
    José Miguel

    • Reply
      alizswonderland
      April 2, 2020 at 8:48 pm

      Hey José! My card worked only in Adobe restaurant, though I tried to pay at many places. Let’s hope… maybe in the future it will work everywhere 😉

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