Planning your trip to Chile can be a little tricky compared to other places in the world because it’s a long and narrow country that can be challenging and expensive when it comes to traveling from point A to point B. We’ve written a blog on the “Everything You Need To Know About Chile” if you are just getting started on your trip planning and need some tips.
The Atacama Desert was one of our favourite places to see in this beautiful country and to make it easier for you we’ve written the top 10 things that we recommend seeing if the Atacama Desert is on your list.
WHAT TO DO
1. San Pedro De Atacama
San Pedro is the main town in the Atacama Desert. In order to get here, you must take a bus or drive the Route 5 – Panamericana Norte. We took a bus from Calama City; there are plenty that leave from here throughout the day. A regular bus costs $1,400 pesos (US$3). You can also take a minibus straight from the Calama Airport, which costs $6,000 Chilean Pesos (US$10) approximately. Either way, San Pedro is the town you have to get to in order to explore all the amazing scenes in the Atacama Desert.
Once you get into San Pedro you will instantly fall in love with the vibes. The town is full of little shops, and great restaurants, and bars. We described it in a few words as a “hip little hippie town”.
If you’re looking for a place to stay in San Pedro check out Atacama Glamp on Airbnb. It’s a little bit out of the main part of town but it sure is a magical place to sleep under the stars and get some get views. We glamped in a tent there, but you can also sleep in little huts as well. The owner of the place is very nice and will drive you to and from town for a small charge. If you’re looking to stay closer to the main town there are tons of places to choose from.
2. Try the giant Empanadas
Cafe Esquina was a little local taste of paradise. Located just off the main strip this is the place to go to enjoy a HUGE empanada for $3.800 CLP ($5.70 USD). Big enough to feed two and make for an awesome lunch or snack. When we were exploring the desert in our camper van we always came back here to grab a yummy Empanada.
Location: Caracoles 164, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
3. Bonfire Party in the “Forest”
In the small town of San Pedro, there is a hush hush private party where you can find all sorts of world travelers and locals that come together and have a bonfire after all the bars shut down for the night. We had no idea about this until one night when we were at Mal De Puna for drinks and met some of the locals who told us they were going to the after party which happens every single night after the bars close. We were lucky enough to get invited and headed down the street towards the party along with crowds of people. This fun, happy, hippy style vibe was something we don’t suggest you miss, as it was a huge highlight for us.
4. Rent a camper van
Instead of paying a tour company to take us on to all the destinations we wanted to visit, we decided to rent a camper van instead so we could take our time and enjoy the scenery on our own time. This was the best decision we made.
In terms of the best company to rent a van from Wicked South America is hands down at the top of the list, just make sure you book one far in advance, especially during peak months as they tend to sell out quickly. Not only does Wicked have all sorts of vans to choose from (4×4, 2-Seaters, 3-Seater, and so on), but you can also get a van with its own unique paint job. We went for style and rented the 2-seater, although the 4×4 would have been a better choice since the driving can get a little rough out there at some points (we got stuck in the sand at one point and needed to get towed out by a local.)
Each van is equipped with a stove, thermal blanket, chairs, a sink, water to clean dishes with, and a table.
Things you need to bring if you rent a camper van:
- Plenty of Water
- Sleeping Bags (It gets freezing cold at night)
5. Valle De La Luna
The Valle de la Luna stands for “Valley of the Moon”. Its name speaks for itself as this large area of land has all kinds of textures and colours, looking very similar to the moon. This is a main attraction in the Atacama Desert and a definite must-see.
6. Geysers Del Tatio
The geysers are best seen early in the morning when they are fully active and the sun is coming up. If you are going in a camper van we suggest you camp out close to the geysers. We camped in a cove that we found along the way, but you can also sleep at the geysers too. The entrance fee is $10,000 Chilean pesos (US$20).
Remember to wear warm clothes and bring a swimsuit and towel if you want to go in the natural pools.
7. Valle De Jere
When you get into the Valle De Jere it feels like you’re in a little oasis in the middle of the desert. Water runs through a gorge and lush green trees grow. A great place to stop and have lunch and learn a little about the history of this place.
Entry Cost: $1500 CLP
8. Aquas Calientes
Finding this place is easy all you have to do is drive along Highway 23 until you hit Aquas Calientes. It is not marked, at least we didn’t see any signs for it, but you will know when you get there. Surrounded by mountains and water this place is stunning, to say the least. We got here around 5pm, just before sunset and set up camp. There was absolutely no one around and we had the entire place to ourselves. It gets super windy in this area and cold at night so make sure to have layers. The sunsets here are magical; the sky was full of so many different colours of orange, reds, and pinks. If you could guess early mornings are just as cold as the night but you can’t miss the sunrise here. You will have the place to yourself till roughly 8-9am, then the tourist’s groups start coming in.
9. Coyote Lookout
Coyote Lookout is a quick stop on your way to see the Valle De La Luna. We arrived here when there were barely any tourists so we were able to take our sweet time absorbing the beauty of the desert that you can see for miles and miles from this viewpoint.
10. Sleep in the desert
The amazing thing about having a camper van in the Atacama Desert is that you can camp pretty much anywhere you want! One of our favourite nights in the desert was getting lost on the way to the geysers while the sun was setting and we couldn’t find the camping site that the owner at Wicked Camper Vans suggested. As we continued driving we found this incredible cove just off the main road in the middle of the desert, with no one around for miles. We set up camp and had dinner on a cliff and watched the sun go down. Sometimes the best things are unplanned.
Use common sense when parking your camper van and don’t park near any towns and try to park off the road so no one sees your van. We had absolutely no issues and parked in secluded areas not close to any people.