The Ultimate Guide to Tours in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Posted by Zaid June 27, 2015 13 Comments 10179 views

San Pedro de Atacama is among the top 3 most visited destinations in Chile, along with Patagonia and Easter Island. If you’re visiting this destination to check out the extraordinary landscapes that make you feel like you’re no longer on this planet, check out this guide on how to get there and what tours are on offer.

Getting to San Pedro de Atacama

You’ll probably arrive in San Pedro De Atacama by Jeep or bus from Uyuni (Bolivia) or by 90 minute shuttle bus transfer from El Loa Airport in Calama. Calama has the closest commercial airport to San Pedro de Atacama.

There are 3 shuttle bus companies in El Loa Airport offering return transfers to San Pedro de Atacama: Licancabur, Transfer Pampa and TransVIP. You can buy a single or return transfer ticket on arrival in El Loa Airport.

shuttle from calama to san pedro de atacama

 

For more details on transportation options check out this site:

Tours:

There are a number of companies offering tours in San Pedro de Atacama. I made a last minute decision to visit San Pedro de Atacama and hadn’t researched the tours on offer in advance. I was a bit hesitant to do all-day or high-altitude tours; and found it hard to find a single source listing the tours on offer, departure times, duration and altitude. So, I’ve created my own list below (to the best of my ability). Please let me know if there is anything I need to correct. I visited in April, the low season.

You’ll see notice boards outside every tourist agency listing which tours are available over the next 24 hours. Prices vary a little between each agency.

tour sign atacama

I’ve noticed that the online prices listed for these tours are much higher than what’s available in town. There is no shortage of tour providers so you should be fine making a last minute booking. I booked some tours within 2 hours of departure (although a multi-day tour to Bolivia should be booked much further in advance). Early morning tour departures should include a light breakfast.

tour timetable san pedro atacama

You can book tours directly with a tour agency or via your hostel. I stayed at La Ruca Hostel and found it convenient to book my tours there, as the hostel owner would phone a number of agencies at the last minute trying to get me a spot (when I made a last minute decision to go on a tour), and he’d be the central point of contact if any schedule changes were made to my tour (I don’t roam / use my mobile phone when I travel).

On all tours carry lots of water. At least 1.6 liters. You are visiting one of the driest deserts on Planet Earth. Sunblock with minimum SPF 45 whenever outside and Polaroid sunglasses when visiting the salt flats. The pharmacies in town do sell sunblock but they’re quite expensive.

Some tours can be done on your own by mountain bike or hired car. It’s cheap and easy to rent a mountain bike in San Pedro de Atacama. You may need to be hire a car in Calama.

Morning Tours

Tour Popular Price General Duration Departure Time Description
Tatio Geysers & Puritama Hot Springs Yes  +- 25000 pesos 8 hours 0400 A visit to the high altitude Tatio geysers which are located 90 km northwest of San Pedro at sunrise.Dress warm as temperatures can drop to between -5C and -15C.
This is followed by the optional Puritama Hot Springs. Breakfast is generlly included. At 4320m altitude
Tatio Geysers & Cactus Trekking  +- 25000 pesos 8 hours 0400 The river Puritama is located 30 km northeast of San Pedro de Atacama. You can swim in the waters that are approximately 33 degrees Celcius, and ae said to have minerals of medicinal benefit. At 3400m altitude
Tatio Geysers & Typical Villages  +- 40000 pesos 8 hours 0400 A visit to the high altitude Tatio geysers which are located 90 km northwest of San Pedro at sunrise.Dress warm as temperatures can drop to between -5C and -15C.
This is followed by a visit to the village of Caspana, the Pukará de Lasana, the Petroglyphs of the Loa River, the Laguna Inca Coya and the village and church of Chiu-Chiu. The tour ends in either Calama or San Pedro. breakfast and lunch. Excludes: $ 4,500 park entrance fee (students $ 2,500). At 4320m altitude
Lascar Volcano Hike/Climb  – 12.5 hrs 0530 Láscar is one of the most active volcanoes in Chile and is popular among mountaineers and high altitude hikers. It takes 3 – 4 hrs to trek up to the crater, 2 hours to descend and 3 hours each way by car frpm San Pedro de Atacama.
At 5150m altitude
Salt Flat and Highland Altiplanic Lagoons (Laguna Altiplanicas) Yes  +-35000 pesos 6,5 hours 0700 Visit the Salar de Atacama (Atacama salt flats) in Los Flamencos National Reserve with abundant fauna at the Chaxa lagoon. Expect to see many flamingos here. Then journey by road into the Highlands to the Miscanti and Miñiques lagoons at 4,200 meters altitude. Lunch in a local village, and a visit to the town of Toconaoare generally included before returning to San Pedro de Atacama. At 4220m
Red Stones (Piedras Rojas)  – 9 hours 0700 This tour complements the “Salt Flat and Highland Altiplanic Lagoons (Laguna Altiplanicas)” tour with a visit to this site with red volcanic rock formations surrounded by mineralized lagoons. At 4220m altitude
Salar de Tara in Los Flamencos National Reserve Yes +- 50000 pesos 7 hours 0700 Summer / 0800 Winter Visit Salar de Tara, a high altitude wetland that is surrounded by volcanoes. See the figures of Roca Monjes de la Pakana, pass the Los Flamencos national reserve and the cathedrals of Tara. Should include breakfast.
At 4500m altitude
Rainbow Valley (Valle Arcoiris Hidden Excursion)  – 5 hours 0800 Travel to the West of San Pedro de Atacama to Cordillera de Domeyko. Check out the historical rock art at Hierbas Buenas. Then visit the Valley of the Rainbow named for the various colours that are present in the minerals of the mountains. Also visit the Rio Grande village with its colonial architecture before returning. At 3000m altitude.
Archaeological Tour / Pukará de Quitor Yes  +- 10000 pesos 2 hours 0900 / anytime in the day on your own Visit the Atacaman fortress Pukará de Quitor (which has 2 trails with panoramic viewpoints), Cordillera de la sal and the Aldea de Tulor (ruins that are more than 3,000 years old).Excludes: $ 4,000 park entrance fee (students $3,000).You can also drive or rent a bike in San Pedro de Atacama and ride to Pukara de Quitor on your own (about 2km away) and  Aldea de Tulor (abiut 11km away)

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Afternoon Tours:

Tour Popular Price General Duration Departure Time Description
Puritama Hot Springs Yes  +- 15,000 pesos 4 hours 1500 Winter / 1600 Summer The river Puritama is located 30 km northeast of San Pedro de Atacama. You can swim in the waters that are approximately 33 degrees Celcius, and are said to have minerals of medicinal benefit. At 3400m altitude
Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna), Death Valley (Valle de la Muerte) and Cordillera de Sal Yes  +-12000 pesos 3 hours 1500 Winter / 1600 Summer I’d say that this is the most popular tour located 13km from San Pedro de Atacama.
A short trek with a number of stops in Valle la Luna (moon valley), Valle de la Muerte (death valley) and sunset at Las Cornisas (overlooking the moon valley). Carry warm clothes as the temperature can plummet rapidly after sunset.You can also hire a bike or car and visit the Moon Valley on your own (during park hours, after paying the park entrance fees. At 2500m altitude.
Laguna Cejar de Tebinquinche (half day) Yes  – 4 hours 1500 Laguna Cejar is a salt lagoon located 27km north of San Pedro de Atacama. Because of the high concentration of salt you can float without effort in the lagoons here. Shower facilities are available to wash the salt off before you continue to Ojos del Salar, a ground water lagoon (you can’t float here so you need to know how to swim if you plan to get into the water). The tour ends with a view of sunset on Tebenquinche Lagoon where you can get great pictures of Volcano Licancabur.
At 2300m altitude

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Night Tour:

Tour Popular Price General Duration Departure Time Description
Space / Night skies observatory tour Yes USD35 2 hours 2100 There are a couple of companies offering tours that take you to sites with telescopes where a guide points out various constellations, nebulaes and stars in the night sky and answers any questions on space that you may have. I went on a tour with Andes Travel, but I believe that www.spaceobs.com may offer a better tour. Email them in advance to book as English guides may not always be available. Note, tours are not offered on nights around a full moon as your view of other astronomical objects is diminished. It’s best to do this tour when there is no moon.

space tour atacama desert

Multi-Times a Day Tour:

Tour Popular Price General Duration Departure Time Description
Dune Sandboarding Yes  +-12000 pesos 3 hours 0900 / 1600 / 2200 An active tour with incredible views of Valle de la Muerte around you. Meant for novice and expert sandboarders.

sandboard atacama

Multi-Day Tour:

Tour Popular Price General Duration Departure Time Description
Bolivia Jeep Tours (Full Day, 3 or 4 days) Yes  – 1 / 3 / 4 days 0745 A Jeep 4 x 4 tour to the Uyuni Salt flats. The 4 day tour includes stops at Laguna Colorada, Laguna Blanca, Verde y Chlaviry, Dali Desert and  Isla Incahuasi.
The 3 day trip is generally 1-way, 4-day trip is return. The 1 day trip is just a taster.
Up to 5000m altitude.It’s slightly cheaper to visit Salar de Uyuni from Bolivia rather than San Pedro de Atacama, and may be safer (in terms of altitude sickness risk) as the ascent is more gradual from the Bolivian side. See this WikiTravel article for more info.

atacama to bolivia jeep tour

The San Pedro de Atacama website maintains a list of the official tour agencies:
http://www.sanpedroatacama.com/en/tour-operators-list/ 

For further details on some of theses tours, check out the WikiTravel article on San Pedro de Atacama.

There’s no halal meat or chicken available in San Pedro de Atacama. I just ate vegetarian pizzas, vegetarian and tuna empanadas during my stay there. There’s also no mosque. The closest mosque is Mezquita Bilal, almost 500km away in Iquique.

I visited San Pedro de Atacama on my own. However if your’e keen to explore it with a small group G Adventures offer this 15 day tour which includes Buenos Aires, Salta, San Pedro de Atacama and La Paz.

Image credits:

Salar de Uyuni by Jiahui Huang under CC by SA 4.0 license

Geisers del Tatio by Jorge Barahona Ch. under CC by NC-ND-2.0 license

Termas de Puritama by Juan José Richards Echeverría under CC by NC-ND-2.0 license

Miniques lagoon by Noel Portugal under CC 2.0 license

Lascar Volcano – Chilean Andes by UltraView Admin under CC 2.0 license 

Salar de Tara by Jen Morgan under CC-by ND-2.0 licence

Panorâmica em Piedras Rojas by Ana Elisa Ribeiro under CC-by-NC-2.0 license

Valle del arcoiris by Daniel Hernández under CC-by-NC-2.0 license

There are 13 Comments

  1. Andrea
    - August 2, 2015
      -   Reply

    Help me a lot! Thank you :))

    • - August 3, 2015
        -   Reply

      Thanks Andrea. Glad it helped!

  2. Randa
    - October 15, 2015
      -   Reply

    Hey Ziad,

    Your post was super helpful. But out of curiosity: if I’m planning a 3 day trip to san pedro in late december, do you think i’ll need to book (hostel, tours) way ahead of time? Also, can I select individual tours i want to take with different tour guides when i’m there, or do i have to commit to a set itinerary with one tour agency?

    (And how was your stay at La Ruca? I’m on a tight tight budget and there are so many options I’m not sure how to choose where to stay. Any advice on that?)

    Thank you!

    • - October 16, 2015
        -   Reply

      Hi Stephanie. I visited in the shoulder season so I was able to book my hostel a few hours before check-in. December may be a bit busier and I recommend you book a bit in advance. La Ruca was a great place to stay, near the end of one of the main streets in town. They’ve got dorms and single rooms. It’s not a huge hostel so beds may be limited. At the same time, this small hostel is very well maintained.
      You don’t need to book tours ahead of time and you can book with multiple agencies in town or via the hostel (pricing is quite competitive).
      You’ll definitely visit the Moon & Death Valley when you visit – worst case if there is no tour (which I cant imagine), you can rent a bike in town and cycle there like many do. I rented a bike and visited Pukara Del Quitor an ancient fort / ruins less than 20 minutes by bicycle from San Pedro.

      Just remember to bring your own SPF 50+ sun block when visiting as it’s quite expensive in town.

      Zaid

  3. Joris
    - December 28, 2015
      -   Reply

    Thanks for the overview, it’s really helpful in planning my upcoming visit to SP.

  4. - March 31, 2016
      -   Reply

    Thanks a bunch for this – so cool you took your time to write it down! As I just arrived and haven’t planned anything, this is exactly what I needed, yay 🙂 oh and my god how beautiful is this place?!

  5. Adam
    - June 10, 2016
      -   Reply

    Hello. I’m going to have a car when I visit San Pedro at the end of this month. Can I visit all of these places by myself? I don’t plan on doing the geysers because I’ve heard they’re small and I’ve already seen huge geysers in Yellowstone National Park. I don’t plan on going trekking to the volcano you mentioned either. I want to go to Moon valley, death valley, highland altiplanic lagoons, salt flats perhaps, maybe some hot spring, and rainbow valley, etc.

    • - June 18, 2016
        -   Reply

      Hi Adam

      You should be able to drive to Moon Valley, Death Valley, Laguna Tebinquinche, Pukara del Quitor on your own. IThere are definitely advantages to having your own vehicle, especially in the Moon Valley. The tour I took didn’t take us to all places of interest in the Moon Valley. I wish that I had the opportunity to take some night star photography in the Moon Valley (I’ve seen some beautiful pics online).
      I haven’t been on any of the high altitude geyser visits. If I recall correctly, I think a guide told me that you may need to change your tyre pressure when driving to that high altitude.

      Just be cautious of driving there. From the Wiki article on San Pedro: “The roads are often in terrible condition, not signaled at all, there’s no cell phone signal, and acute mountain sickness is a real threat. Getting stuck in the less-traveled roads of the “altiplano” can be a death sentence, since some aren’t used at all, and see perhaps a car every two months. Always travel with a full tank, since the only gas station in the area is in San Pedro. You can find illegal fuel vendors in some of the smaller towns, like Toconao, but they charge outrageous prices. Check the condition of all tires, even the spare; flat tires aren’t at all unusual on the many dirt roads that lead to points of interest.”

      Enjoy the trip and keep well hydrated

  6. vanja
    - September 11, 2016
      -   Reply

    Great information. Thank you.

  7. - April 17, 2017
      -   Reply

    Amazing and detailed guide to Chile, Ziad! Great post!

  8. Richard Schwartz
    - May 5, 2017
      -   Reply

    Great compilation, Zaid! Do the tours involve any walking or trekking? Would hate to see such beautiful sights without being able to spend some time walking around. Thanks…

    • - May 5, 2017
        -   Reply

      Yes. They all had some trekking (except for the Astronomy one which was a bit rushed! Didn’t have much time to take my own star pics).
      Moon Valley had quite a bit.
      The Laguna Tebenquinche tour had considerable time at each site (time to swim in the salt lagoon at the first stop, time to swim in the freshwater lagoon at the 2nd, and time to wander while waiting for sunset at the 3rd stop).
      If you really want I guess the volcano trek would have the most.
      You can cycle to Pukara Del Quitor which has 2 walking trails; to the Moon Valley; and even more locations http://www.gosanpedrodeatacama.com/en/things-to-do/cycling

      There’s enough opportunity to get active in one of the driest locations on Earth – if you can handle it 🙂

      • Richard Schwartz
        - May 5, 2017
          -   Reply

        Thanks, Zaid!

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