What to see in San Pedro de Atacama: The Red Planet on Earth

car in the red planet in san pedro de atacama

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“To San Pedro de Atamaca you don’t arrive, you land”. This popular phrase typical of this Chilean commune takes force when discovering that one of its main routes such as the Death Valley is also known as ‘Mars Valley’.

Something that makes it clear that we are facing an area riddled with geographical features and geomorphological conditions more typical of the ‘Red Planet’. Today we tell you everything to see in San Pedro de Atacama.

What to see in San Pedro de Atacama

Although it would undoubtedly be an incredible experience, it is not necessary to get into a spaceship to reach San Pedro de Atacama. This is very accessibly located in northern Chile and bordering Bolivia, in the well-known region of Antofagasta.

It is a unique city in South America for two reasons. On the one hand, its special geological conditions in which we can find a sea of beautiful landscapes and geographical features such as salt flats, volcanoes, deserts, natural hot springs and geysers. Secondly, because it is the starting point of the most demanded excursions by travelers from all over the world.

Thus, San Pedro de Atacama is the gateway to a new world. Red and majestic landscapes are found throughout the length and breadth of nearly 25,000 square kilometers governed by two ecosystems that are at the same time polar opposites, the Atacama Salt Flat and the Atacama Desert. On these two sit the jewels of San Pedro de Atacama that you can discover below.

Salar de Atacama

If there is a ‘must’ among the activities in San Pedro de Atacama it is the Salar de Atacama, also known as the Salinas de Atacama. It is the largest salt flat in Chile.

guy opening his arms in atacama salt flats in san pedro de atacama

The edges of the salt flats begin 55 kilometers outside the city and provide a landscape that will make you feel as if you were on another planet.

There you can swim in the turquoise waters of the Laguna Cejar. But keep in mind that being in a salt flat, its salinity is brutally high. It is even saltier than the Dead Sea, and will allow you to float without any effort. But be careful with hypertension…

people swimming in laguna cejar in san pedro atacama

There are many options to visit this salt lake where the traveler can plan a solo trip or a visit as part of a multi-night tour.

Uyuni Salt Flats from San Pedro de Atacama

Located in Bolivia, the Uyuni Salt Flat is the largest salt flat in the world, as well as the most visited and photographed in the world.

As we mentioned at the beginning, San Pedro de Atacama is one of the two gateways to this salt flat of more than 10,000 square kilometers. Undoubtedly, taking the Uyuni Salt Flats tour from San Pedro de Atacama is one of the best options to visit this great salt desert.

boy jumping in uyuni salt flats

It stands out for being the largest lithium reserve in the world. Depending on when you travel to the Uyuni Salt Flat, you may come across the biggest mirror in the world, which astronaut Neil Armstrong fell in love with from the Moon. In addition, it has been the filming location for iconic movies such as the latest episode of Star Wars: ‘The Last Jedi’.

Tatio Geysers, a must to see in San Pedro de Atacama

Also known as the Capacoya Geysers, El Tatio (whose meaning is ‘The Grandfather who cries’) is the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere and the third-largest in the world.

The view from ground level makes it look like a real ‘Armageddon’. With the steam rising from geothermal activity provides some of the most unique and mysterious photographs of your entire trip.

people behind tatio geyser steam in san pedro de atacama

The tour to Chile’s Tatio Geysers departs early in the morning and also makes a stop in the tiny town of Machuca, with a population of approximately 15 residents. There you can also discover the typical constructions of the area with adobe and straw, which will transport you back centuries.

people in a white adobe church in machuca

Valley of the Moon and Death Valley of San Pedro de Atacama

On your trip to San Pedro de Atacama, you cannot miss a visit to its two most extraterrestrial valleys. The Valley of the Moon and the Valley of the Death are next to each other.

The Atacama Death Valley might as well be called the Mars Valley. With red soil, massive caverns and rocky topography, it seems very similar to the ‘Red Planet’.

mountains in death valley in atacama

This beautiful valley, also composed of sand dunes and monoliths, is perfect for a great excursion to explore and watch the sunrise or sunset. On a clear night, the moon will be seen closer than ever.

Regarding the Moon Valley, it is named for its whitish appearance given by the salt. In the Moon Valley Tour you can also visit Chile’s Death Valley, making it another must-see in Chile.

girl in the moon valley

San Pedro de Atacama Rainbow Valley

The land is a natural canvas and this area is like an artist’s palette, with the wonderfully blended colors that highlight why this place is called Rainbow Valley.

The red canyons and rocky cliffs have a splash of color combinations of glowing oranges, yellows, white liners, and greens that make the area look as if it has been hand-painted.

multicolored mountains in atacama rainbow valley

In the Atacama Rainbow Valley Tour you can also enjoy the Petroglyphs of Yerbas Buenas, the largest rock art center in the area.

Red Stones Lagoon

One of the lesser-known attractions in the area is the Red Stones Lagoon. It is a thin, shallow lagoon, surrounded by red rocks and a snowy horizon with volcanoes and mottled mountains.

It has nothing to do with the incredible granite rocks of the W Trek of Torres del Paine, although we think it’s a perfect combination after visiting the entire San Pedro de Atacama area.

red land with a lagoon and mountains

You can also make this the first stop on your tour of the Atacama Salt Flats. This will allow you to see the most famous attraction and another that is equally beautiful but less visited.

Puritama Hot Springs

With so much geothermal activity beneath the Atacama earth’s crust, you couldn’t miss the natural pools to warm you up as is the case of the Puritama Hot Springs.

The tours to the Puritama Hot Springs are done in a single day, so you can plan your excursions in Chile to visit this natural wonder.

people swimming in the puritama hot springs

It will be the perfect rest after doing the Torres del Paine O Circuit. The only problem is that there is no hotel so you can stay here for as many days as you want.

Flamingo National Reserve and Tara Salt Flat

In the Flamingo National Reserve, whose area is divided between Chile and Bolivia, you can visit the small but beautiful Salar de Tara. This sits firmly on the Chilean side and is like a small oasis in the desert.

The dry, red, rocky land slopes down to a plateau where a small pool of water with some vegetation growing in the center is found, providing a wonderful contrast to the flat surroundings.

flamingos drinking water with mountains behind them

Toconao town and Jere Valley

Toconao is a very small town with dusty streets lined with unfinished or dilapidated clay buildings. But it has a very picturesque town center, with beautiful green gardens surrounding the town’s small cathedral.

house made with adobe in toconao
Just outside of town is a small strip of flattened trees at the bottom of the dry rocky valley known as Valle de Jere.

What do you think of everything you can see in San Pedro de Atacama? Can you think of any more activities to do?


Lily is happy with a backpack on her back. Every year she travels through one country in Latin America and has repeated several times, especially Peru where she says she feels at home (although she says the same about Argentina, Chile and Bolivia).

She loves ceviche, hiking and Sunday picnics with her friends, although whenever you ask her, she's always planning her next destination.

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