San Pedro de Atacama is located in the heart of the most arid desert in the world, surrounded by unique Martian landscapes that remind us another planet. That is why it is a quite touristic town that offers several activities to get to know and experience this very special and extraterrestrial environment to the fullest.
1- Balloon Ride
The Atacama Desert is the ideal place to replace our eyes with those of a condor. From the ground the curious geological formations already look impressive, but from above they have another perspective that makes it even more special. Balloons Over Atacama offers this eye transplant. In a tour of approximately 1 hour, we can ascend up to 700 meters in a hot air balloon contemplating the sunrise over the Andes. In addition to this amazing experience, it also includes a hot breakfast and a drink of champagne at the end of the aerial tour in the middle of the Salar de Atacama.
2- Cejar Lagoon, Ojos del Salar and Tebinquinche Lagoon
At about 20km from San Pedro you can find Cejar Lagoon and Piedra Lagoon, two beautiful lagoons with the peculiarity that in the last one it is allowed to swim. Being 50 times saltier than sea water, we can float totally on the surface. After a cold bath we continue to the Ojos del Salar, this time two circular and very deep fresh water lagoons. The activity ends at the Tebinquinche lagoon, another larger lagoon full of birds where we can see an incredible sunset with the Andean volcanoes in the background, which in the absence of wind reflect perfectly. My recommendation is to do the activity with Whipala Expedition, they do not rush us and offer a great service and "good vibes".
3. Geiseres del Tatio
We have to get up very early for this activity. With Cosmo Andino, at 5:30 in the morning we left San Pedro de Atacama so that in an hour and a half we would reach the El Tatio Geysers before the sun rises. The reason why we have to see them so early has to do with the temperature, since the geysers have their maximum activity when there is a great contrast in temperature, that is, in the coldest hours. Up to 10 degrees below zero can be reached, so warm clothing is essential. On the way back to San Pedro we stopped at different places that were under the moon on the way to the geysers. The first stop was at the Putama wetland, where several birds such as Andean geese and flamingos live. After crossing several vicuñas on the way, we stopped at the Quebrada de Cardones, a canyon made up of the columnar cactus typical of the Atacameña region. Without a doubt, a very complete excursion whose early morning is totally worthwhile. 4- Moon Valley.
This is perhaps the most requested excursion by the tourists since everyone who goes to San Pedro cannot leave without seeing the Valley of the Moon. Declared a Nature Sanctuary and part of Los Flamencos National Reserve, it forms one of the most extraordinary landscapes in all Chile. It is only 15 minutes away from San Pedro de Atacama, at the base of the Salt Mountain Range. This mountain range was formed after successive folds of the salt flat bottom, with the action of a continuous wind and fluvial erosion. Gypsum, sodium chloride, clay, sand, siltstone and other minerals are the main responsible for these white and orange shades that take us to another planet. After visiting the viewpoint to the Valley of the Moon, we went to the Valley of Death (or Mars Valley) to behold one of the most spectacular views of this entire Martian landscape. A contrast between huge black sand dunes and hundreds of fine sand dunes. Here comes the fun part of the activity: speeding down these incredible dunes. Finally, I couldn't miss the most amazing sunset I've ever seen on my trip... from a viewpoint in the Valley of the Moon. Again, thanks to Cosmo Andino for this brutal experience.
5- Altiplanic Lagoons
In my case, due to an excessive snowfall during the past winter, the access to the incredible Miñiques and Miscanti lagoons was closed and I could not photograph them. Instead, with Whipala Expedition we visited other equally magical lagoons. The first one was Chaxa Lagoon, which is located in the Salar de Atacama. This salt flat is situated in a depression created by the uplifts of the Andes and the Domeyko mountain range. When its central block sank, a salt deposit was formed that now forms this salt flat, with some lagoons that originated when there was greater humidity. Nowadays, due to the lack of humidity, the salts at the bottom of the lagoons crystallize on the surface by the evaporation of the brine. This is generally the largest group of flamingos in the whole area. Andean, Chilean and James' flamingos take advantage of this lagoon to feed on small crustaceans, mollusks and microalgae that provide them with the carotenoids responsible for their pink color. The next lagoon was the most spectacular I visited. At 200 km from San Pedro de Atacama is Piedras Rojas, an altiplanic lagoon located at 4000 meters above sea level with reddish rocks due to the oxidation of the great amount of iron in this sector. In addition, when the wind allows it, the hills and volcanoes surrounding the lagoon can be seen in a "mirror effect". Finally, we stopped at the Tuyajto Lagoon, which is more greenish due to the mixture of salt and arsenic. A wonder to be able to visit these lagoons in such a remote and high place.