Fernanda and Daniel recently returned from a “bucket list trip” to the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. As the driest non-polar place on earth, this arid destination is known for its red-tinted peaks, vast valleys and dramatic sunsets.
Ready to pack your bags? Luckily, the couple documented their trip “full of colors and flavors,” noting when to go, how to get there and what to do in this spectacular location.
Please enjoy a translated excerpt from their original blog post about their trip to Atacama below!
WHEN TO GO
The ideal months to visit Atacama are March through May and October through December, when temperatures are milder. We decided to venture to the desert in early June and experienced quite comfortable temperatures: chilly mornings and evenings and comfortable, nice weather throughout the day. We did, however, run into a few inconveniences – like inaccessible trails due to the snow on the mountains – but this shouldn’t stop you from booking a trip during this time.
Insider tip: we were advised not to visit during the month of September, as there can be heavy winds carrying a great amount of sand.
HOW TO GET THERE
Access to the Atacama is available via the El Loa Airport in Calama, Chile. Calama is an easy two hour flight from Santiago, Chile. Both LATAM and Sky Airlines offer flights between these two airports.
Once you arrive in Calama, you must get a transfer to San Pedro. San Pedro is the base for exploring the Atacama Desert and is only an hour and a half drive from Calama.
WHAT TO DO
Given the abundance of half and full-day excursions available, and with some being quite far from San Pedro, we recommend staying in the region for at least 5 days.
A few must-dos from our itinerary:
1. Balloons Over Atacama: Our tour started bright and early at 5:50 am, when Balloons Over Atacama picked us up from our hotel. By 6:30 am, we were already in the open air area where the balloon was going to take off.
One of the most beautiful moments there was witnessing the sunrise behind the mountains while we ate croissants and sipped coffee provided by Balloons Over Atacama.
Once the balloon was ready and we listened to a safety briefing, we were up in the air! The balloon rose quietly as we watched the ground get further and further away, and the landscape become even more picturesque!
Depending on the wind conditions, the ride can last anywhere from 20 minutes to one hour. Our ride lasted nearly the whole hour and our landing was perfect. And thanks to the experience and professionalism of our pilot, Andy, we were never fearful and were able to appreciate all the beauty of the Atacama from above.
Before we left, we were rewarded with another snack. This time accompanied by sparkling wine to toast to our courage! Balloons Over Atacama also gave us a super cute flight certificate to take with us!
2. Valley of the Moon and Death Valley: This tour is a perfect duo and can be done in one afternoon. Not to mention, The Valley of the Moon was only a 20 minute drive from our hotel. The view was surreal – the colors, the sand, the blue sky, the salt that graces the landscape. It makes you want to linger there for hours! Once we’d taken it all in, we continued to Death Valley, where we saw one of the most beautiful sunsets of our lives! We enjoyed a picnic, some wine and watched the sun paint the mountains shades of pink, red and purple until nightfall. It was perfect!
3. Puritama Hot Springs: We were so eager to see the hot springs and soak in the warm waters! We left our hotel around 8:15 am and drove one hour before reaching the breathtaking landscape. There are eight quiet, natural pools – some of them with small waterfalls ideal for a back massage! We had a mini brunch near the pools, accompanied by excellent Chilean wines. It is worth noting that there are bathrooms and locker rooms where you can change clothing. We brought robes and flip-flops, which we’d recommend. Around noon, we headed back to the hotel, where we had a sensational “parilla lunch!”
4. Hidden Lagoons: After lunch, we drove to the Hidden Lagoons. Because of the sun’s impact on the lagoons, it would have been best to go in the morning, but we enjoyed seeing them anyway! The hour ride home was incredible too, because we witnessed one more of those stunning Atacama sunsets.
5. Red Rocks and Salt Flats: Despite hearing that the access to the Red Rocks had been closed for a few days due to heavy winds and snowfall, we took a chance to try to see them. When we arrived, the snow was still covering everything, but thanks to our excellent tour guide, we were able to see them. The temperature reached below freezing with a temperature of -12 degrees!
Typically, a visit to Red Rocks would be part of a full day trip combined with a few other sites, like the Altiplano Lagoons, and a traditional lunch. But on account of the weather, we weren’t able to do this. On the way back, however, we were able to stop for breakfast, take some photos on the road (like the one below of the famous Tropic of Capricorn plaque) and see the Salt Flats.
We left early the next day from Calama to make our connection in Santiago. We loved our whole experience in the Atacama Desert. It was certainly one of the most remarkable places we have ever experienced.
Thanks for sharing Fernanda and Daniel! To read the full blog post in Portuguese, click here.
– The JG Black Book Team