We are staying in this beautiful region waiting for the borders to open. As the main sites are currently closed, we found great alternatives and discovered new amazing places! I’ve already visited and described the main sites in a previous post, but I wanted to share here the info up to date.
Does it still worth it?
YES!! Definitely! Totally!
Even if the most famous places are closed because of the CoVid crisis (see the detailed list bellow), you can still enjoy this amazing region, renting a car or taking tours with Horizonte Atacama which is a new company owned by great guys I know – you can say you know me 😉
Tourism is coming back slowly, so we were mostly all alone during all those trips, perfect timing!
How many days?
You should stay at least 5 days to do everything’s mentioned in this post:
- Day 1: Vallecito, the magic bus and Valle de Arcoiris (rainbow valley)
- Day 2: Salar de Atacama with Ojos del Salar and Laguna Tebenquiche, and Piedras Rojas
- Day 3: Cactus Valley in Guatin and baths of Puripobre
- Day 4: Paso Jama, Monjes de Pacana and Salar de Tara
- Day 5: Geisers del Tatio, San Pedro and Catarpe
Valle de la Luna closed: Choose Vallecito!
Valle de la Luna access is now controlled and closed, but you can take an alternative path via road 23: Vallecito. The access is officially forbidden, but we left our car before seeing any warning sign. We walked around 6km to enjoy the view on the cliffs and went to see the Magic bus. You could drive or walk more, only need is water, hat/cap and solar cream! I advise you to start the day with this trekking and keep going to Rainbow Valley the same day.
To find it it’s easy: after Yerbas Buenas and the Petroglyphs (still closed) the road goes down to a bridge, and you need to take the road on the left BEFORE this bridge! You will drive around 3km into the canyon, passing small rivers and arriving to the first green mountains where you will need to turn left. You can go freely in this canyon following the road (doesn’t take long but really worth it).
Salar de Atacama and Piedras Rojas
From San Pedro you can go south (Toconao direction) and start your trip visiting the Eyes of the desert – los Ojos del desierto (two big holes in the middle of the earth). You will pay the entrance (5000clp cash or credit card) and go to Laguna Tebenquiche. If you have time you can also go to Laguna Cejar when you can swim in a salty lake (15000clp, only in the morning as the afternoon are for groups).
It’s now a cul de sac, you will need to go back to the main road and can keep going to Piedras Rojas (Toconao, Laguna Chaxa and Lagunas altiplanicas, Miscanti, are closed).
You cannot go with your car neither walking to the Piedras Rojas (COVID) but you can still enjoy a beautiful view from the miradors by the road, and go to Laguna Toyaito and Laguna en Salar El Laco (near the argentinian border, still closed).
Note: You should prepare a sandwich as Toconao and Socaire are the only cities you will cross, and they are closed for Covid reasons.
Before having a break in the nice baths, you should totally visit the Guatin Canyon, also known as Canyon de los Cactus and Cascadas Escondidas. When you come from San Pedro, you will find a small path right before Guatin, on your left (you will see the cactus anyway).
We walked 6km but couldn’t reach the end of this valley. We were there at the end of the day but for a better light I would recommend to go in the morning.
Termas de Puripobre
Once you’re tired of walking you can enjoy natural baths: termes. Because of the COVID, the baths you can find in Puritama must be booked and it costs 120000clp.
You have a magical alternative you should enjoy while it’s free: Puripobre. Passing Guatin, on the way of the Geisers, you will find this amazing Quebrada Escalera full of reeds and small waterfalls. After 20min walking you can freely enjoy it as there are plenty of baths with hot water.
If you take East you will reach 4820km high and discover new landscapes! You will pass Quebrada Quepiaco, and can recognise the Monjes de Pacana entrance with the head of the Indian (a huge stone you will see on the left of the road). You can keep going to the Argentinian border, where you discover the Mirador Pacana Caldera, Laguna Quisquero, and the mirador of Paso Jama.
Geisers of Tatio
To go to the Geisers without having 1000 tourists with you, you shall arrive before the sunrise or later. I did both and I recommend early in the morning to really appreciate the effect of those Geisers and the big smoke towers they make! I also heard that it can be cool for the sunset… Usually you can even take a bath there but it’s still closed (Covid again).
San Pedro & Catarpe
Back to the city you can visit the center, enjoy the handcraft market (on the main place), eat a nice empanada or enjoy good restaurants and bars…
Near San Pedro you have Catarpe. It’s a private green land where you can currently see a nice church (visit actually closed) and Garganta Del Diablo. It’s a 8km trekking into a dry canyon leading to a huge point of view (need to climb a little, total 2h walk). You could also rent a bike in the city center!
The entrance fee for Catarpe is 3000clp and includes also an old mine tunnel and ruins actually closed. Pukara de Quitor and Death Valley accesses are also closed.
Places to eat & drink in San Pedro (doesn’t need your Pase de Movilidad but sometimes your ID):
– Adobe, great atacamenian food
– Emporio Andino for their empanadas
– Jardin Mareki, nice terrasse!
– Roots for a nice Sangria
– La Picá del Indio, cheap and fast
To buy supplies in San Pedro:
The only mini market is located on Camino del Inca street, called Ketal.
Summary of what is open and closed as of today, December 16th 2021
- Valle de la Luna: CLOSED but you can visit Vallecito and the Magic Bus instead
- Salar de Atacama: OPEN except Laguna Chaxa – 5000clp for Tebenquiche + Ojos, 15000clp Laguna Cejar
- Cities of Toconao and Socaire: CLOSED
- Lagunas Altiplanicas: CLOSED
- Piedras Rojas: CLOSED but you can still go to the miradors
- Salar of Tara: CLOSED
- Monjes de Pacana: OPEN
- Uyuni tours: CLOSED
- Pukara de Quitor: CLOSED
- Catarpe: Only the church and Garganta del diablo are OPEN – 3000clp
- Baths of Puritama and Puripobre: OPEN
- Geisers of Tatio: OPEN (but cannot access to the baths) – 15000clp
- Petroglyphs of Yerbas Buenas: CLOSED
- Valle Arcoiris: OPEN
- Valle de la Muerte: CLOSED
- Piedra del Coyote: CLOSED but you can still see the sunset on Cordillera de Sal mirador
Our best moments
Read also: “Atacama all alone” (2015 – 2016)
How to go to San Pedro from Calama
The cheapest way to arrive in San Pedro if you don’t rent a car is to go to Calama city center (around 3500clp taxi or Uber) and to get a bus: Frontera del Norte, Buses Atacama 2000 or Turbus (3500clp). Second option is to book a TransVIP (13000clp).
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