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26 Fun Things to Do in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

A dirt road leading through the Atacama Desert, with purple-blue mountains in the distance, surrounded by bright orange rocky hills covered with green shrubs.

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San Pedro de Atacama is a small-town oasis surrounded by one of the driest places on the planet. People come from around the world to experience the Atacama Desert, and there are plenty of fun things to do in San Pedro de Atacama, the gateway to exploring this otherworldly setting.

My husband Charlie and I chose to visit Atacama Desert on our monthlong Chile-Argentina-Uruguay honeymoon. Why? Volcanoes, salty lakes, erupting geysers, giant sand dunes, and bizarre rock formations — not to mention the flamingos, guanacos, and vicuñas!

Right away, we knew San Pedro de Atacama would be the best base for exploring the Atacama Desert in Chile. A small town with a bohemian feel, sitting at 2,400 meters above sea level and surrounded by the Andes mountains, San Pedro is full of character (and characters) — a fun place to return after exploring the desert each day!

Here are the best things to do in San Pedro de Atacama — gateway to some of the most visually striking places in Chile, a country that punches above its weight in terms of natural beauty.

This post was published in February 2024 and was co-written by Adventurous Kate and Hannah Cooper.

The Atacama Desert is NOT a place where you’d want to get stuck.

Safety in San Pedro de Atacama

Please don’t skip this section, it’s important!! I’m adding in a section on safety in San Pedro de Atacama because I feel like the dangers of the desert are so underplayed.

First off, the Atacama Desert is a high-altitude desert, which is a tough on your body. You’ll be experiencing the effects of a desert climate (dry eyes, nose, lips, and skin) as well as possibly the effects of altitude (fatigue, dizziness, headaches), especially in highest-altitude places like the El Tatio geysers.

Secondly, you need to decide whether to 1) rent a car and explore independently, or 2) book tours. Charlie and I rented a car, but knowing what I know now about the driving conditions, booking tours is far safer.

There is only one gas station in the area — in the town of San Pedro de Atacama — and if you break down, your situation could quickly turn deadly. There is no phone signal outside the town. Many roads are unpaved and in bad condition. It is incredibly hot during the day and quite cold at night. There are safety trucks patrolling the most traversed roads, and they…

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