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Discover Atacama

The Atacama Desert is one of the most extreme destinations in the world. Located in the north of Chile, it is one of the driest regions on our planet. With stunning landscapes between mountain ranges and volcanoes, the exuberant beauty of this region attracts and captivates travelers from all over the world.

To enjoy the beauty of the destination and have a good travel experience, it is important for the traveler to make a good plan, know the possibilities that can be enjoyed, and understand how the desert transforms throughout the year.

In this special guide, we will detail each step so that your travel itinerary to Atacama provides the best experiences and memories that you will carry for life. Explore all the content, take advantage of the tips, as well as our personalized itineraries and ready-made spreadsheets for your trip.

How to get to Atacama

To explore the Atacama Desert and take the main tours of the region, your base should be the town of San Pedro de Atacama. Although small and rustic, the town has an incomparable charm and its dirt streets are highlights of the trip.

San Pedro de Atacama is where travelers from all over the world meet and where you will leave to explore the beauties of this region. The main structure of the town has hotels, restaurants, and agencies, scattered around Calle Caracoles, the main street of San Pedro.

How to get to Atacama by plane

Despite being the base for your trip, San Pedro de Atacama does not have an airport. For those planning to arrive at the destination by air, the nearest airport is located in the city of Calama.

In northern Chile, there is also an airport called Atacama Desert, which can confuse many travelers when searching for airfare. Pay attention to this detail and confirm that your arrival is at El Loa International Airport (CJC) in Calama.

From Santiago, the capital and main gateway to Chile, you can fly to Calama with three airlines: LATAM, Sky Airline, and JetSmart, the latter two being low-cost options.

It is also possible to reach San Pedro de Atacama from Bolivia, crossing deserts and beautiful landscapes. In Bolivia, you will find the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt desert in the world, and a great option to complement your itinerary with the Atacama Desert.

Upon arriving at Calama airport, you should hire a transfer to get to the town of San Pedro de Atacama. It is possible to hire this transportation service at the airport itself, and the price is basically fixed.

The trip to the town takes approximately one hour. To save money on this transportation, you can hire your round-trip transfer in advance. It is not worth waiting to hire in San Pedro as the price is the same.

Check the ticket prices to Calama

Upon arriving at Calama airport, you will need to hire a transfer to get to the town of San Pedro de Atacama. It is possible to hire this transportation service right at the airport, and the cost is generally fixed.

The trip to San Pedro takes approximately one hour. To save on transportation, you can hire a round-trip transfer. It’s not worth waiting to hire in San Pedro as the cost is the same. Hire the round trip at the airport.

We recommend Pampa Transfer and Transvip for transfers.
*As it is a shared service, always confirm if your luggage has been loaded onto the same van as you.

How to get to Atacama by road

For those who want to travel by road, starting from Santiago, it is about 1,627 km to San Pedro de Atacama in Ruta 5. Along the way, notable destinations include Coquimbo, La Serena, and Elqui Valley.

The bus trip from Santiago, although the most economical, is the longest: approximately 22 hours to reach Calama and another 1 hour to San Pedro.

What is the best season to travel to Atacama?

One of the positive aspects of the Atacama Desert is the favorable climate for travel almost all year round. For those looking for milder temperatures, the months between March and May, and September and November are the most recommended.

Between June and August, the lowest temperatures are more intense, especially during high-altitude tours. Despite the cold, the desert landscapes during this period become even more stunning.

When not to travel to Atacama

The only period that deserves special attention regarding the weather is from December to January, known as the altiplanic winter. During this time, although rare, it may rain in Atacama, which can alter or even interrupt some tours.

It’s worth mentioning that we are talking about a destination of extremes, and climate changes on our planet can bring surprises at any time of the year. Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind that adjustments to your travel plans may be necessary.

This is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a trustworthy agency that follows all safety protocols. This way, you can ensure not only a safe trip but also a reliable solution in case of any unexpected events during your journey.

How many days to stay in Atacama?

For first-time travelers to the Atacama Desert, our suggestion is a minimum of 5 full days for your itinerary. An important factor to consider in this planning is acclimatization to the altitude. If you plan to do higher altitude tours, such as the Geysers or volcano ascents, allow for a few extra days to acclimate.

As Atacama is a remote destination that requires a long journey to reach, we do not recommend itineraries shorter than 3 days. For those with flexible dates and more time available, 6 or 7 days in Atacama are perfect for an incredible travel experience.

Where to stay in Atacama

Your base for the trip should be the town of San Pedro de Atacama. To make the most of your trip, we recommend accommodations near Calle Caracoles, which is the main street of the town, or hotels that offer transportation.

For those planning to arrive in Atacama by car, more distant hotels can be considered. However, keep in mind that you will need a car for transportation when going out to eat or explore the town.

Make your reservation in advance

It’s very important to arrive in Atacama with a hotel reservation. This will not only help with transportation to the town but also with your immigration process in Chile. Immigration officials often ask for information about your accommodation at the Santiago airport, so remember to have your reservation on hand.

We recommend for secure reservations with great prices. And remember, when you book your stay through our links, you contribute to supporting our work.


Reserve o seu hotel em San Pedro de Atacama

What to bring on your trip

When organizing a trip to the Atacama Desert, the climate is undoubtedly one of the most important aspects that requires your attention. Regardless of the time of year for your trip, as it is a destination that involves high-altitude excursions, being prepared for extreme weather conditions is always important.

But don’t be mistaken in thinking that the desert is always cold or that you will encounter a single weather condition. This is possibly one of the biggest mistakes and points of confusion among travelers.

Don’t underestimate the desert climate

Even in the warmer months, between November and February, although it may be hot during the day in lower areas, it can still be very cold in high-altitude excursions.

The best way to be prepared for the Atacama Desert is to pack a mix of clothing that allows you to dress in layers. Items such as thermal underwear and windproof jackets are highly recommended in all seasons.

Having lighter clothing, as well as swimwear, is important for excursions such as Laguna Cejar, Lagunas Escondidas, and also the delightful Termas de Puritama.

For the colder months of the year, between June and August, wearing thermal underwear, a hat, and gloves is essential.

Currency exchange in the Atacama

A common question for those planning a trip to the Atacama Desert is about currency exchange and what currency to bring on the trip, as well as questions about the use of credit cards at hotels, agencies, shops, and restaurants.

In San Pedro de Atacama, you can find currency exchange offices, mostly on Calle Toconao. There you can exchange Euros, Brazilian reais or US dollars for Chilean pesos, and also for Bolivian pesos for those who plan to extend their trip to Bolivia.

Which currency to bring to the Atacama

In our experience, the difference between bringing US dollars or Euros to exchange for Chilean pesos has always been very small. It’s better to take your own currency, be it dollars or euros, and make a single conversion at your destination into Chilean pesos.

If you have US dollars or Euros, it is important that your bills are in impeccable condition. Old, wrinkled, or torn US dollar bills are not accepted for exchange.

Most agencies usually accept payments in US dollars and Chilean pesos. Some places accept credit cards as a form of payment, but it is common to charge an additional fee on top of the one already charged by the card.

Because of this, if you have a card, it is recommended to use one of the ATMs in the town to withdraw cash and use it in restaurants, shops, and markets.

How is the weather in Atacama

When talking about the climate in Atacama, it’s important to note that weather changes are possible at any time of the year. However, the northern region of Chile generally offers good conditions for travelers throughout most months of the year.

It’s crucial to understand the climate in the Atacama Desert and how it may affect your trip, including the operation of tours and activities.

Understand the weather in Atacama

First and foremost, it’s worth mentioning that we’re talking about one of the driest regions on our planet. Some areas of the Atacama Desert have gone years without a single drop of rain. The dry climate is one of the first things travelers notice when arriving at this destination.

In addition, the desert region has another characteristic: hot days and cold nights. The unique aspect of the Atacama is the issue of altitude, on top of this characteristic.

Even in the warmer months of the year, it’s common to be very cold in the early hours of the day during tours above 4,000 meters above sea level.

As tours often start very early, some even before sunrise, temperatures tend to be even lower. That’s why we recommend a layered approach to dressing for the trip: you start the day with the most protective clothing for the lower temperatures. As the day progresses, the sun warms up, and you can remove layers as needed.

With sunset, temperatures drop again, and you need to put the layers back on. If you’re traveling in winter, for example, the changes are not as intense, and the cold is more continuous.

We recommend visiting Atacama in all seasons
*Even with the extreme temperatures of winter, this period offers even more incredible scenery.

How to prepare for altitude

Altitude in the Atacama Desert is another concern for travelers. While some people’s bodies cope well with altitude, others may experience headaches, dizziness, and even nausea.

Our suggestion, first and foremost, is to avoid the highest-altitude tours in the first days of your trip and also take some precautions with your diet.

It’s important to avoid heavy foods such as meats and alcoholic beverages. Even when you’re acclimatized, a glass of wine at altitude can have a more intense effect than you’re used to in lower regions.

Caffeine can also be potentiated at altitude, so we recommend caution for coffee lovers.

Must-Do Tours in Atacama Desert

The beauty of the Atacama Desert is reflected in its unique and stunning landscapes, with the majestic Andes mountain range serving as a backdrop.

For first-time visitors to Atacama, there are several must-do tours that deserve a special mention:

  • Valle de la Luna

  • Valle de la Morte

  • Lagunas Altiplânicas

  • Salar de Tara

  • Geyser El Tatio

The list of tours, of course, can be even larger and change according to your traveler profile. Trekkings, volcano ascents, and more relaxing tours can be part of this list.

As a special suggestion, two other tours that deserve to be included in your itinerary are:

  • Lagunas Escondidas de Baltinache

  • Termas de Puritama

On moonless nights and, of course, cloudless ones, you will have the opportunity to live one of the most incredible experiences of stargazing and planet observation on the Atacama Astronomical Tour.

For those seeking an even more special experience during their trip and wishing to push their own limits, ascending the Lascar, Cerro Toco, or Quimal volcanoes are excellent options.

It’s important to note that volcano ascension should only be done with a certified guide and proper safety equipment. Therefore, we emphasize once again that choosing a reliable agency is essential.

We highly recommend the Astronomical Tour 
* regardless of the duration of your trip, as this tour deserves to be part of your itinerary.

Best Agency in Atacama Desert

In San Pedro de Atacama, travelers can find a wide range of agencies. Each one offers a type of service and prices vary depending on what is offered. We believe that traveler experience and safety during the trip are the most important points when deciding on an agency.

While some agencies overcrowd cars and conduct tours without even having the minimum safety equipment, putting all travelers at risk, others, in addition to taking all necessary precautions and being regulated, have professional guides who provide a wealth of information during the tours.

Taking all these points into consideration, our recommended agency in Atacama is FlaviaBia Expediciones, an agency that stands out for the quality of the experience offered to travelers.

The agency has the most distinctive offerings in Atacama, surpassing even the tours offered by 5-star hotels in Atacama. FlaviaBia has highly trained guides and also offers unique gastronomy during the tours. It is the best option for those who want to have a comfortable, safe, informative, and personalized trip with small group sizes.

We recommend the agency transparently and because we truly trust the work that is offered to the traveler.

To contact the agency and receive information for your trip, we have a form where you can directly contact the company. Additionally, the agency offers a special price through this contact form – you get the best tours in Atacama and also support our work without spending anything extra.

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