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10 Spots That Will Make You Want to Head to Chile's Atacama Desert

Insider Guides
by Cathy Brown Nov 10, 2016

The Atacama region covers the entire northern third of Chile, is the driest place known on earth, and has a “you better keep hydrated” impressive average elevation of 13,000 feet. There are parts of the desert where rain has never been recorded since humans have been recording such things. Not only are there volcanoes, flamingos, salt flats, and turquoise lagoons pretty much everywhere you look, but there’s also wonderfully creepy abandoned mines, ALMA (the world’s most powerful ground-based astronomical project in existence – it probes stars and galaxies and directly images the formation of planets), and a list a mile long by the locals of UFO sitings. A little something for everyone.

Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.

Ojos del Salar

 Ojos del SalarSan Pedro de Atacama, ChileDepending on your tour operator, they may or may not let you jump into these on the way to Cejar. You can always rent a bike from town and cruise out here on your own. Heading towards Cejar, don’t jump into the ojo on the right…it’s said there is a rusty car down there with sharp metal parts and you don’t want to hit it. Stick to the ojo on the left, and brace yourself for how salty the water is. You won’t enter the water very far no matter what.

Los Flamencos National Reserve

 Los flamencos National ReserveSan Pedro de Atacama, ChileYeah, there’s thousands of flamingos here. They are cool. Check them out, take some photos, but then meander down the paths away from the tourists and feel wonderfully in the middle of nowhere, bathing in really pretty light and tranquility.

Salar de Tara

 Salar de TaraSan Pedro de Atacama, ChileThis place feels like it’s out of the Mad Max movie. Desolate, with interesting rock formations. Kinda hard to get to from San Pedro de Atacama – you’ll need a guide or a 4×4.

Quebrada de Jere

 Quebrada de JereSan Pedro de Atacama, ChileThe town of Toconao takes about 5 minutes to explore. The church is cool, the market is definitely for tourists…but there’s a walking path starting behind town, along the quebrada, that feels like is out of the Secret Garden. Hidden gates, an absolute Eden of fresh fruit trees and flowers. Go there and wander.

Hotel Alto Atacama

 Hotel Alto AtacamaSan Pedro de Atacama, ChilePretty sweet place a little outside of town. The expeditions are top notch and the location basically right in a canyon is killer. There’s a few pools so you can have privacy, natural hot spring tubs, and a full on spa. Go on a nature walk with the grounds designer lady who worked with the indigenous to not mess up the natural landscape.

Valle de la Luna

 Valle de la LunaCollo, ChileIt’s hot as hell. It’s sandy. By personal experience, it’s not recommended you try this hike while hungover from yummy Chilean Carmenere wine. But do try this hike that’s only about 12km from San Pedro, and plan one of the full moon hikes if your trip coincides. #hiking

Termas de Puritama

 Termas de PuritamaGuatin, ChileNot gonna lie – it gets pretty full here, especially on weekends. Go early to stake your claim on one of the many little pools formed from the descending river. There’s changing rooms, but bring your own snacks and cold drinks. The water was not super hot, but that was fine considering this is pretty much in the middle of a toasty desert.

Salar de Atacama

 Salar de AtacamaSan Pedro de Atacama, ChileThis is the largest salt flat in Chile and it’s hardly ever jam packed with tourists. Fun fact: it contains 27% of the world’s lithium reserve base. To the east there’s the Andes and a bunch of volcanoes, to the west, Cordillera de Domeyko. Sweet views 360. #hiking

On Safari Atacama

 On Safari AtacamaSan Pedro de Atacama, ChilePretty sure this is the only place to rent a motorcycle or do guided motorcycle trips in Atacama. If you can, do the longer trip which takes you through all of the tiny villages and actually lets you interact with some rural locals.

Laguna Tuyacto

 Laguna TuyactoSan Pedro de Atacama, ChileSo you’re driving along in the middle of nowhere, then, bam. This magic happens. Pure peace and tranquility. Salt flats, turquoise lagoon, and wildflowers, all in one place.

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