The San Pedro de Atacama desert in northern Chile is notable for multiple reasons: it is the world’s driest desert, it has one of the greatest views of the stars at night, and it is filled with canyons, lakes, and bizarre vistas. Landmarks.
While tours of all the big sights are available, they lack the flexibility I desired for stargazing and observing sunrises and sunsets from the bush. Camping felt like the greatest way to actually get to know the desert.
I couldn’t locate any kind of guidance or assistance on the web before to organizing my trip, so I decided to check out the resource! Here’s all you need to know about camping in the San Pedro de Atacama desert, including where to go and how to prepare:
First: the vehicle
The ideal way to go about is in an RV or 4×4 with a roof top tent, or in a van that can store your own tent (I don’t believe tent rentals are available in San Pedro). I picked a Wicked RV because it provided me with everything I lacked: wheels, cooking equipment, a place to sleep, and comfort in the freezing desert.
If you choose this way, make sure everything is in order when you pick up the van, especially if you have a flat tire. My van was missing a few items, and I’m grateful that the person I was renting with checked in first. I had no issues once I was on the road.
*Please keep in mind that practically all cars will be manual rather than automatic.
A motorhome or rental is not the most cost-effective solution. Yet, if you choose for a larger car and share it with numerous people, a rental might be as affordable as a private accommodation and mid-range excursions. Wicked’s 3-person rental would be quite crowded with three people, so bear in mind that the more people that join, the less sleeping room you’ll have. Buying and cooking your own meals instead of eating out will also benefit you.
There is a cost to enter each of the natural sites. These might cost anywhere from 2,000 to 15,000 pesos per person. You must pay them whether you are travelling or freelancing.
It’s also a good idea to get travel insurance. After all, this is the desert.
Where are you going to camp?
Most people camp for free in the San Pedro de Atacama desert. It’s illegal in many locations I’ve been, but it’s perfectly legal in the desert.
The Valle de la Luna park entry admits campers (more information below), and there are lots of locations where you can just follow car tracks off the road and locate a good site that is completely isolated for the night. That’s how I discovered breathtaking sunsets.
A word of caution: The ground can be soft at times, making it possible to get stuck, so only shoot if it’s obviously safe to do so and you can see that the terrain has flattened and/or there are loose tire tracks.
Is it freezing outside?
It’s hot during the day, but it becomes fairly chilly at night. Some RV providers provide coverings, while others do not. Thankfully, there are plenty of alpaca items available around the region, and blankets usually make a fantastic present, so you can get some if you need to. It’s also a good idea to pack a hat and gloves because the desert becomes quite chilly at night.
Load up on water in town before you go, because refueling is difficult in the world’s driest desert. I also recommend plotting your points as GPS coordinates annotated on an offline map, such as maps.me, because cell signal can be difficult to discover.
Domicile: San Pedro
This small town appears to be right out of an old western, and it’s the only spot around where you can refuel, so keep that in mind when exploring.
You’ll either fly to Calama, the nearest airport, or take a bus here and stay at least one night before going camping. It’s a nice area to get food and adjust to the altitude. Because your RV has a sink, cooler, and stove, I recommend that you buy enough food for at least two days each time you return to town to refuel. gasoline.
The city has some redeeming characteristics, but it was important to go out and explore as quickly as possible. It’s more pleasant outside!
Discover all of the city’s lodging options here.
The Luna Valley
Wind and water have carved the Valle de la Luna, or Valley of the Moon, into jagged peaks and valleys that may be seen throughout the park. There are also massive sand dunes all around, as well as incredibly salty terrain that appears like snow even in the driest desert on the planet.
This is THE spot to see the sunset. There are other excursions available, but by being free to leave whenever you choose, you may enjoy the entire sunset without having to worry about returning to your bus. That is invaluable.
Lagoons of the Altiplano (including Laguna Miscanti and Miiques)
Laguna Miscanti is a dark blue heart-shaped lake located at an elevation of 4000 meters. If you’re hoping to climb higher, believe it or not, it’s at a lower height than most other sites, so it’s an excellent spot to spend your second day.
The trip from San Pedro takes several hours over an almost desolate desert with a few scattered towns. The grasses that grow along the path light brilliant yellow, and as the environment varies, it’s extremely gorgeous to look at.
After exploring the lakes, head towards Aguas Calientes to observe the well-known Piedras Rojas.
Sadly, I did not have the information before leaving and had no clue it existed until I returned to town at the conclusion of my trip and began looking at the advertisements in tourism agencies. It looks fantastic and is conveniently located. Please do not make the same error as I made! Get on over there!
Chaxa, my pal
Laguna Chaxa amid the salt flats has the best sunsets in the vicinity. The flamingos gather here at night to undertake their nightly routine of eating in one lake and soaring over the other. It’s quite a show.
It’s actually a succession of lakes connected by a lovely walk across the salty, craggy terrain. It’s unexpectedly delicate and beautiful with the colors of the sunset.
I found a spot to camp just outside the lake where trucks had shifted soil. That night, the Milky Way was the cleanest and most gorgeous I’d ever seen.
There are a few more lakes where you may swim, such as Laguna Cejar. You’ll float like the Dead Sea in it. Entrance is the equivalent of US$20, so I chose to skip it in favor of something more pleasant, the hot springs.
Puritama Hot Springs Banos
Puritama hot springs are equally pricey, costing 15,000 CLP (25 USD). If you go after 2 p.m., the fee is half as much, but the wind is harsher than it is in the morning.
The baths are not hot, but rather lukewarm, and they grow cooler as you walk further away from the top/spring.
Even if you haven’t been in an RV, it’s a lovely hippy shower, and the pampas grass that grows all the way around the pools is mysterious and lovely.
The Geysers of Tatio
Most visitors come to see the geysers at sunrise, when they are most active.
I set out shortly after daybreak to avoid the throng while enjoying the wildlife views along the road. The geysers continue to erupt after daylight, and at 4,200 meters, it’s bitterly cold up there while it’s still dark.
As an added bonus, the geysers include hot springs, and if you can face the cold long enough to change and jump in (and, even worse, come out soaking wet), the pool isn’t that busy, and the water is considerably warmer than at Puritama hot springs.
*Note: If you drive a regular car, not a 444, from hot springs to geysers, you will not be able to stay on the same road. Return to the junction and take the right branch towards the geysers.
The Arcoiris Valley
Rainbow Valley isn’t on the tourist map, so it’s simple to find on your own, and it’s not far from the town of San Pedro.
A few dirt roads go across the valley, which is surrounded by red, black, white, and green mountains.
If you notice a passenger car there, I recommend following them to see what they are looking for. Climbing the rocks and caves can provide several benefits!
Sunset in Valle de la Luna
The Valle de la Luna may be seen in two ways. The technique discussed previously in the essay, as well as this one, which is located just off the main road before returning to town. There is no admission price, and all you have to do to see the sunset is pull over your shoulder. This was the fourth night of my four-day RV rental, and while there was probably more to see with more time and a 44, it was a terrific sampling of the San Pedro desert from Atacama, a place I can’t see living other than camping.
There are few other cars on the roads, the scenery is breathtaking, and it is an evident advantage to be able to stop whenever you want and have the tranquility beneath the stars that the campground provides.
Have a great time camping!
*This content was created in collaboration with Wicked South America. Views expressed on the van are my own; your trust always comes first!