San Pedro de Atacama: (allegedly) the driest desert in the world

San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile is a place like nowhere else on earth. Where else can you see pink flamingoes, steaming geysers, white salt flats, multi-coloured high altitude lakes and conical volcanoes? San Pedro sits at 2,500m above sea level in the world’s driest desert where it only rains 15mm per year. Our visit just happened to coincide with a third of the annual precipitation.

But let’s start at the beginning…

After a very long journey (with a delay of over 17 hours) from Miami via Peru; we set off on an dusty stroll 12km out of town to the pre-Incan fort of Pukara de Quito. The crumbling ruins weren’t particularly special but the views from the top were stunning:

Surrounding countryside with Volcan Licancabur in the centre rear
Triumphant at the summit
Rio San Pedro behind the ruins
The dusty walk back to town

The next day we took a tour of the altiplano. Leaving before sunrise, our first stop was the Atacama salt flats. In the winter (June, July and August) flamingoes migrate from other even less hospitable areas of the Atacama to these lakes. We were lucky to see some of these extraordinary pink and white birds eating micro-organisms from the water.




Our next stops were Lagunas Miscanti and Miñiques; two stunning steely-blue lakes overlooked by their respective namesake volcanoes.

A curious llama
Laguna Miscanti
Colder than it looks
Laguna Miñiques

On our penultimate day we rose at 4am for the sunrise tour to the El Tatio geysers. However, about an hour after setting off it started snowing heavily so we were forced to turn around.

Back in town, the usually dry and dusty mud roads had become a brown muddy ice rink and walking around without getting stuck was tricky. Our bad luck continued when the stargazing tour was also called off due to cloudy skies.


We planned to take a bus over the Andes into northern Argentina but because of the snow the border was closed. We sat on the bus for five hours before being told to come back tomorrow. We eventually made it the next day after a 14-hour journey. Luckily, there was more stunning altiplano scenery en route to pass the time.

However, the rain and snow didn’t stop us from enjoying the unique adobe town, indulging in copious hot chocolates (the temperature drops to freezing at night), eating dinner around fire-pits and consuming Pisco sours.

Next stop: Tilcara, Argentina.

[We also visited Chile on our last trip. You can see the posts here.]

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Fabulous pictures! Llamas and flamingoes…I want to go to Chile! X

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