The Atacama Desert and the Uyuni Salt Lake: Once-in-a-lifetime-trip!

A unique combination for once-in-a-lifetime-trip! In this blog I am going to describe my experience in the area and to tell you about the activities that I consider that nobody should miss out.

by Virginia Crivelli
Travel Specialist in Trips SouthAmerica

The Atacama Desert and the Uyuni Salt Lake

A unique combination for once-in-a-lifetime-trip!
Two destinations that nobody should miss out.

In this blog I am going to describe my experience in the area and to tell you about the great variety of excursions and activities that can be made combining these two places:

Atacama Desert, Chile

The Atacama Desert is the most barren in the world and it’s located in the north of Chile. It’s an ideal site for the extreme landscapes and sharp contrasts lovers.

The picturesque little town of Atacama has 3899 inhabitants hardly and one can cross it walking in a pair of hours. It has dirt streets and most of the constructions, from small family houses to huge resorts with all the comforts, are made of adobe. These charming constructions usually are decorated with flowerpots and  flowers, carpets and colorful furniture to contrast with the earth-tone coloration.

Walking by the main street, “Caracoles”, one can find absolutely everything it needs: warehouses, ironworks, an ATM (which empties quickly due to the number of tourists who visit this place daily), bars with beer gardens and trees to enjoy the so appraised shade (since during the day the temperature is very elevated), restaurants of all type, from economic ones to gourmet cuisine,  sport clothes shops, souvenirs and an incredible amount of tourist agencies and bike rentals, that also get fully booked quickly.

1 – Sunset in the Moon Valley

This is a half day excursion (approx 4 hs) from San Pedro de Atacama. Nobody that has been in this town can say that has visited the place if it didn’t do this activity! Traveling through the desert you’ll pass through unique rocky formations and fascinating cliffs of diverse tonalities. You’ll visit salt caves (this is something that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone that suffers from claustrophobia) and will be able to observe natural monuments like the statues of the Three Marys and, finally, will contemplate the gorgeous sundown from the top of a Great Dune. It’s really hypnotic to see how the sky and the Earth merge as one in a reddish-orange color.

Times to Visit
It’s possible in the morning as much as in the evening,
although see the sunset from the desert is, definitively, much more striking.
English-Spanish Guide
Anyone can do it.
There’s no age restriction.



2 – Visit to the Rainbow Valley 

This is an excursion for geology lovers and, also, for all who appreciate uncommon landscapes of great contrasts. After touring the multi-colored rock formations, you can take a look at the pre-Columbian ruins of Yerbas Buenas, famous for their ancient petroglyphs, and you can also visit a Rio Grande artisan village.

Times to Visit
Tours depart from San Pedro de Atacama at approximately 8 a.m., returning a little after 1 p.m.
What to wear
Sunscreen, sneakers, sun hat
and comfortable shoes.
Anyone can do it.
There’s no age restriction.

The valley is located about 80 kilometers from San Pedro de Atacama. Like the Cerro de los Siete Colores (in the North of Argentina), this extraordinary geological formation was created by the high temperatures and pressure suffered by the rocks at the time when the volcanic lava. These conditions brought out various minerals of different colors: the greenish ones are copper oxide, the white ones are calcium carbonate and the red ones are clay and iron.


3 – Astronomical Tour 

The desert of Atacama is one of the most famous places to observe stars in the entire world! Here you can also visit one of the biggest observatories in the world and the largest in South America: ALMA.  In addition, you’ll be able to contemplate the stars with a last generation telescope , discovering sparkling planets invisible to the naked eye; and to take photographies of the covered with craters surfaces of the moon, everything with the guide of a professional astronomer.

Observing the Milky Way you’ll also learn about the different “forms” or “drawings” that compose it and the old beliefs about them. In the end a hot chocolate cup will be offered to you to better assimilate the knowledge acquired during your visit in the icy cold night of the desert.



4 – Floating on the Hidden Salt Lagoons  

The Hidden Lagoons of Baltinache are called like this because of the difficulty to reach them. These are 7 turquoise lagoons, where it’s possible to get into 2 of them, the first and last one. Because of a high content of salt the flotation effect is similar to the one of the Dead Sea or to the one of the Cejar Lagoon, the latter also located in Atacama.

Approximately 4 hours
This experience requires good weather.
Anyone can do it.
There’s no age restriction.

To consider: I recommend this activity since, once having crossed to Bolivia and, in the National Reserve of Andean Fauna Eduardo Avaroa, you won’t be able to float in the lagoons.




Andean Crossing: from Atacama to Uyuni

One of the best experiences that I have had in my trips, if not the best of all, has been this crossing from Atacama to Uyuni and vice versa.

On your way to the border you’ll be able to observe the Andes and the magestic Licancabur volcano. When crossing the border you’ll pass by different places: The Stone Tree, Dali’s Desert (since the landscape looks like the ones the artist painted in his pictures), you’ll be able to see small animals of the desert like chinchillas and hares.
You’ll see several Lagoons of beautiful colors: Green Lagoon, White Lagoon, Red Lagoon, Smelly Lagoon, etc. And, in its environs, you’ll be able to observe splendind pink flamingos .

Recommended 2 nights in some of the salt hotels of the area (services are limited and costs are usually elevated).
This activity can be done in both a private service or in a shared one
Anyone can do it.
There’s no age restriction.
What to wear
Colorful objects and clothes, which contrast with the white of the salt flat, to take photos and make funny videos. Winter and comfortable clothes, night very cold, but during the day it can be very hot too. Cap, solar protector and sunglasses.
The public restrooms leave a great deal to be desired (they are ecological toilets) and they always charge for their use, the cost usually is about 6 Bolivianos approximately. There are not many places to buy food or drinks, the best thing is to book a service that includes all the meals.

Also, during this activity, you’ll be able to see geysers and to bathe in thermal waters (thing that I didn’t dare to do due to the low temperatures that there are as much in the early morning  as at night). Later you’ll visit the Fish Island full of cactus, a salt hotel  and a trains’ cemetery . Of course, the order of the visits or activities can vary.

To consider: In order to do this activity one must book a tour with professionals and check their credentials, since there are several illegal operators who don’t respect the agreed standards to circulate around this area, bothering animals, villagers and leaving rubbish everywhere. In addition, the Uyuni Salt Flats is a vast territory that is not signalized and, therefore, is very easy to get lost or to have an accident if not having the company of suitable people.


Trips Tips:

  • Sometimes there are strong winds in the area.
  • Companies that offer tours in the area usually take drinkable water provisions in the vehicles.
  • Clarify before the beginning of the tour if you have some special needs (allergy, vegetarian or vegan diet, etc).
  • In shared services lodging usually is very basic and with shared restrooms, if you can’t live without a hot shower, I recommend you to hire a private tour where you’ll stay in places of greater category.




In case that you need more info or alternative activities, do not hesitate to contact us!

We look forward to receiving you in South America!!

Virginia Crivelli
Travel Specialist, Trips SouthAmerica.


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The Atacama Desert and the Uyuni Salt Lake: Once-in-a-lifetime-trip!
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