Guide to Atacama: Popular Excursions
The following is a list of the standard excursions and day or half-day trips to be taken in and around San Pedro de Atacama.
Whilst on Pura holidays to the Atacama we prefer to get off the beaten track a little, that is not to say that these trips are in any way inferior. They are of interest and are very beautiful.
Father La Paige Museum
On the main square of San Pedro you will find this small museum founded by the Belgian missionary R.P. La Paige (the father of archaeological research in the region).
It contains more than 380,000 pieces beginning with the origins of the Atacama culture 10 thousand years ago and encompassing the arrival of the Spaniards.
The museum's collection includes hundreds of mummies.
Tulor is an ancient settlement in the shadows of Licancabur volcano (reputed to be a sacred mountain).
The remains of mud huts in the shape of igloos built 2,000 years ago give an insight into the lives of the first farmers of Atacama.
Pucaro de Quitor
The fortress or pucaro at Quitor, built around a thousand years ago, dates from the time of the great Andean lords.
A time when trade with other regions was intense and when caravans brought from the jungle the exotic feathers for the shamans' attire and hallucinogens to allow them to take on the powers of the puma, the condor and the snake during ritual ceremonies.
Stone walls are all that remain of this once great fortified citadel. The Inca conquered this region and were themselves subsequently conquered by the Spaniards under Francisco de Aguirre.
Terrifying those who had never seen horses or guns, Aguirre entered the city with his cavalry, took it in a little over an hour and displayed the severed heads of the leaders on its walls.
The Salar de Atacama is Chile's biggest salt deposit comprising 3,000 square kilometres. In addition, its lithium deposits represent 40% of the world's reserves.
The Salar de Atacama is a stunning, almost surreal landscape of endless horizons in white interrupted only by flamingos and wonderfully coloured lagoons.
At over 4,000 meters the Tatio geysers are the highest in the world. When the sun first hits the ground, the geysers spurt to life and steam drifts across the landscape.
The landscapes of the highland plains, volcanoes, lagoons and yellow pampas interspersed with and ancient villages is one which is perfect for exploration by vehicle. The villages of Toconao, Caspana, and Chiu Chiu are particularly lovely.
Chuquicamata is the world's largest open mine it is also well worth a visit.
Chile has the world's largest reserves of copper. This is one of its largest copper producing mines yielding over 600,000 tons of fine copper every year.
To call it massive just doesn't do it justice - it's a vast hole in the ground visible from space. And if you could go further, you'd probably see it from there too.
San Pedro is an ideal place for walks, mountain climbing, and excursions on mountain bikes.
Ideal excursions would be to any of the following, the Valley of Death (with its labyrinths and red mountains at sunset), the Salt Mountain Range (a lake bed of curious shapes and crystals), the Plain of Patience and the Valley of the Moon (an area of wind-carved sculptures and desolated lifeless lunar landscape).