San Pedro de Atacama – Piedras Rojas & Salar de Atacama

After a few cancellations and a required re-shuffling of our schedule, we now had 2 very full days ahead of us.

On the first day we got picked up at our hotel at 7am for a full day tour of the Piedras Rojas & Salar de Atacama.

Piedras Rojas, located about 2 hours south of San Pedro de Atacama and over 4,000m above sea level, is home to red rock and mountain landscapes. This is due to their high concentration in iron.

It is also home to a few lagoons.

Just like we were impressed by Uyuni in Bolivia, the Chilean side is equally incredible, with its dramatic landscapes and roaming animals. Loop We saw many flamingos, but also plenty of vicunas.

These are similar looking to llamas, though smaller and less furry, and from the camel family.

They are protected as their fur is known to be the softest in the world, and is worth thousands of dollars.

To give you an idea, Nick found a jacket online made from vicuna fur worth $22,000 AUD. No wonder they’re protected!

The cost is due to the rarity and quality of fur, but also a unique property it possess – each strand of hair is hollow and so is a brilliant insulator.

We enjoyed a lovely breakfast on the road made by our guide and the driver (coffee, omelette, cake) before continuing our way for a short walk around the lagoon.

On our way to Salar de Atacama, the salt flats there, we made a lunch stop in a small village where a local family had cooked us a lovely 3 course lunch.

We then finally reached the Salar de Atacama area.

It is very different to Salar de Uyuni. Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is well known for its completely flat, perspectiveless white environment, which makes it the perfect location for funny pictures to be taken.

Salar de Atacama is not the same. The salt is mixed with clay, sand and dust, so the floor isn’t even like Uyuni’s.

It’s also not all white, and a lagoon inhabited by Flamingos crosses it.

The landscape was truly incredible, with volcanoes on the horizon, and it reminded us just how much we love this part of the world.

It’s just so different from any other landscape we have found anywhere else; jaw dropping.

In the evening, after a very short rest, our astronomy tour was finally on.

After a quick 15min drive, we arrived at what was basically someone’s house. Not exactly what we were expectecting.

Unfortunately for us, the full moon rose early that night and made it impossible to see many stars in the sky. Such a shame, as we were in what is the clearest sky in the world.

It’s the preferred area for astronomers and sky research, so they have installed dozens of huge telescopes to study outer space at the ALMA observatory. It’s also home to the biggest telescope in the world.

When we arrived at the ‘observatory’, 5 telescopes were waiting for us to see some stars. One was pointed at Saturn; we could clearly see it and the ring around it, which was pretty cool.

As the full moon was big and bright, we also used the telescopes to check it out, and this was awesome. Their telescope was powerful enough to see it very clearly, its craters and points of impact from meteorites.

We also got a small lesson on star life cycles, and how to read a sky map, which we now know how to use (kind of). It wasn’t the tour we were expecting, but it was cool nonetheless.

An interesting ending to a long day, we headed back at 11.15pm to get ready for the following day.

Tomorrow’s alarm is set for 4.45am for another full day of tours. Wish us luck!


  • We’ve used Desert Adventures for all of our tours in the Atacama desert, including airport transfers. They were pretty good, though communication could be improved.
  • When visiting San Pedro de Atacama, doing multiple tours is a must. The region is full of incredible places worth visiting.We could have stayed for weeks and still find things to do. All of the tours are day trips only unless you go all the way to Uyuni in Bolivia.