The Atacama contains some of the most unique and remarkable landscapes in the world. A short drive from San Pedro in northern Chile, this region represents one of the driest in the world with an annual rainfall of 1 to 3 mm per year. Because of the expansive terrain, remoteness, and bizarre landforms, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to another universe.
Bordered on the west by the Cordillera de Domeyko mountain range and to the east by the Andes, a handful of prominent volcanoes tower above its desert valleys including the Acamarachi, the Lincancabur, and Aguas Calientes.
What will you see on a Chile family adventure to the Atacama? From the remote beauty of its massive dunes to its pristine night skies, get ready for plenty of family-friendly adventures.
The Astounding Landscapes of the Atacama
In the Moon Valley, marvel at the bizarre and surreal beauty of this strange land that has inspired onlookers for centuries with its extraterrestrial appearance. The area boasts salt caves, sand dunes, rock formations, and stunning sunsets.
You’ll drive past white craters of salt, inviting dunes, and rusty red rock cliff faces. Contrasting with these land features are some of the clearest, bluest skies you’ll ever see. There are few sights more breathtaking than the Atacama’s periwinkle firmament against its orange-toned mountains. In spots, the warm orange of the rocks gives way to a white dusting of salt reminiscent of powdered sugar.
Because of the high altitude, arid climate, and remoteness of the Atacama, it also contains some of the darkest night skies in the world. As a result the European Southern Observatory has two astronomical bases in the Atacama, the Paranal Observatory and the La Silla Observatory.
The Moon Valley’s Sand Dunes
Hiking trails abound although you’ll want to go with an experienced guide to have the best and safest experience. One of the best spots for kids to go on a trek? The sand dunes of Moon Valley. At the center of these dunes sits the Great Dune, which, as its name suggests, is among the largest and oldest in the area.
Your kids will love exploring this massive dune which has been weathered by the wind over the centuries. Around this dune, smaller white-rock-spotted dunes sit nestled. Hiking to the top reveals stunning views of the expansive isolation that is the Atacama.
The Lagoons and Salt Marshes of the Atacama
Although most people don’t associate deserts with water, some of the Atacama’s most remarkable features are based around water, from the majestic power of the El Tatio Geysers to the Atacama’s massive salt lake.
While traveling the Atacama salt flats, keep your eyes open for one of the rarest birds in the world, the Andean flamingo. This vibrantly plumed species, along with Chilean and James flamingos, like to hang out in the lagoons and saltwater marshes of the Atacama. And don’t forget to look for diminutive Puna Plovers and noisy Andean gulls, too.
Of course, no trip to the Atacama would be complete without a visit to El Tatio Geysers. Located at 14,173 feet above sea level, the best time to view these white steam columns is between 6 and 7 am. So, set your alarm and get ready for some serious picture taking.
Travel Tips for the Atacama
When it comes to traveling the Atacama with kids, here are a few things to keep in mind. First, you’re going to want to walk and hike around. So, make sure you wear the right walking or hiking shoes. Be prepared for uneven surfaces in the salt caves as well as some serious sand slogging to get to the top of the dunes.
Second, make sure you pack along plenty of water and sunscreen. Although temperatures in the Atacama hover around 71 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 28 degrees Fahrenheit at night, it’s easy to become dehydrated. After all, it is the driest place in the world. Because the Atacama proves such a challenging environment, few plants flourish there. They tend to be cacti and hardy grasses, neither of which put off much shade. So, slather on sunscreen regularly and wear a hat.
Third, temperatures easily drop below freezing at night, so make sure you dress in layers. Opt for versatile pieces such as lightweight scarves, cardigans, and sweaters. The Atacama can also get quite breezy, so come prepared.
Chile Family Adventure in the Atacama
From pink-flamingo-filled salt marshes and lagoons to the powerful El Tatio Geysers and the picturesque dunes of the Moon Valley, the Atacama combines otherworldly sights with endless opportunities for adventure.
Ready to learn more about traveling Chile with kids? Check out our Atacama Family Adventure, an immersive exploration of Chilean culture including a cooking class in Santiago, a graffiti workshop in Valparaíso, and a visit to Atacama’s breathtaking salt flats, active geysers, and star-studded night skies.
At Our Whole Village, we craft transformational trips for curious families who want to create lasting memories while making a difference. We’re here to help you and your family experience the world, its people, and its cultures. Contact us today to learn more about the unforgettable journeys that we handcraft for adventure-seeking families just like yours.