Peter Orsel

The Best Photography Spots of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile

San Pedro de Atacama is besides Patagonia one of the most famous tourist destinations in Chile. The unique landscapes and the dry climate make it a place high on many peoples bucket list. With Valle de la Luna, salt lagoons and a crystal clear sky for stargazing it has something to offer for everyone. 

I travelled to San Pedro de Atacama in December 2022 and I’m here to give you my recommendations! If you want to know how to get to San Pedro de Atacama and how to get around, head over to this blog post. These are the best photography spots of San Pedro de Atacama.

In This Post

Valle de la Luna

You can’t skip Valle de la Luna, the valley of the moon, when you’re in San Pedro de Atacama. It’s located right out of town and the rock formations are simply amazing. To see this valley, you can follow the signs and enter the park (during certain hours, ask the staff of your accommodation first) to see everything yourself.

Another option is to stop at the side of the road and admire one of the amazing viewpoints.

My personal favourite is the one that’s called Mirador Likan-Antay on Google Maps. From here you can walk a bit inside of the valley as well and you’ll surely find a spot for yourself during the sunset!

💵  Entrance fee viewpoint: none.

📍 Google Maps Location: click here.

Rainbow Valley / Valle del Arcoiris

Everyone knows about the Rainbow Mountain in Peru, but did you know Northern Chile has its rainbow valley too? It’s about an hour drive from San Pedro and I highly recommend to go in the afternoon, as most of the tours return at 1pm. On the way you’ll likely see lots and lots of lamas around the streets like we did.

Lamas on a street in Chile
The road can cause some delay when the lamas decide to cross the street

After a bit less than an hour you’ll arrive at a dirt road for the last couple of kilometers. The road is in good condition and you don’t need a 4-wheel-drive to get to the valley itself. Once there, there’s a lady waiting for you where you pay 50 pesos (about €5,50/ $6) to enter. You can drive or walk through the valley yourself and see all the different colours of rock formations.

Make sure you bring a picknick to eat in the shades, as there are no shops or places they sell food. Bring enough water as well!

 💵  Entrance fee:  5.000 Pesos per person

📍 Google Maps Location: click here.

Pierdas Rojas / Red Rocks

When I saw a photo of Pierdas Rojas, I knew I wanted to come to San Pedro de Atacama. But, the photo I saw didn’t include a location. After some Google Maps research and reading some brochures, I figured out that it must have been Pierdas Rojas. 

It’s one of the best locations in San Pedro, but at the same time one of the furthest locations from town. Next to that, it’s at an elevation of 4100m and you’ll surely feel that. The best advice I can give is to save this location for your third/fourth day in San Pedro, so you can get used to the altitude.

🗞️ 2024 update:  I’ve seen recent photos of Pierdas Rojas. The rocks seem to be less red and it’s all a bit off compared to my photos. You’re also not allowed to fly a drone. 

Another important thing to note, is that you need to make a reservation to visit Pierdas Rojas. The area is huge, but they still allow a maximum of 100 people at the same hour to the red rocks. You can get your tickets with a time slot at the website of Socaire Chile. 

On the day of your visit, you have to register one hour before your visit in the town of Socaire. This is a small town, so it’s hard to miss the office. You won’t have mobile coverage here, so make sure you reserve your tickets before you start your drive there. Once you arrive, you check in and you can drive the final kilometers to the park where you get a small briefing before you can enter.

A lot of people combine this trip with the Lagunas Miscanti and Miñiques. I didn’t do this as I knew I would see loads of lagoons on the way to Uyuni. Besides that it’s another 10.000 pesos to spend. If you decide to go, you also have to register in Socaire before you head there. 

You can book the combination of both sites as well and it will save you some pesos, but it’s mandatory to follow their order of visits and you have to visit the lagoons before the red rocks. Once again, bureaucracy in Chile.

 💵  Entrance fee:  10.000 Pesos per person, you have to book your ticket here and arrive one hour before to register in Socaire.

📍 Google Maps Location: click here.

Lagunas Escondidas de Baltinache

If you’ve never been to a salt lagoon before, I highly recommend to try it out. Swimming in a natural pool full of salt is just a magical experience. For more details about this day trip, head over to this blog post:  All you need to know about visiting the Hidden Lagoons of Baltinache in Chile.

Getting to Baltinache is not that easy. It takes a 45km dirt road to get there and it’s bumpy! A lot of people got stuck here with flat tires and you’ll see many of them along the route. If you’re going by yourself and you get stuck in the middle, you have to walk to find help or wait until someone’s ready to help you out. I warned you! 

We went anyway and with a car full of good people from our hostel, we managed to drive there and back without any problems. I would only recommend to go there if you consider yourself a decent driver on off road conditions, as you’re likely to lose control of your car every once in a while.

Because it’s so far away, you’re likely to have the place for yourself. When we arrived, a tour group just left and about two other groups of independent people were around who were brave enough to take the ride. 

There are 7 lagoons and you can swim in two of them. The most beautiful one is the one in front, but the quietest one is in the back. The first one has a picknick zone as well and from my own experience I can say that an empanada never tasted as good as after a swim in the salt flats!

 💵  Entrance fee: 10.000 Pesos per person.

📍 Google Maps Location: click here.

If you’re not so keen to drive this dirt road, you could consider visiting Cejar Lagoon. This one is way more expensive (30.000 pesos for a swim, that’s $35…) and easier to get to. It’s also more crowded and they say the water is less blue than the Baltinache Lagoons. It is still impressive and if you’re not keen to drive the dirt road, you could go for this option.

Magic Bus

The Magic Bus is an abandoned bus, located on the other side of Valle de la Luna. Most of the road is the same way as to the Baltinache lagoons, but after about 8km on the dirt road, you turn to the left for the last 7km to the bus. 

I visited the Magic Bus during sunset and I wasn’t the only one with this plan. I arrived at the same time as about three touring cars and a couple of tourist cars and you can imagine that they all came for the same. I must say that the surroundings are super cool too, so you don’t have to fix your eyes just on the bus, but in the end it’s what most of the people come for. 

If you want to have the spot for yourself, you should head there for sunrise. It’s one of the only places where you don’t pay an entrance fee and at this time of the day you’ll surely have it for yourself.

Getting there

It’s quite hard to get here as you need to take the dirt road and the navigation isn’t clear. The road condition is bad, so if you don’t count yourself a good driver it might be better to skip it. 

If you decide to go, download the app Maps.Me, download the offline map and navigate using this app. Google Maps will give you the wrong directions and you’ll end up at a dead end. Been there, done that. Just download Maps.Me and you’ll be fine!

 💵  Entrance fee: None

📍 Google Maps Location: Doesn’t work. Use Maps.Me and search for Magic Bus.

Stargazing

I think you should really see the stars around San Pedro de Atacama, but I’m not so sure if you need a tour for that. I did the tour and it felt like a tourist trap. You’ll be transported to an abandoned area where they set up a picknick table with some local snacks. You get to see the stars through two telescopes and they take a picture for you. Besides that, they tell you a lot of stories about the way Inca’s looked at the stars. 

For me, the only interesting part was to see the stars through a telescope. I hadn’t done that before, but I’m not sure if that was worth about 25.000 pesos. If I would go again, I would surely go and see the stars, but then independently as there are more than enough places without light pollution where you’re able to see one of the best night skies you’ll ever see.

If you have any questions regarding this article, advices of something that’s missing or whatever, please let me know by leaving a comment!

5 Responses

  1. I would love to know, what sort of time were you at Pierdas Rojas to get good lighting. It’s one of my number one photography spots to travel to.

    1. Hi Hannah, thanks for your reply. This was one of my priorities too! I would say, go for the earliest time slot. That would be entry at 9, while check in at Socaire can be done from 8am onwards. It’s a protected area, which (I think) makes it impossible to go during sunrise or sunset. The tour groups usually arrive around 10 onwards, so to beat the crowds I’d say 9am!

    2. Hey Hannah, just wanted to let you know I was at Piedras Rojas 2 days ago and it doesn’t look as captivating as it does when Peter was there sadly! The rocks have turned white now due to the salt and the salt flats have dried up a lot, so the water doesn’t get as close to the rocks anymore. It’s too bad we can’t fly the drone anywhere that Peter captured anymore! They’re banned at every place you would have to pay an entrance fee for. These places can still be beautiful to capture from the ground of course! But note that some of the salt pools are closed for swimming now too. It’s important to get in touch with a local before making the drive to Cejar or Baltinache!

  2. Peter, great info man! Question please, i am going to Atacama and Patagonia (trekking). How did you think about photo gear for your trip? Lenses, tripod, etc… any insights greatly appreciated!!!!

    1. Hi Jay, thanks for your comment! For Atacama, you can bring any gear as there’s not a lot of hiking involved. You will mainly put your stuff in your car or bring it on day trips on a tour. There’s more hiking and trekking involved in Patagonia of course. Even though I haven’t been, I think I would go for my 16-35 2.8 GM and 70-200 F4. I usually don’t take too many photos in the range between 35 and 70mm. As a tripod, I would look for a lightweight alternative (maybe a tiny one!) as you don’t want to hike with your tripod on your back for a couple of days.

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