The spectacular landscape around San Pedro includes vast, desolate plains cradling numerous volcanoes of the most delicate colours imaginable, and beautiful lakes speckled pink with flamingoes. You’ll also find the largest salt flat in Chile, the Salar de Atacama, a whole field full of fuming geysers at El Tatio, a scattering of fertile oasis villages, and several fascinating pre-Columbian ruins.
The otherworldliness of this region is reflected in the poetic names of its geographical features – Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), Llano de la Paciencia (Plain of Patience), Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) and Valle de la Muerte (Valley of the Dead), to mention but a few. You might prefer to explore these marvels by yourself (there’s no public transport, so you’d have to rent a 4WD), but several companies in San Pedro trip over themselves to take you on guided tours, often a more convenient option (see Casa Incaica). There is a fee to pay at each of the park entrances, ranging from CH$2000 to CH$11,000. With the exception of the Puritama thermal baths that are controversially owned by the luxury Hotel Explora, the entrance fees go straight back to the local community and help maintain the parks.