We went to the driest place on earth – the Atacama desert in Chile – with our 5 month old and 2.5 year old. Although we only scratched the surface of this incredible desert, we saw some incredible things. We this helps anyone else trying to visit Atacama with kids.
I read pretty much the entirety of the internet about prepping for the Atacama desert and what to watch out for, given that it’s a pretty remote place. So remote that it even makes for one of the best places in the world to see the Milky Way (due to little to no light pollution at all!). I read stories of people getting stuck in the sand, getting flat tires due to bad road conditions, and car batteries dying from the sheer altitude (some sites are at 4500+ meters!) – with no way of getting help for several hours or days.
Every forum and blog post recommends taking tours out to all sites due to these conditions and I was having a hard time finding information on whether it’s even possible to self-drive a rental. But given that we only JUST potty trained our Toddler, I couldn’t imagine asking a tour shuttle to pull over on the side of the road multiple times for us, so go with a rental we did.
When we were handed a fire extinguisher along with the keys to our car, I can’t say that I didn’t start to question my decision.
Given all the above, we headed straight to the grocery store to make sure we have a week’s worth supply of food and water on us JUST IN CASE.
The drive to our Airbnb in San Pedro de Atacama was quite smooth, but there was about 1 flat tire on the side of the road for every 10 meters of driving, followed by a memorial which really set a bit of an ominous tone to this little adventure.
San Pedro de Atacama is so small that street names are made up and the roads don’t matter. Our Airbnb instructions more or less read:
“Once you get to San Pedro you will see a stop sign. Count three trees from that and then take a left. Keep going until you see the cows.”
I may have paraphrased that last bit, but the good news is that those instructions were spot on enough for us to navigate to what would be our home in the desert for the next few nights.
Many people warned us that “you will definitely want a nice place to stay in the desert” because conditions can be rough. But after taking one look at the hotel prices of 500$+/night, we decided to throw caution to the wind and risk it with an Airbnb. Best decision yet.
Our Airbnb was a quaint 2 bedroom hut equipped with a full kitchen, hot water and fire pit.
Most importantly, it was just outside of San Pedro, which meant the night sky was gloriously unpolluted and we had a view of the Licancabur volcano from our doorstep.
On our first day we explored the the sandy streets of San Pedro. Our toddler lead most of the way.
Atacama with kids didn’t seem so scary after getting here and exploring some of the streets. Sure it was super dusty, super hot and looked very different from the rest of Chile, but that’s what we were here for!
After getting our first glimpse, we took a deep breath and ventured out to explore the surrounding landscape.
Things I wish I knew before visiting Atacama with Kids
- Not all sites are child friendly. Make sure to research the specific site, the elevation, and how far the closest civilization is in case of emergency.
- That being said, there are some sites that tour groups won’t take children to because they’re unsafe, even though they’re perfectly fine. Mars Valley for example, was one of those sites. Tour companies said the sand dune is dangerous for kids… but I’m not sure why. It’s only a 10 minute drive from San Pedro, the sand dune is endless fun for kids and there’s practically no hiking involved to get to the dune.
- Assume there is little to no reception anywhere, including most of San Pedro.
- There’s exactly one store in San Pedro that sells electronic (yes, singular, electronic. Like they sell one single charger, and it’s probably sold out), so make sure you find everything you need in Calama before heading over here.
- There’s also not a whole lot of grocery stores, so also grab enough food in Calama.
Next Up: The Moon and Mars in Atacama Desert