Atacama Tour: Desert Highlights

Length: 4 Days/3 Nights from Santiago
Season: Year-round

The starkly desolate but unique Atacama Desert in northern Chile is the driest desert on the planet. Deeply incised canyons, high steppe and towering Andean mountains create an ideal destination for photographers, nature lovers, wildlife enthusiasts and active travelers. With well-preserved pre-Columbian and colonial ruins, Atacama is also an archaeological and cultural haven. Fascinating geography includes salt lakes, geysers, hot springs, volcanic peaks and quaint villages. Atacama is the perfect natural setting for hiking, biking, horseback riding, off-roading, stargazing or simply relaxing.

Day-by-Day Itinerary:
Morning transfer to the airport and fly 2 hours to Calama (7,380′). We are met at the airport and drive to San Pedro de Atacama for 1.5 hours. Located at an elevation of nearly 8,000′, this was the main center of the Atacama culture and is renowned for the nearby archaeological excavations. We check in to the superior and comfortable Hotel Cumbres San Pedro. After enjoying a typical lunch, we drive to the Valley of Death, where we see how this barren but fascinating landscape earned its name. Afterwards we set out to explore the Valley of the Moon, an area of polychromatic desert landscapes and box canyons formed by the erosion of salt mountains. We observe strange sculpted rock formations with the Licancabur Volcano (19,410’) in the background as we witness the sunset in this almost lunar landscape. Returning to San Pedro for the night, dinner is on your own to try the fine cuisine of the hotel’s Kunza restaurant. (L)

In the morning we drive 13 miles towards the confluence of two rivers – the Puritama, carrying warm mineral water, and the Purifica, a clear cold stream. We hike and explore the scenic Guatin Canyon following the Vilama creek for 2.5 hours. This unique ecosystem supports the Cardon cactus, which can reach 26 feet in height and live up to 500 years. For many this is a favorite excursion. This afternoon we drive to Toconao, whose houses and church are built of bricks of white volcanic stone, giving the town a very unique appearance and special atmosphere. We continue driving to the Atacama saltbeds, rich in minerals including borax and lithium. Back-dropped by impressive volcanoes, we stop at the Chaxa Lagoon to watch for 3 species of flamingos, taguas and other local bird species in places where brackish water emerges. We enjoy the majestic sunset views before returning to San Pedro and the Hotel Cumbres for the night. Dinner is on your own. (B,L)

We begin before dawn with a scenic drive to the El Tatio Geysers (the highest geyser field on earth at 14,175′). The visual impact of 40 geysers, thermal wells and steaming fumaroles at sunrise, in the azure clarity of this high altitude desert, is unforgettable. Breakfast is served picnic-style. After time to enjoy and photograph this beautiful area, we return to San Pedro, stopping to view the Andean wildlife of the region such as ducks, geese, vicuñas, foxes and vizcachas. We also visit one of the rural villages in the area. The local residents are primarily shepherds employed in agriculture and commerce. We return to San Pedro this afternoon for lunch at one of the best restaurants in town. Afterwards drive back to the Cumbres Hotel. This afternoon you may try the hotel’s spa or enjoy some time at leisure by the heated outdoor pools or Jacuzzis. After dark, join an optional stargazing tour provided by the hotel on their grounds. Available from Wednesday to Saturday at 9pm. Dinner is on your own this evening. (B,L)

This morning we visit the San Pedro church, declared a national monument, and the Gustavo Le Paige Museum, which offers a complete overview of the area’s cultural and historical evolution. A short drive brings us to a promontory overlooking the San Pedro River to explore Pukara de Quitor, a 12th century Indian fortification. Nearby, we also visit the remains of Catarpe ruins, described as a former Inca administrative center. After lunch on your own, we transfer to the airport in Calama and fly back to Santiago. Participants leaving Chile this evening connect on their own at the Santiago airport for the overnight flight home. (B)

2017/2018 LAND COST:
$2,315 p.p.d. (2-3 participants)
$2,165 p.p.d. (4-6 participants)
$ 510 Single Supplement

p.p.d.= per person based on double or triple occupancy

-Awasi Atacama. A Relais & Chateux luxury lodge, specializing in a tailor-made private experience for each guest. Situated in town inside an ancient site with a preserved historic wall that once housed shepherds.
-Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa. A relaxing retreat two miles outside of town in the Catarpe Valley, and set against the nearby hills, ideal for stargazing the unforgettable Atacama night sky.
-Explora Atacama (minimum stay 3 nights). The largest lodge in the area with a chic contemporary ambiance, featuring four solar heated outdoor pools and an astronomical observatory. Makes a comfortable base for exploring the surrounding region.

ESTIMATED AIRFARE: The round-trip airfare Santiago (SCL)-Calama (CJC)-Santiago is approx $350-$550. Lower fares may apply when flying LAN internationally.

Inclusions/exclusions and how to sign up