Atacama, or San Pedro de Atacama, is known for its majestic desert located in the north of Chile close to Antofagasta.
People from all over the world eagerly come to this region to hike, snap unique photos, and experience a true wonder of nature. It's fairly easy to reach from both Chile's capital of Santiago and its neighbors—Argentina and Bolivia, especially if planned in advance. Renting a car is a popular choice for transportation from any starting location since it's common to stay for a couple of days to explore the whole Atacama area.
For a more extensive tour of Atacama, consider this 4-day itinerary that takes you to the Salt Flats and the Valley of the Moon. If you'd like to spend more than a week hiking in the Atacama Desert, stargazing, and getting off the beaten path, consider this 10-day itinerary.
From Santiago de Chile
Duration: 3.5-18 hours
A direct flight will take you from Santiago International Airport (SCL) to the Airport El Loa Calama (CJC) in two hours. From there, you can continue the journey by private transfer, rental car, or bus. If you choose to rent a car, then it's best to book it in advance during the high season.
From the airport, you can take Route 23 to the Atacama Desert and arrive in San Pedro de Atacama in an hour. Buses are usually available daily and will depart from the airport.
More in-depth info on traveling from Santiago to Atacama can be found here. To make the most of your time in the region, consider this 9-day itinerary that takes you through some of the must-see places in the Atacama Desert.
From Buenos Aires
Duration: 8-24 hours, more depending on layovers or overnight stays
Reaching San Pedro de Atacama from Buenos Aires in Argentina is best done via a flight.
The best option will be a flight from the Ezeiza International Airport (EZE) in Buenos Aires to Airport El Loa Calama, and you will have a layover in Santiago. Your total flight time will be about seven hours. From the airport, you can book a private transfer or rent a car to reach San Pedro de Atacama, which will take an additional hour.
You can rent a car in Buenos Aires and make the 23-hour journey, but this is only recommended for those who would like to plan a multi-day road trip. It can be tricky to drop off the car in another country, so make sure you tell the rental agency that you will not be returning to Argentina, and make sure you have all of the correct documents for the border crossing. Check out this 14-day itinerary for some places to stop along your way.
There are bus routes available from Buenos Aires to San Pedro de Atacama, but it can be difficult to find the right ticket on your own, so consider asking a local specialist for help.
From La Paz
Duration: 8-25 hours, more depending on layovers or overnight stays
From La Paz in Bolivia to Atacama, it's a seven-hour flight via Calama. You can take a flight from El Alto International Airport (LPB) to Airport El Loa Calama, with a layover in Santiago. From the airport, you'll need to take a private transfer, rental car, or bus to make the final hourlong journey to San Pedro de Atacama.
If you'd like to take a multi-day road trip to Atacama, you can rent a car in La Paz and make the 14-hour drive, but you'll need to tell the rental company that you'll be crossing the border into Chile and acquire the appropriate documents for the border crossing.
You might also incur higher fees if you will not be returning your rental car in La Paz, so take that under advisement when making your decision. A popular destination near your route will be Iquique, and this is a recommended city to book an overnight stay in.
It's also possible to take a 25-hour bus ride from La Paz to San Pedro de Atacamas. The buses will have amenities like air conditioning, bathrooms, meals, and entertainment, and they will make a few stops and transfers along the way. Consider asking a local specialist for help in booking your bus as some companies are better than others.