- Cycle off the beaten track in the Atacama Desert
- Visit the red, blue, and violet-colored hills of Rainbow Valley
- Take a dip in the salty waters of the bright turquoise lagoons
- Bike downhill on dirt roads against a backdrop of volcanoes and salt flats
|Day 1||Arrival in Santiago de Chile|
|Day 2||Transfer to San Pedro de Atacama - Stargazing Tour||San Pedro de Atacama|
|Day 3||Atacama Salt Flat, Lagoons, Socaire & Toconao||San Pedro de Atacama|
|Day 4||Tatio Geysers & Downhill Biking to Caspana||San Pedro de Atacama|
|Day 5||Toco Hill Downhill to San Pedro, Catarpe Valley, Cornizas, & Death Valley||San Pedro de Atacama|
|Day 6||Rainbow Valley & Cejar Lagoon||San Pedro de Atacama|
Day 1: Arrival in Santiago de Chile
Welcome to Chile! Upon arrival at Santiago International Airport, a driver will meet you and transfer you to your hotel. You'll have the rest of the day to explore the city at your leisure.
Suggested activities include:
Hike to the top of Cerro San Cristobal, where you can get your bearings by surveying the area from a high vantage point. Pathways lead 2,788 feet (850 m) up this central hill to a series of lookouts that offer wraparound views of Santiago. If you aren't the hiking type, not to worry: catch a scenic gondola instead.
Stroll the cobblestone streets of Barrio Bellavista. On the north side of Santiago, you'll find this trendy enclave, at once fashionable and bohemian with colorful houses adorned with graffiti art, and an eclectic array of eateries and bars—great for people watching.
Visit the Plaza de Armas, a stone plaza located in Santiago's historic center dating to 1541. There's also the impressive Catedral Metropolitana, a neoclassical church dating to 1748 whose towering twin bell towers dominate the north side of the plaza.
- Snap pics in front of the Palacio de la Moneda. Chile's opulent Presidential Palace (known simply as "La Moneda") is a short stroll from the Plaza de Armas. It was here in 1973 that Chile's armed forces, backed by the U.S. government, overthrew President Salvador Allende, kicking off a brutal right-wing military dictatorship that would last for 17 years. Visitors are welcome.
For dinner be sure to get out of the hotel and enjoy a culinary adventure in the city. In recent years Santiago has emerged as a global foodie destination. Chilean chefs are reinventing traditional dishes like empanadas, cazuelas (stews), and seafood with ingredients harvested all the way from the northern deserts and southern Patagonian regions. You can find great restaurants and wine bars not only in the Bellavista neighborhood but also in the revitalized historic barrios of Yungay and Italia.
Day 2: Transfer to San Pedro de Atacama - Stargazing Tour
This morning, transfer from your hotel to the airport for your flight to the city of Calama, located in the far north of the country. Upon arrival, another driver will meet you for the hour-and-20-minute drive to the desert outpost of San Pedro de Atacama. This is the embarkation point for all excursions and adventures into the Atacama Desert.
During the journey between these two places, you will see some of the most evocative and ancient landscapes anywhere in the world. This high-altitude desert abounds with seemingly endless salt flats, painted hills that change color depending on the light, towering Andean peaks, and the volcanic Domeyko Cordillera, where flaming red mountains create the base of the Valley of the Moon.
Upon arrival at San Pedro, you will check into your hotel and relax for the remainder of the afternoon until it's time for your first excursion. At the scheduled time, a driver will meet you and you'll transfer 15 minutes outside of town into the desert. This is where you'll enjoy the evening's stargazing outing.
First, you will sit for a 20-minute presentation where you'll learn some basic astronomy concepts. You'll then head outside to the open Altiplano and learn how to identify various constellations. This desert plateau is an ideal spot for stargazing due to its high altitude of 7,900 feet (2,308 m). Even seen from the naked eye, the stars here are more vivid than anything you've likely experienced before. Finally, the outing culminates by viewing the sky through high-powered telescopes and binoculars. You'll be able to spot a wide array of celestial objects, including planets, binary stars, spherical clusters, and others. Even better, you'll do your stargazing accompanied by a glass of good Chilean wine.
At the end of this astronomical outing, you'll return to San Pedro de Atacama.
Day 3: Salt Flats & Lagoons
After breakfast, grab your gear and head to National Flamingo Reserve and the Atacama Salt Flat. The giant depression known as the Salar is the largest salt field in Chile and its altitude means it's an excellent place for panoramic views and photo ops. The bottom of the salt field is an enormous lake fed by mountain rivers and melting snow, and surrounded by lagoons full of flamingos.
From here, make your way to Socaire Village, 10,826 feet above sea level, to photograph the small church of San Bartolomé. Then drive to the intensely blue lagoons of Miscanti and Meñiques for a short hike before biking downhill on a dirt road with amazing views of the Atacama Salt Flat and the local volcanoes. Once you hit the asphalt, keep cycling until you reach Socaire, where a local lunch and a much-needed rest await. Later in the afternoon, one more cycle ride will take you alongside the Atacama all the way to Toconao.
Cycling distance: 37 miles
Day 4: Tatio Geysers & The Vicuña Path Downhill to Caspana
Rise before the sun on day three for an early-morning drive to the Tatio Geysers for a stroll through thermo-geologic fields and a dip in the natural pools of the White Geyser. Then continue on to the Vicuña Path, 15,420 feet above sea level, for a downhill ride on the Chita slope to the pretty town of Caspana. Finally, drive back to San Pedro for lunch and a free afternoon of relaxation, museum exploration, or a much-deserved nap.
Cycling distance: 24.5 miles
Day 5: Toco Hill Downhill to San Pedro, Catarpe Valley, Cornizas, & Death Valley
Start your fourth day in Chile with a drive to Cerro Toco, 17,060 feet above sea level, for another amazing downhill ride to San Pedro. New vistas of the Atacama Salt Flat and Licancabur Volcano will be your constant companion today, so don't forget that camera. On the way down, keep an eye out for llamas and alpacas.
After lunch in town, head out on another ride — this time from San Pedro to the lush, green Catarpe Valley. Pedal uphill to an old tunnel at Cornizas for a sweeping view of the valley and the San Pedro River. Then continue along Cornizas Trail to Death Valley, famous for its enormous mineral sculptures formed by wind and rain.
Cycling distance: 41 miles
Day 6: Rainbow Valley & Cejar Lagoon
Grab a quick breakfast and take to the road again, making your way to the archeological site of the Yerbas Buenas Petroglyphs. From there, cycle toward Rainbow Valley—one of the most beautiful and least-known places in Atacama. Bike across uniquely colored hills, turned shades of violet, red, gray, and blue by minerals.
Circle back to San Pedro for lunch and then head out on one last ride to the Cejar Lagoon. Don't forget your bathing suit—the bright turquoise lagoon is a unique place for a swim, with so much condensed salt that it's easy to float. After the lagoon, make your way to Ojos del Salar, where two small lagoons, another stunning sunset scene, and a farewell cocktail await.
Cycling distance: 41 miles
Day 7: Departure
Spend your morning exploring the area around Ojas del Salar if there's time. You can also head to town, grab a few last souvenirs, and pack your bags before transferring to the airport and heading home!