Discover Chile's famous Atacama Desert and Lake District on this 11-day adventure. Tour the historic capital Santiago before delving into the Atacama's otherworldly landscapes, exploring its lunar-like salt flats, flamingo-filled lagoons, and spurting geysers. You'll stargaze and ride desert buggies, soak in geothermal pools, and end with a trip to Chile's lush Lake District for bird spotting on Chiloé Island.


  • Tour Santiago's markets and historic sites
  • Ride e-bikes and buggies in the Salt Mountain Range Reserve
  • Explore the Atacama's salt flats and Valley of the Moon
  • Stargaze and swim in magical desert lagoons
  • Visit bird sanctuaries on Chiloé Island in the Lake District

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Santiago & City Tour Santiago
Day 2 Fly to San Pedro de Atacama & Stargazing Tour San Pedro de Atacama
Day 3 Visit the Baltinache Lagoons & Valley of the Moon San Pedro de Atacama
Day 4 Explore the Atacama Salt Flats & Lagoons San Pedro de Atacama
Day 5 Tatio Geysers, Cejar Lagoon, Ojos del Salar & Tebenquiche San Pedro de Atacama
Day 6 E-Bike to the Salt Mountain Range & Desert Buggy Safari  San Pedro de Atacama
Day 7 Fly to Santiago & Transfer to Puerto Varas Puerto Varas
Day 8 Day Trip to Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park Puerto Varas
Day 9 Chiloé Island & Puñihuil Penguin National Reserve Puerto Varas
Day 10 Trekking in Alerce Andino National Park Puerto Varas
Day 11 Fly to Santiago  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Santiago & City Tour

Explore Santiago's markets and historic sites

Welcome to Chile's vibrant capital, Santiago. Your driver will take you to your hotel, where you'll settle in before heading out to explore. Wander the historic squares and streets, perhaps stopping to visit the National History Museum at the Palacio de la Real Audiencia or La Chascona, the former home of the internationally-acclaimed poet Pablo Neruda. If you're a history buff, head to the stirring Museum of Memory and Human Rights to learn about Pinochet's dictatorship.

This afternoon, get out and experience the pulse of this lively Latin American metropolis with a city tour. Start by wandering the aisles of Santiago's labyrinthine Mercado Central or Mercado La Vega. These markets are the beating heart of the city, overflowing with vendors and locals eager to get their hands on the day's fresh produce. With the help of an English-speaking guide, engage with vendors and shoppers, sampling delicious tidbits along the way. 

Visit the Plaza de Armas, located in Santiago's historic center. Founded in 1541, it's home to the impressive Catedral Metropolitana, a neoclassical church whose twin bell towers dominate the north side of the plaza. Finally, enjoy panoramic vistas from Santa Lucía Hill or San Cristóbal Hill. Take in the urban sprawl and spot landmarks like the Gran Torre Costanera, the tallest building in Latin America. 

Day 2: Fly to San Pedro de Atacama & Stargazing Tour

Stargaze in the Atacama Desert

This morning, take a flight to the city of Calama in the far north of the country. Your driver will be waiting to take you to the remote outpost of San Pedro de Atacama, the launching point for adventures into the Atacama Desert. During the journey, you'll get your first look at some of the world's most evocative and ancient landscapes. This high-altitude desert features endless salt flats, towering Andean peaks, and the volcanic Domeyko Cordillera, where red-hued mountains form the base of El Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). 

Tonight's star-studded excursion begins with a brief astronomy lesson before you head out to the Altiplano, a plateau surrounded by volcanoes that stretches into Bolivia. In places, the Altiplano reaches 12,000 feet (3,660 m) above sea level, making it an ideal place for stargazing accompanied by a glass of quality Chilean wine. 

Learn how to identify constellations with the help of your guide. Even with the naked eye, the stars here are more vivid than anything you're likely to have experienced before. You'll also get a chance to use high-powered telescopes and binoculars to spot an array of celestial objects, including planets, binary stars, and spherical clusters. 

Day 3: Visit the Baltinache Lagoons & Valley of the Moon

Tour the famous Valley of the Moon

Start your day with a visit to Baltinache, where seven aqua lagoons dot the sugar-white terrain of Atacama's Cordillera del Sal (Salt Mountain Range). Tour Baltinache's salt-water lagoons that feature crystalline water in multiple shades of turquoise. You'll even have the option to swim in two of them, buoyed by the water's high salt content. As you float, take in views of the chalk-white and rust-colored plains stretching toward distant peaks.

Continue discovering the geological wonders of the Atacama Desert this afternoon. Make your way through a lunar-like landscape of sand dunes, craters, and red cliffs, stopping to visit the Cordillera del Sal's unique salt caves that glisten with crystals. You'll also see stone formations that scatter the desert, like the Three Marias, which have been carved by salt and wind over millions of years. At the end of the tour, watch the sunset over the Atacama, painting the mountains in shades of red, while the mighty Licancabur Volcano looms overhead.

Day 4: Explore the Atacama Salt Flats & Lagoons

Chaxa Lagoon
Spot flamingos on Chaxa Lagoon

Spend a full day traversing Chile's famous Salar de Atacama (Atacama Salt Flats). Visit the traditional villages of Toconao and Socaire, which are known for their mud-and-volcanic-rock buildings and the 18th-century church in Toconao. Meet the locals and peruse craft markets where you can pick up alpaca-wool clothing and handicrafts. Make a brief stop at the Quebrada de Jérez, a green oasis in the desert, and then explore high-plateau lagoons in the Los Flamencos National Reserve

Set at 7,500 feet (2,300 m) above sea level, Chaxa Lagoon is one of the best places in the world to see flamingos. The algae-rich water is a magnet for three of the world's five flamingo species: James's, Chilean, and Andean. The birds flock here to breed and feed on plankton, shadowed by volcanoes and moon-like salt crusts. Next, head to the Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons for more bird watching. The trip finishes with sweeping salt-flat views from Salar de Talar and Piedras Rojas before you return to San Pedro in mid-afternoon.

Plan your trip to Chile
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 5: Tatio Geysers, Cejar Lagoon, Ojos del Salar & Tebenquiche

Tatio Geysers at sunrise
Visit the steaming Tatio Geysers at sunrise

Wake before first light and drive to the famed Tatio Geysers, watching the sunrise over the Atacama Desert as you go. Set at an altitude of 14,173 feet (4,320 m), the Tatio Geysers are some of the highest in the world and spurt pillars of steam up to 30 feet (10 m) into the air. You'll have plenty of time to admire the area's otherworldly landscapes and savor a scenic breakfast before soaking in a geothermal pool. During the drive back to San Pedro, look out for llamas and flamingos from the nearby marshlands.

This afternoon you'll head to Cejar Lagoon, which is planted in the middle of the salt flats. Take a dip in the clear, topaz water, which has such a high salt content you can float on its surface as you would in the Dead Sea. Next, continue to the Ojos del Salar (Salt Eyes), two crater-like lagoons surrounded by the Domeyko and Andes mountains. Finish at Tebenquiche Lagoon, where you're likely to see flamingos and even foxes. Watch the sunset over the water, the surrounding hills reflected on its surface, and then return to your hotel.

Day 6: E-Bike to the Salt Mountain Range & Desert Buggy Safari 

E-bike tour of the Salt Mountain Range in Atacama
Take an e-bike tour to the Salt Mountain Range Reserve

Start the morning strong with an e-bike ride through the desert. Start at the company's headquarters for a safety briefing and pick up your helmets and gloves before you set off. Cycle through the desert to the Salt Mountain Range Reserve, formed over 23 million years ago. Here, you'll get front-row seats of these mineral-rich peaks, which look like they've had salt shaken over them.

The adventure continues this afternoon with an exciting buggy ride through the various terrains of the Atacama Desert. Dune buggies are the perfect vehicles for traversing the area's steep mountains, riverbed crossings, and hulking dunes. An expert local guide will take you along thrilling trails, sharing facts about the area's history and ecology. Don't forget your camera—there'll be plenty of spectacular photo opportunities along the way.

Day 7: Fly to Santiago & Transfer to Puerto Varas

Stay on the shores of Lake Llanquihue

Leave the wonders of the Atacama Desert today, transferring to Calama for your flight back to Santiago. From here, you'll fly south to the port city of Puerto Montt in Chile's stunning Lake District, where snow-capped volcanoes meet forested islands dotted with shimmering lakes. When you arrive, a driver will take you to your Puerto Varas hotel on the shores of Lake Llanquihue. Named "the city of roses" after the flowers that line its streets, Puerto Varas offers a mix of German colonial architecture and Indigenous Mapuche culture to explore. 

Day 8: Day Trip to Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park

Petrohue waterfalls and Osorno Volcano
Soak up views of Osorno Volcano

Today, explore the wonders of Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park. You'll spot the Osorno Volcano on the shores of Llanquihue as you ascend 4,068 feet (1,240 m) above sea level to the Osorno Mountain Ski Center. Take an hour to soak in views of the Calbuco Volcano and sparkling lake, with the Pacific Ocean as your backdrop. There's time to ride the lift to Estación Primavera or Estación Glaciar for more awe-inspiring photo opportunities. 

Continue to Petrohué to wander through an evergreen forest that offers glimpses of the Osorno Volcano and turquoise Petrohué River. This place is known as the Saltos del Río Petrohué, one of the most beautiful spots in the country, where the river crosses a large mass of crystallized lava that's been around for centuries. Finally, head to Lake Todos Los Santos, where you can sail across the water surrounded by forests, mountains, and volcanoes before transferring back to Puerto Varas for the night.

Day 9: Chiloé Island & Puñihuil Penguin National Reserve

The penguin colony at Puñihuil
Spot penguins at Puñihuil

Today's tour takes you up the Pan American 5 Highway to the port of Pargua. Here, you'll set off on a 30-minute boat ride across the Chacao Channel to Chiloé Island. This striking archipelago showcases dense forests, rolling green hills, and caves steeped in legends. Stop in the town of Ancud to visit its museum and market, then soak up the view from Huaihuen Hill, which features landmarks like Fuerte San Antonio, an early 19th-century Spanish fort that played a significant role in the wars for independence.

Next, head to the Caulín Bird Sanctuary, a haven for over 60 migratory bird species that gather off its pebbly beach, including black-necked swans, flamingos, and herons. The bird theme continues with a trip to a penguin colony in nearby Puñihuil, which is the only place in the world where Magellanic and Humboldt species coexist. In the late afternoon, return to Puerto Varas and have a relaxing evening in town.

Day 10: Trekking in Alerce Andino National Park

Trekking through Alerce Andino National Park

Spend the day trekking in Alerce Andino National Park, which is part of the Temperate Rainforest Biosphere Reserve of the Southern Andes. This slice of wilderness is home to around 50 lagoons and tree species found nowhere else in the world. Located in the Chaicas Mountain Range south of Lake Chapo, the journey to the park showcases views of the Pacific Ocean along the new Paseo Pelluco, passing through the town of Lenca.

A park ranger will provide safety instructions for traversing a 2.5-mile (4 km) trail to the Chaica River waterfalls. The path is mostly flat and winds along the river through one of the world's oldest rainforests, which is home to exotic birds such as woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and endemic chucao tapaculo.

Eventually, you'll reach a set of stairs leading to the Salto del Río Chaica, where you can rest while watching the waterfall crash onto the rocks. Just 330 feet (100 m) further up the trail, you'll encounter the park's towering alerce trees, the tallest in South America that can live for up to 2,500 years. Watch out for wildlife and all kinds of forest flowers and ferns as the path loops back to the beginning.

Day 11: Fly to Santiago

Your tour ends in Santiago

Say goodbye to the Lake District today. Your driver will drop you off at the airport in Puerto Montt for the flight back to Santiago, where you'll continue to your onward connection. Safe travels!

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Map of Explore Chile’s Atacama Desert & Lake District – 11 Days
Map of Explore Chile’s Atacama Desert & Lake District – 11 Days