Spend your trip exploring San Pedro de Atacama, a laid-back oasis town on the edge of the driest desert on the earth. Revel in the stark beauty of the desert landscape, marvel at the dramatic scenery, and enjoy some of the world's best stargazing while enjoying the cozy hospitality and art in town.

Highlights

  • Enjoy the hospitality of San Pedro de Atacama, a small oasis town
  • Enjoy incredible stargazing opportunities in the highest-elevation desert in the world
  • Marvel at the stunning colors of the arid desert landscape
  • Explore the Tatio geysers and swim in the mineral-rich waters
  • Get a chance to view endemic Andean wildlife and plants

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Santiago de Chile Santiago
Day 2 Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama & Moon Valley Tour San Pedro de Atacama
Day 3 Tatio Geysers & Machuca Village San Pedro de Atacama
Day 4 Excursion to the Cejar Lagoon, Ojos del Salar & Tebenquiche San Pedro de Atacama
Day 5 San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago & Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Santiago de Chile

Santiago is an eclectic, artistic, and historic city
Santiago is an eclectic, artistic, and historic city

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, the most magnificent viewpoint in Santiago. When visiting any new city it's a good idea to get your bearings by surveying the area from a high vantage point. Pathways lead 850 meters (2,788 feet) up this central hill to a series of lookouts that offer wraparound views of Santiago. Enjoy the reconnoitering, and if you aren't the hiking type not to worry: you can catch a scenic gondola to the top.

  • Stroll the cobblestone streets of Barrio Bellavista. On the north side of Santiago, you'll find this trendy enclave, at once fashionable and bohemian. Brightly painted old houses adorned with graffiti art sit alongside modern shopping complexes featuring an eclectic array of eateries and bars. It's a great place to come for dinner out, a glass or two of Chilean red, and people watching from a patio table. 

  • Visit the Plaza de Armas, located in Santiago's historic center. There's a lot of history within the four corners of this expansive stone plaza, as it was founded all the way back in 1541. Also here is the impressive Catedral Metropolitana, a neoclassical church dating to 1748 and 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 just a short stroll from the Plaza de Armas, and like the plaza, it's filled with history. 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. Today the country is under democratic rule, and visitors are welcome to visit the palace. 

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: Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama & Moon Valley Tour

Church of San Pedro de Atacama
Church of San Pedro de Atacama

This morning, transfer from your hotel in Santiago to the airport for your flight to Calama. Upon arrival in Calama, transfer to San Pedro de Atacama for check-in.

Welcome to San Pedro de Atacama! Located in the Antofagasta region of the high Chile arid plateau, San Pedro de Atacama is a small town at the edge of the driest desert of the world. Little adobe houses and cozy restaurants are a comfortable base to explore one of Chile’s most spectacular and dramatic landscapes. 

After you've had a chance to settle in, go from San Pedro de Atacama and drive to the Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna). Here, you’ll take a walk through a magnificent landscape made of sand dunes and sculpted calcareous mountains. Enjoy the sunset in the Moon Valley with an evening drink before returning to San Pedro. de Atacama. 

Day 3: Tatio Geysers & Machuca Village

Sunrise over the Tatio Geysers
Sunrise over the Tatio Geysers

Today's an early start as you'll depart the hotel at 4:30 am for the 1.5-hour trip to the Tatio Geysers. Getting a jump on the day will pay dividends, though, as seeing the sun rise over the Atacama Desert is a singular experience. Also, sunrise is the best time to visit Tatio. The contrast between the cold outside temperatures and the boiling water of the geothermal field beneath the earth's surface causes the pillars of steam here to rise as high as 10 meters (30 feet). 

At an altitude of 4,320 meters (14,173 feet), the Tatio Geysers are the highest in the world. So take your time and admire these otherworldly landscapes, snap plenty of photos, and at the appropriate hour breakfast will be served on site. Another option is to take a relaxing soak in a natural geothermal pool—mother nature's jacuzzi.

On the return drive to San Pedro, you'll stop at Machuca, a small, humble village on the Altiplano whose residents have bred llamas and harvested Yareta (moss-like evergreen plants that can survive for thousands of years) for generations. It's a small but welcoming town, comprised of only about 20 homes and a simple chapel. That said, some locals sell crafts, and you can admire the llamas in the area as well as the flamingos that reside in nearby marshlands.

You'll then return to San Pedro for lunch and can spend the remainder of the day relaxing in town.

Day 4: Excursion to the Cejar Lagoon, Ojos del Salar & Tebenquiche

Cejar Lagoon
Cejar Lagoon

After breakfast, a driver will meet you at the hotel and you'll transfer a little over an hour to the Salar de Atacama, the famous salt flats of San Pedro de Atacama. Here you'll find the Cejar Lagoon, notable for its electric turquoise water and shoreline turned bright white by crystallized salt. If you're lucky, you might spot some local avian wildlife, such as flamingos and coots. Believe it or not, this desert lagoon is perfect for an afternoon bath. That's because the salination content of the water adds buoyancy, which means, like in the Dead Sea, you'll easily float on the surface. 

After a swim in the Cejar Lagoon, you'll head south to visit the Ojos del Salar, two desert lagoons where you can take another dip. These are unique pools in their own right, as their geological formation resembles a crater complete with a high outer rim that makes a perfect diving spot. The ambiance here is great, too, as surrounding you are the Domeyko and Andes mountain ranges and myriad volcanoes.

Finally, we will travel to the Tebenquiche Lagoon, another lake where you might see more flamingos and even foxes. It's the perfect spot to watch the sunset as the glassy waters of the lagoon create a mirror effect. When the sun goes down, the surrounding painted hills flash bright red and the image of mountain peaks is reflected in the water. At the end of the tour, you'll return to your hotel in San Pedro de Atacama.

Day 5: San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago & Departure

Moon Valley at sunset
Moon Valley at sunset

This morning, you'll have free time to relax and explore San Pedro de Atacama on your own. In the afternoon, transfer to the Calama airport for your flight back to Santiago. Upon arrival in Santiago, transfer to the international terminal for your flight back home. ¡Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Explore the Atacama Desert - 5 Days
Map of Explore the Atacama Desert - 5 Days
Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019