- Do some stargazing in the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama, located in Chile's northern Altiplano
- Visit the electric blue lagoons of the Atacama Desert
- Embark on an unforgettable four-day journey in a 4x4 across salt flats and stay in a "salt hotel"
|Day 1||Arrival in Santiago de Chile||Santiago|
|Day 2||Santiago - San Pedro de Atacama - Stargazing Tour||San Pedro de Atacama|
|Day 3||Excursion to the Cejar Lagoon, Ojos del Salar, and Tebenquiche||San Pedro de Atacama|
|Day 4||Tatio Geysers Tour & Machuca Village||San Pedro de Atacama|
|Day 5||Uyuni Desert Excursion - Day 1||Laguna Colorada|
|Day 6||Uyuni Desert Excursion - Day 2||Chuvica|
|Day 7||Uyuni Desert Excursion - Day 3||Villa Mar|
|Day 8||Uyuni Desert Excursion - Day 4 & Departure|
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, 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 - San Pedro de Atacama - Stargazing Tour
This morning, transfer from your hotel in Santiago 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, whose flaming red mountains form 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 (about 2,308 meters/7,900 feet). 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: Excursion to the Cejar Lagoon, Ojos del Salar, and Tebenquiche
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 4: Tatio Geysers Tour & Machuca Village
Get an early start and 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. However, before dawn breaks make sure to keep an eye on the night sky—the elevation of this plateau means the stars you see here are more vivid than almost anywhere else in the world. 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).
A fun fact about the Tatio Geysers is that, at an altitude of 4,320 meters (14,173 feet), they are the highest geysers 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 de Atacama for lunch and can spend the remainder of the day relaxing in town.
Day 5: Uyuni Desert Excursion - Day 1
Today you'll embark on one of the most exciting and popular activities in this region of the world: a four-day excursion in a 4x4 from San Pedro de Atacama across the desert to Uyuni, in southern Bolivia, and back again.
A minibus will pick you up from your hotel at 7:30 am and transfer you to the Chilean/Bolivian customs offices at the border. You'll then hop in a Toyota Land Cruiser 4x4 (minimum four passengers/maximum six) with a local driver (note that drivers/guides are limited to Spanish; you can request an English-speaking guide at an additional cost) and hit the road. This multi-day excursion includes all meals and vegetarian/vegan/celiac options are available (inform us in advance of dietary preferences/restrictions).
After breakfast, you'll visit the two Altiplano lagoons, Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon) and Laguna Blanco (White Lagoon), whose waters shine as brightly as their names would suggest. Then it's off to the Salvador Dalí Desert, so named because the vivid landscapes here evoke the famed works of that surrealist master. Next are the hot springs at Laguna Chalviry, located at 4,500 meters (14,763 feet) in altitude. This will be a relatively short stop—just 20 minutes—before heading to the Sol de Mañana Geyser, another geothermal area whose steaming vents and boiling mud pools resemble an alien landscape.
You'll arrive at lunchtime at the guesthouse Huallajara, where you'll overnight. You'll have a bit of time to relax after eating before heading to Laguna Colorada an Altiplano salinated lake that's home to upwards of 35,000 flamingos during nesting season (December-February). You'll then return to the guesthouse in the evening. The accommodations here are rustic, with six-bed dormitories, and no heating or showers. If you don´t have a sleeping bag the company will provide one. The beds here have sheets, pillows, and three blankets per bed.
Day 6: Uyuni Desert Excursion - Day 2
You will depart after breakfast for the second day of your excursion. The first destination on the itinerary is the Siloli Desert, where you'll observe unique rock formations such as the "stone tree." Then you'll visit four different lagoons: Honda, Hedionda, Cañapa, and Chiarcota. You'll have the opportunity do some short hiking and observe the unique flora and fauna. You're almost certainly guaranteed to see more flamingos here.
You'll stop for lunch before continuing on to the Salar de Chiguana, a small salt flat. Eventually, you'll arrive at the guesthouse where you'll overnight, which is in the village of Puerto Chuvica, located on the edge of the much larger Uyuni salt flat. This might be the most unique accommodation in which you'll ever stay, as the guesthouse is constructed almost entirely of salt. There are three-to-four beds per room as well as shared bathrooms, and there is hot water here. You'll enjoy dinner at the hostel.
Note that if you visit during the rainy season (December-March) the Altiplano will be flooded and thus impassable by vehicle. If this is the case, your route will change to include a stay in the town of Uyuni as opposed to the salt guesthouse. This day's route will also extend to include visits to Turquiri Lagoon, Black Lagoon, the Bofedal Alota wetlands, and visits to the small villages Villa Mar and San Cristóbal.
Day 7: Uyuni Desert Excursion - Day 3
If all passengers agree, this morning you will head out before dawn to see the sunrise over the Salar de Uyuni. There's nothing quite like seeing the first rays illuminate these expansive salt flats and gild the geometric shapes in the ground with light. You'll also visit an island in the middle of the Salar—Fishes Island—and have the option to spend an hour hiking around it.
After breakfast, you'll visit a repurposed old salt hotel called Playa Blanca, which is now a museum. Lunch will be served later, just before a visit to lagoons located in the salt flats as well as some salt mines. Because you will spend about five hours on the Salar, we recommend bringing ample protection against the sun. This includes sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and long sleeves. After leaving the Salar you'll visit the Cementerio de Trenes (train cemetery), which features the rusting hulks of long-idle locomotives.
The day's excursion finishes in our office in Uyuni in the mid-afternoon, and you can spend a few hours relaxing and exploring the town. A representative from our office will inform you of the next day's departure time for the return trip to San Pedro de Atacama. You will then visit a valley and village near Uyuni and overnight in a small village called Villa Mar. There are hot showers in these accommodations.
Day 8: Uyuni Desert Excursion - Day 4 & Departure
Today is another early start (likely 4:30 am) as you'll have a four-hour drive back to the Chile/Bolivia border, at which point breakfast will be served. You'll then change to a minibus for the final leg of the trip, arriving in San Pedro de Atacama around noon.
Upon arrive in San Pedro you will transfer back to the Calama airport for your flight to Santiago where you will catch your connecting flight home.