The north of Chile and Argentina are packed with natural wonders, plus rich colonial and Indigenous history. You'll experience it all on this 10-day itinerary, beginning with tours of Santiago and the coast before jetting north to the geysers, lagoons, and lunar valleys of the Atacama Desert. Then hop the border into Argentina and stroll the colonial streets of Salta, followed by adventures around the famed northern deserts.


  • Enjoy tours of Santiago and coastal Valparaíso
  • Explore the otherworldly landscapes of the Atacama Desert
  • Stroll the Spanish colonial streets of historic Salta
  • Visit Indigenous towns and villages in the northern deserts

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Santiago (Chile), Private City Tour Santiago
Day 2 Day Trip to Valparaíso & Viña del Mar Santiago
Day 3 Fly to San Pedro de Atacama San Pedro de Atacama
Day 4 Day Trip to Moon Valley, Evening Astronomy Tour San Pedro de Atacama
Day 5 Visit Tatio Geysers & Lagoons San Pedro de Atacama
Day 6 Bus to Salta (Argentina), Optional Activities Salta
Day 7 Day Trip to Purmamarca & Humahuaca Salta
Day 8 Day Trip to Cafayate Salta
Day 9 Fly to Buenos Aires, Optional Activities Buenos Aires
Day 10 Depart Buenos Aires  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Santiago (Chile), Private City Tour

Tour the highlights of Santiago, like Cerro Santa Lucia

Welcome to Chile! Much of your itinerary will focus on the wonders of this Andean country's north, but for now, it's time to enjoy the cities and coast. You'll arrive in the capital of Santiago, which sits at an altitude of 1,700 feet (518 m) and is surrounded by snowcapped Andes. At the airport, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to your hotel in the city.

After checking in, you'll meet a guide and embark on a half-day tour to discover this inviting metropolis. Highlights you'll visit include the Plaza de Armas, the city's main square. It's home to the Palacio de la Real Audiencia (Palace of the Royal Court), built in 1808, which houses the National History Museum of Chile. Also on the plaza is the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral, an impressive neoclassical building with twin bell towers that dates back to 1753.

You might also hike (or ride a gondola) up Cerro San Cristóbal, a hill that rises 984 feet (300 m) over the city. Another great lookout is at Cerro Santa Lucia, a lovely park and remnant of an ancient volcano. Conquistadors used it as a lookout in the 16th century, and it was here that Pedro de Valdivia officially founded Santiago in 1541. Afterward, stop in at Mercado Central, a large municipal market with many restaurants and vendors selling fresh fish and seafood. Later, on your own, you can grab dinner at one of the cool eateries in Santiago's bohemian Bellavista neighborhood.

Day 2: Day Trip to Valparaíso & Viña del Mar

Explore the colorful hills of Valparaíso

In the morning, your driver will pick you up at your hotel in Santiago for the one-hour drive west to the coast. During this scenic journey, you'll pass the hills and vineyards of the fertile Casablanca Valley, which is home to many top wineries.

Eventually, you'll reach the coast and the historic port city of Valparaíso. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its colorful hillside neighborhoods, winding stairways, and abundance of street art. It's a well-preserved snapshot of a time when electric trolleys coasted through downtown in front of Art Nouveau buildings. On tour, you'll visit famous landmarks, such as Plaza de la Victoria and the Naval Academy, and ride a funicular elevator up into the hills to enjoy panoramic vistas of the Pacific. A real highlight is the former home of Chile's Nobel Prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda. 

Afterward, you'll drive a short way to the adjacent town of Viña del Mar, which couldn't be more different in style than its neighbor. Whereas Valparaíso is a retro artistic haven, Viña is a modern seaside hotspot with sleek shopping centers and upscale restaurants. You'll pass some interesting heritage buildings on your way to the golden sands of Playa Reñaca, a popular beach destination for tourists and locals. Here, you can enjoy lunch at a seaside restaurant before transferring back to Santiago later in the day.

Day 3: Fly to San Pedro de Atacama

The volcanos of San Pedro
Marvel at the volcanoes of Chile's northern deserts

After breakfast, you'll transfer to the airport in Santiago and catch a two-hour flight to Calama. Located on the stunning desert plateau of Chile's far north, this region is famous for its geological wonders that range from volcanoes and geysers to salt flats and alkali lakes.

Upon arrival in Calama, a driver will pick you up for the one-hour drive deep into the deserts and the historic town of San Pedro de Atacama. This desert outpost is a base for exploring the desert and is rich in Spanish colonial and Indigenous history. When you arrive, you'll check into your hotel and have the rest of the day free.

Day 4: Day Trip to Moon Valley, Evening Astronomy Tour

Visit the lunar landscapes of areas like Valle de la Luna

Spend the morning relaxing in San Pedro. Then, after lunch, you'll meet your driver/guide and embark on a half-day tour to witness the geological wonders of the Atacama Desert. The excursion will take you to the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), a region so named due to its lunar landscapes.

Exemplifying this unique topography is the Cordillera de la Sal, a range of jagged mountains formed millions of years ago in a dry lake bed. Here, you'll visit unique rock formations like the Las Tres Marias (The Three Marias), a salt mine, and the Kari viewpoint (known as the Coyote Stone), which is a great selfie spot. At the end of the afternoon, you'll watch the sunset over the valley, turning it fiery shades of crimson and gold, before returning to San Pedro.

But the adventure isn't over yet. At night, you'll embark on an astronomy tour. The high-altitude plateau of the Atacama Desert is ideal for stargazing, as the lack of superficial light here reveals clear views of constellations, galaxies, and planets. See for yourself on a visit to a local observatory, where over two hours, you'll peer through a telescope at star clusters as your expert guides reveal the secrets to the cosmos and what the stars have meant to different cultures throughout history. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 5: Visit Tatio Geysers & Lagoons

Tatio Geyser in Atacama
Experience the geological wonders bubbling just beneath the earth's surface
Plan your trip to Chile
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Wake up early and head out with your driver to El Tatio, a geothermal field located 14,107 feet (4,300 m) above sea level. Here, constant volcanic activity heats water beneath the earth's surface to 185°F (85°C), which is then expelled in great columns of hot water and fumaroles that reach several meters in height. Afterward, you can take some wildlife photos at the Vado de Putana, a wetland haven for endemic animals like vicuñas, foxes, and waterbirds. Next, you'll visit the Machuca wetland, home to a colony of colorful flamingoes.

Later, continue on to Laguna Cejar and Laguna Tebinquiche. These two interconnected lagoons are located amid the vast salt flats of the Atacama Desert. Take a dip in the water, and you'll find that, due to its high salinity, you'll float effortlessly on the surface. At the end of the day, you'll return to your hotel in San Pedro.

Day 6: Bus to Salta (Argentina), Optional Activities

A scenic road in Salta
Enjoy the historic streets around the main plaza in Salta

This morning you'll transfer to the bus station for the journey across the border into Argentina and the northern city of Salta. The drive takes around 10 hours, but it's a scenic adventure that passes deserts, mountains, gorges, and other beautiful landscapes of the far north. Upon arrival in Salta, you'll transfer to your hotel near the city center.

Take the rest of the evening to settle in and enjoy this historic town, which was officially founded in 1582. Salta's colonial center is easy to explore on foot and boasts gorgeous neoclassical buildings, lively cafés, and cool bars that draw a young and energetic crowd.

Day 7: Day Trip to Purmamarca & Humahuaca

The famous Hill of the Seven Colors, in Purmamarca

A driver will meet you early at your hotel for a full-day tour around Salta, beginning with the Quebrada de Humahuaca. Few areas in Argentina are more evocative than this 96-mile (155 km) valley gorge. It has been populated for over 10,000 years, starting with the earliest hunter-gatherers. In the 15th-16th centuries, it was a vital Inca trading route and later a link between the viceroyalty of Buenos Aires and Peru. It was even a critical battleground in the War of Independence. You can see remnants of pre-Columbian towns here and whitewashed colonial chapels dot the valley.

The first place you'll stop on the way to Humahuaca is the village of Purmamarca. Here, you'll find the famous Cerro de Siete Colores (Hill of the Seven Colors), notable for its strata that appear "painted" different shades of red. Other notable sites in the village include the 18th-century Iglesia de Santa Rosa church and an artisanal craft market. Then you'll visit the tiny town of Uquía, home to the Iglesia San Francisco de Paula, a whitewashed chapel built in 1691. Inside are several paintings done in the Cuzco style and featuring angels in 17th-century battle dress.

Around noon, you'll arrive at the town of Humahuaca, denoted by its labyrinthine narrow streets, adobe houses, and its monument to independence, El Indio, done by sculptor Soto Avendaño. After a break for lunch, you'll head to Maimará, a village notable for its haunting hillside cemetery and the brightly-colored mountains surrounding it. If time allows, you'll return to Salta via the Abra de Santa Laura mountain path, which is surrounded by stunning scenery, including Las Maderas Dam and the Campo Alegre reservoir.

Day 8: Day Trip to Cafayate

Full day Cafayate Excursion
Enjoy the desert mountain scenery on your trip to Cafayate

In the morning, you'll leave on a day trip to the village of Cafayate. Located in the middle of the Calchaquí Valley, the area is famous for its scenic mountain landscapes, impressive rock formations, and vineyards. Speaking of which, while here, you'll visit one of the area's famed wineries for a tasting.

To arrive there, you'll drive through the Lerma Valley, passing tobacco fields and colonial villages. You'll then enter the Quebrada de las Conchas, where you'll see curious rock formations (the result of erosion caused over time by wind and water). Then, continue along National Route 68, arriving in the wine hub of Cafayate. The most popular varietal grown here is torrontés, which you'll taste on a winery visit.

At the end of the day, you'll return to Salta via the Quebrada de las Conchas. Enjoy the scenery as the late-afternoon sun dips behind the high-altitude Lerma Valley, creating a kaleidoscope of colors. 

Day 9: Fly to Buenos Aires, Optional Activities

The Teatro Colón is one of the most famous landmarks in Buenos Aires

In the morning, your driver will take you to the airport in Salta, where you'll catch a two-hour flight south to the capital of Buenos Aires. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to your hotel. Then you'll want to head out and explore this massive metropolis home to around 15 million people. Buenos Aires is one of South America's most exciting cities, which you'll see after just a few minutes of wandering its restless streets.

Perhaps stop by Teatro Colón, one of the world's premier opera houses. Since its opening in 1908, the theater's neoclassical facade has marked it as one of the finest buildings in the city. Then, take a stroll through Puerto Madero, an upscale waterfront neighborhood just outside the city center. Definitely don't miss historical San Telmo, the oldest barrio (neighborhood) in the city, where you can perhaps catch a street tango performance. And when night falls, do like the locals and enjoy a thick, juicy steak drizzled with chimichurri at a local parrilla (steakhouse). 

Day 10: Depart Buenos Aires

Sun setting over the Moon Valley in Chile's Atacama Desert
Unfortunately, your grand tour around the northern reaches of Chile and Argentina has ended. At the appropriate time, your driver will pick you up and transfer you to the airport, where you'll catch your flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of The Andean Triangle: Northern Chile & Argentina - 10 Days
Map of The Andean Triangle: Northern Chile & Argentina - 10 Days