Atacama Desert Trek
Trekking in Atacama Desert region will take us off the beaten path, into areas not accessible by vehicle and trodden only by local natives and their llama or goat herds. We will encounter small villages, archaeological remains, Andean wildlife along with the most spectacular desert & mountain landscapes, always crowned by high dormant volcanoes. This program is an excellent complement to any of the Patagonia treks in order to witness Chile’s dramatic contrasts.
Day 1 - Arrival in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
We arrive at Calama Airport and go straight to San Pedro de Atacama, driving past the impressive rock formations of the Cordillera de la Sal (Salt mountains). Once in San Pedro we receive a briefing over lunch about the upcoming days and in the afternoon we do our first hike in the vast amazing Valle de la Luna. We walk over sand dunes until we reach the viewpoint from where we will witness one of the world's most beautiful sunsets, intensified by the warm colours throughout the Valley. We come back to town and stay overnight in San Pedro.
For more details about trek distance and walking time, click here to check out our Trekking Chart
After breakfast we drive to the Fortress of Quitor and set off on a walk to the mouth of the San Pedro river, exploring its small canyons along the way. The path crosses the river at various points and there are strange geological formations. Finally we come to a small valley and the ghost town of San Bartolo - a former mining enclave, now abandoned. We camp in this wonderfully isolated spot and enjoy a night under the starry Atacama sky.
Day 3 - San Bartolo to Rio Grande
We start the day with a demanding trek, climbing up to a higher altitude as we leave the river bed and move towards the plateau. We have a great view of the abandoned mines, home to many legends.
The trail continues through the river canyon and giant cacti emerge, in the midst of the arid barren desert. There are some areas of the valley that are so dry that scientists have not found life, or even bacteria. After crossing a section of the canyon we finally arrive at Río Grande Village, one of the few remaining indigenous communities of the Atacameño people, where we set up camp on the river banks.
Today is the most physically challenging day of the trek, as we walk towards Machuca Village. The trail continues alongside small streams in narrow, beautiful valleys inhabited by indigenous locals and their llama herds. We continue climbing up steep desert canyons, gaining altitude, until we reach the wetlands of Machuca, full of local wildlife. From here we have an amazing view of Licancabur Volcano, the sacred mountain of the Atacameño people. At this point we are at 4,000 m (13,000 ft) above sea level, and we spend the evening relaxing and acclimatizing in our campsite next to a big 'bofedal' - wetlands where llamas graze.
Day 5 - Machuca to Tatio Geysers & Copa Coya
After a hearty breakfast we leave Machuca to the Tatio Gesyers, arriving just after the vast sunrise crowds have dispersed and the Gesyers can be appreciated in sunlight at a more relaxed pace and pleasant temperature (4,500 m.a.b.l before sunrise is a very chilly experience!). The geothermic field is truly incredible, from almost 900 meters below the earth, boiling steam bursts up to 40 meters over the surface of the earth.
From the geysers we begin our walk, lasting approximately 3 hours, towards a high Andean plateau with the same name as the trail - Copa Coya. The puna played an important historical role centred around the llareta plant which was used traditionally for combustion, although nowadays its slow growth means it’s not a feasible fuel option. While we walk we see Andean vegetation and maybe viscachas (similar to chinchillas) and stop to enjoy lunch with a view. At the end of the walk there’s a steep uphill climb leading to a wonderful view of the Alto Loa villages, showing a different view of Atacama than normally experienced. After we descend from the Copa Coya we can enjoy the Tatio Thermal Pool for a restauring bath. We end the day back at our hotel.
Day 6 - Atacama Salt Flat & Lagoons
We get up feeling refreshed and with the satisfaction of having crossed the heart of Atacama with the same explorer spirit of its first inhabitants. Today we drive to the amazing Salar de Atacama, home to astonishing birds like the Chilean Pink Flamingos. Then we continue driving towards the marvelous Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons, full of turquoise waters that beautifully contrast with the autumnal colours of the Altiplanic lands. A truly incredible landscape! We spend our final night in San Pedro.
We take the final day of the trip to relax and wander around the village, visiting its handicraft shops, church and museum.
In the afternoon we go to Calama’s Airport to take our flight back to Santiago...Adios Atacama!
Regular Departures: Group expeditions every Monday with minimum of 2 people
Price is based on groups of 4 or more people
Prices valid from January to December 2016
If there are just 2 or 3 people signed up for a given departure each traveller pays a supplement as indicated above; for 4 or more people signed up no supplement applies. 4 weeks before the trip starts if more people have signed up for the same departure we recalculate the new trip price and adjust the final amount owed (in the 2nd and final payment) by each traveler.
Your booking is based on Chilean pesos (CLP), but you pay in US$ (USD), using the exchange rate valid on the day of payment which will be shown in your order.
Starting / Finishing Points
The trip starts in the morning at Calama Airport; last pick-up time: 12:30 PM. The trip finishes in Calama Airport and we suggest booking flights departing after 5 PM.
Please be aware that there is just one van doing both routes so when travellers of the same group arrive/leave on different flights the others have to wait at the airport. Please contact us so we can tell you which flights match better with the entire group schedule.
Guide to passenger ratio: 1:4, maximum 10 people per group.
In Atacama transportation is in minivans that normally seat from 8 to 14 people. When we have just 2 to 4 people we use smaller vehicles, usually 4x4, driven by the tour guide. The vehicle will be for your use exclusively, with the limitation of the given itinerary and time schedules.
In the Atacama region the weather follows a typical desert pattern of hot days and cold nights. The Atacama Desert is considered to be the driest place on earth and rain is rare at anytime of year!
Spring-Summer (October to March)
Daytime temperatures usually range between 20°C - 24°C (68-77 F). Night time temperatures will most likely range from 5°C - 0°C (41 - 32 F)
Autumn-Winter (April to September)
Daytime temperatures range from 15°C -20°C (59-68 F). Night time temperatures will most likely be -10°C - 0°C (14 - 32F)
Trekking in the Atacama Desert requires more physical preparation than for most vacations. On this trip you will be trekking between five to seven hours a day for 4 continuous days at high altitudes mostly on dry sandy terrain. On the fourth day the trail will run into the highlands (average 4,100mt / 10,500ft) which will be demanding given the altitude. Guides will always have oxygen tanks with them, if someone feels sick. The temperatures in Atacama change dramatically from day to night following a typical desert pattern of hot day/cool night (check section Weather), which can also affect the body. Arriving in a good physical condition is fundamental for physical performance and morale, and will ensure making the most of this stunning trek through the Atacama Desert.
Sleeping bag is needed, with temperature-comfort rating of –10°C/-5F) Full or 3/4 length Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad. Air pillow (optional)