Atacama Desert Self-Drive Tour
Atacama Desert Self-Drive Tour

Atacama Desert Self-Drive Tour

14 days

Visiting San Pedro de Atacama while on a tourViews of MondtalSalar de Atacama during the nightVisiting ChiuChiuArchitecture of ChiuChiu4 El TatioGeysers del Tatio in ChilePueblos Originarios in ChileVisiting Iquique on day 7Altiplano - Stunning views in ChileCosmovisiónAymaraLocal in AymaraIglesia de Mauque, seen in ColchaneSalar de HuascoHochland in ChileVulkan Isluga in ChilePastor Aymara in ChileObserving the salt flats in ChileSurire, Chilean salt flatsLago Chungara in ChileLago ChungaraLaucaTrekking in LaucaParinacota, ChileLaucaPutre

Spend 2 weeks exploring the wonders of the Atacama Desert on a unique self-drive tour

The 14-day Atacama Desert Self-Drive Tour takes you in a small group through the stunning landscapes of the Atacama Desert and the Chilean Altiplano-Highland.

During this unique tour, you’ll travel independently in a rental car while an expert guide gives you a daily briefing on the respective route and a pre-programmed GPS facilitates orientation. This novel way of travel allows you a certain degree of independent planning, while at the same time being accompanied by an expert who knows this part of Chile inside out.

Kick off this adventure with a guided exploration of Chile’s bustling capital, Santiago. From Santiago you’ll then fly north to the city of Calima where your adventure in the Atacama Desert begins. In the coming weeks, you’ll experience the wondrous highlights of this part of Chile, including the Atacama Salt Flats, lively coastal towns, the Surire Salt Flats, Lauca National Park, the Azapa Valley and so much more!

Don’t miss a thing on this one-of-a-kind adventure around the Atacama Desert. Book your spot today!

Highlights of the Atacama Desert Self-Drive Tour

Soak up the sights, sounds, and flavours or Chile’s capital Santiago where the cosmopolitan energy is palpable.
Stand in awe of the glittering crystals that make up the famous Atacama Salt Flats and watch the sunset over Moon Valley.
Revel in the endless thrill of joy rides through the stunning landscapes of northern Chile, stopping to explore ghost towns.
Explore one of the most impressive, protected areas in Chile: Lauca National Park taking in its volcanoes, lakes, and exotic birdlife.

Prices

From $3,675USD
14 days
Difficulty
Partially Guided
Hotels
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Atacama Desert Self-Drive Tour

Atacama Desert Self-Drive Tour Itinerary

Day 1 Arrive in Santiago and City Tour

After pick-up at Santiago Airport, it’s time to head to your hotel in the city center. Here, you’ll meet your fellow travelers for the next two weeks as you are all welcomed with Chile’s national drink, the Pisco Sour!

It’s then time to embark on a city tour to get a glimpse of this metropolitan paradise. Among many other sites, you’ll visit the historic old town, the market, the cathedral and the main square (Plaza de Armas). San Cristobal Hill rewards you with stunning views of the city and the impressive Andes Mountains — a constant companion during your time in Chile!
Overnight Location: Hotel in Santiago
Distance: None
Meals: None

Day 2 Flight to San Pedro de Atacama

After breakfast, a flight takes you from Santiago to the mining city of Calama in the north of Chile to begin the Atacama portion of this partially-guided tour. Your tour guide will welcome you upon arrival, and you’ll then receive the keys to the rental cars.

It’s time for your first ride in convoy — through the world’s driest desert. It’s a leisurely drive to the oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama, where you’ll spend the next days.
Overnight Location: Hotel in San Pedro de Atacama
Distance: 90km driving
Meals: Breakfast

Day 3 Discover the Atacama Salt Flats

There are many possibilities to explore San Pedro’s spectacular surroundings; one of them is a trip to the Atacama Salt Flats. Its extensive surface is covered with glittering salt crystals. This dried-up inland sea, formed millions of years ago, is an otherworldly sight and one of the most impressive landscapes on earth.

There is probably no better place to watch the sunset than the Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna). From the valley’s highest dune, you’ll enjoy fantastic views over bizarrely shaped desert rocks. Snow-covered volcanoes form a spectacular backdrop, with the perfect cone shape of Licancabur Volcano being the most impressive. The last rays of sunshine paint the tranquil landscape in bright shades of orange, red and violet as the day winds to a close.
Overnight Location: Hotel in San Pedro de Atacama
Distance: Flexible
Meals: Breakfast

Day 4 Sunrise at El Tatio Geysers

While today’s wake-up time may seem early, the reward definitely makes it worthwhile! Rise early this morning and set out to catch the sunrise over one of the world’s most important geothermal fields, the El Tatio Geysers. At an altitude of over 4,000 m (13,000 ft), more than 70 geysers eject boiling hot water out of the ground. Early morning is the best time to observe the steaming geysers that contrast with the intense blue sky.

On the way back to San Pedro, a stop at Machuca is a good option; this Atacameño highland village consists of around 20 houses, each made of clay, straw, and cactus wood. Its inhabitants dedicate themselves to tourism and offer handmade souvenirs and typical regional dishes such as lama meat, sopaipillas (a traditional pumpkin bread) and empanadas. Yum!
Overnight Location: Hotel in San Pedro de Atacama
Distance: 160km driving
Meals: Breakfast

Day 5 Geoglyphs and Hot Springs on the Drive to Pica

Today it’s time to say goodbye to bustling San Pedro, as you make your way further north to the small town of Pica. It is here where the famous Pica lemon comes from. In fact, the fruits grow alongside the road which you’ll no doubt observe along the way.

A worthwhile detour on the way leads to the so-called painted geoglyphs, where you can marvel at more than 400 well-recognized figures. There is also a small museum on-site, while a short hiking trail leads along the mountain range. After a lengthy car ride, the nearby hot springs of Mamiña, Macaya and Lirima are the perfect place to stretch the legs and soothe the muscles.
Overnight Location: Hotel in Pica
Distance: 420km driving
Meals: Breakfast

Day 6 Ghost Towns on the Drive to Iquique

Today, a leisurely drive leads us from Pica to the lively coastal town of Iquique during the Atacama guided tour. On the way, we have the opportunity to visit the former saltpeter mines, Santa Laura and Humberstone. Both of them are ghost towns nowadays, protected by UNESCO for once being the main saltpeter suppliers for Europe and the United States. The rest of the day is at leisure.

Overnight in Iquique.
Overnight Location: Hotel in Iquique
Distance: 120km driving
Meals: Breakfast

Day 7 Free Day to Explore Iquique

Today you’ll take it easy and enjoy some down time before this journey leads up into the highland in the days to come. The wide beach Playa Brava lends itself to some relaxing hours at the seaside. Another option is a visit to the Cavancha Peninsula with the church Grotto de Lourdes, or a walk along Baquedano Street, flanked by Georgian-style houses.
Overnight Location: Hotel in Iquique
Distance: Flexible
Meals: Breakfast

Day 8 Drive to Colchane and Optional Detour to the Huasco Salt Flats

You’ll continue your journey from the coast to the Altiplano highland today, where breathtaking scenery awaits around every corner. The group can decide for themselves whether they want to go directly to Colchane or take a detour on gravel roads across the Huasco Salt Flats.

During the ride, you’ll slowly get accustomed to the altitude of almost 4,000 meters (13,000 ft), at which you will spend the next couple of days. Once acclimatized, you can fully appreciate this region’s outstanding natural wonders and exciting encounters with its few inhabitants, most of whom belong to the Aymara people.
Overnight Location: Hotel in Cariquima
Distance: 240km driving
Meals: Breakfast

Day 9 Arabilla Lagoon and Puchuldiza Hot Springs

This day is at leisure for the exploration of this unique and little developed highland region. Flamingos and alpacas can be observed at the Arabilla Lagoon; there is a hike along the shore that’s well worth the effort. You’ll continue to the barely visited Puchuldiza Hot Springs, where geysers and fumaroles spew boiling hot water to the earth’s surface. There are two pools for bathing while taking in breathtaking views. Parinacota Lagoon is well worth a visit as well; it can be accessed via the abandoned Aymara village Latarani.
Overnight Location: Hotel in Cariquima
Distance: Flexible
Meals: Breakfast

Day 10 Explore Surire Salt Flat

Today’s route along mighty volcanoes leads north to one of the highlights of our tour, the Surire Salt Flat. Its snow-white surface is one of the little known and visited natural wonders of Chile, situated at an altitude of 4,200 m (13,800 ft). Impressive volcanoes and turquoise-colored lakes with several different flamingo species paint a truly unforgettable picture. It is possible to swim in the Polloquere Hot Springs, located in the flat’s southeastern corner.

You’ll then continue further north to the highland town of Putre, near the Bolivian border, where you’ll stay for the next two nights.

Overnight in Putre (very basic accommodation).
Overnight Location: Hotel in Putre
Distance: 250km driving
Meals: Breakfast

Day 11 Volcanoes and Lakes and Wildlife at Lauca National Park

Today there is plenty of time for a trip to one of the most impressive, protected areas in Chile: Lauca National Park. Apart from the surreal views of volcanoes and lakes, there are over 150 different bird species in the park. It is worth visiting Chungará Lake, which is located just before the Bolivian border at a staggering altitude of 4,500 m (14,700 ft). Its surface reflects the majestic volcanoes Parinacota (6,110 m / 20,000 ft) and Pomperane (6,232 m / 20,400 ft). The unique and – despite the harsh climate – quite diverse flora and fauna is impressive here; flamingos, guanacos, llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, condors and vizacachas are commonly observed. On the way back to Putre, it is possible to take a detour to the small town of Parinacota.
Overnight Location: Hotel in Putre
Distance: Flexible
Meals: Breakfast

Day 12 Drive to Arica via Azapa Valley

Today you’ll make your way back to the coast to the city of Arica, your final destination. The village of Socoroma is worth a stop; on the terraced fields surrounding it, agriculture is still practiced, just like the Incas did hundreds of years ago.

Rather than taking the main highway, it is an option to take the route through fertile Azapa Valley to reach Arica.
Overnight Location: Hotel in Arica
Distance: 140km driving
Meals: Breakfast

Day 13 Discover Arica

The option to take it easy on your last day in Arica will likely be appealing after an adventure packed journey. Also known as the driest inhabited place in the world, Arica is a unique oasis waiting to be discovered.

The wide beaches of Chile’s northernmost city lend are perfect for a long, leisurely walk. Those interested in culture should not miss a visit to the Archeological Museum of San Miguel de Azapa and the Morro Hill, which is of historical importance, offers beautiful city and sea views.
Overnight Location: Hotel in Arica
Distance: Flexible
Meals: Breakfast

Day 14 Flight back to Santiago

The last car ride of this wondrous journey leads you to the airport of Arica, where you’ll drop off your rental cars and say goodbye to your guide and group. Surely, you will leave with a storehouse full of magical memories after completing the Atacama guided tour. A flight takes you back to Santiago, from where you can continue your onward journey or take a connecting flight back home.
Overnight Location: None
Distance: None
Meals: Breakfast

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Atacama Desert Self-Drive Tour Price and Dates

This partially-guided tour to Atacama Desert is always run as a fixed-departure tour where you’d be joining a group, however, you’ll be sharing your rental vehicle with your group only.

Please note that the departures on September 28th, October 19th, November 9th and April 5th (2023) are in German and the departures on September 7th and April 22nd are in English. The prices below are per person:

Sep 07, 2022
Sep 20, 2022
From Santiago, Chile
To Santiago, Chile
USD$3,675
14 days / 5+ Spaces Left
Sep 28, 2022
Oct 11, 2022
From Santiago, Chile
To Santiago, Chile
USD$3,675
14 days / 5+ Spaces Left
Oct 19, 2022
Nov 01, 2022
From Santiago, Chile
To Santiago, Chile
USD$3,675
14 days / 5+ Spaces Left
Nov 09, 2022
Nov 22, 2022
From Santiago, Chile
To Santiago, Chile
USD$3,675
14 days / 5+ Spaces Left
Apr 05, 2023
Apr 18, 2023
From Santiago, Chile
To Santiago, Chile
USD$3,675
14 days / 5+ Spaces Left
Apr 22, 2023
May 05, 2023
From Santiago, Chile
To Santiago, Chile
USD$3,675
14 days / 5+ Spaces Left

Accommodation on Atacama Desert Self-Drive Tour

This tour is based in 2 and 3-star hotels that offer modern conveniences that can make this trip more pleasant. Please note that the accommodation in Colchane is very basic.

In some cases, the accommodation listed below may need to be substituted for other comparable accommodations.

Single Rooms and Solo Travelers
Standard rooms are of double occupancy and those willing to have single rooms will need to pay a supplement (on request).

Standard Hotels

Hotel Carmenere in Santiago ★★★

A chic, boutique hotel featuring an array of ‘the best of Santiago’ on your doorstep. Guests will enjoy an organic breakfast and the opportunity for wine tastings on site.

Hotel Altiplanico in San Pedro de Atacama ★★★★

Surrounded by surreal landscapes, this upscale hote is the perfect base for exploring San Pedro de Atacama.

Ecocamp Huarango in Pica

An eco retreat that is every bit as cozy as it is rustic. This charming accommodation has everything you need for the perfect stay in Pica.

Hotel Holiday Inn in Iquique ★★★★

Enjoy the crashing waves of the South Pacific during your stay at this comfortable, laid-back hotel featuring an outdoor pool and large rooms.

Hotel Tata Inti in Cariquima

A friendly hotel with a warm and welcoming vibe awaits at this basic stay in Cariquima.

Hotel Qantati in Putre

Each of the 10 rooms at this lovely hotel are set around a charming courtyard at the modern Hotel Qantati in Putre.

Hotel Apacheta in Arica ★★★

This stunning stay along Playa Feliz is the perfect place to end your adventure. Beach access, a great restaurant, and endless views of the ocean make Hotel Apacheta a guest favourite during this tour.

What’s Included in the Atacama Desert Self-Drive Tour?

Meals

13 breakfasts are included.

Accommodations

Accommodations for 13 nights are included.

Transportation during the Tour

This tour includes all the transfers mentioned, as well as the rental vehicle for each driving day on the tour.

Also Included

  • Car Rental:
    • Pickup 4WD vehicle of category J3 (Toyota HiLuxe or similar)
    • Collision Damage Waiver insurance ($240 USD deductible; exceptions to coverage apply)
    • Airport charge
    • Unlimited mileage
    • Second driver
  • Partial guide services

Not included

  • Meals not noted as included
  • Travel insurance
  • Visa fees
  • Entrance fees (around 50 USD per person in total)
  • Fuel

Optional Extras

  • Extra nights before or after the tour

Frequently Asked Questions about Atacama Desert Self-Drive Tour

In Andes Nativa, their name says it all. Their highest priority are authentic travel experiences in Chile, where the mighty Andes Mountains are a steady companion. NATIVA represents the pristine and fragile, worthy of protection.

Learn More

Atacama Desert Self-Drive Tour

Click map for a larger version

Is this tour for me?

We rate this tour as a 2/5. There are no strenuous activities involved in this tour, however, you should be comfortable with driving for numerous hours almost daily and spend time on your feet while sightseeing. This tour is not recommended for people with cardiac problems because of the altitude.

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