Moderate trek / 6 days from Calama, Chile
San Pedro de Atacama is located at 2,400 metres above sea level (7,900 feet) in Chile in the heart of the world's most arid desert.
This 6 day/5 night programme takes in the highlights that this magical place has to offer: History, archaeology, flamingos, salt flats and altiplanic lakes.
Then there are geysers, hot springs and some great short treks as well as the incredible star-filled night skies.
Visted in this tour are: the Valley of the Moon, a great introduction to the lunar topography of the Atacama.
Laguna Chaxa and the Atacama salt flat with its 3 types of flamingos.
Miniques and Miscanti Lakes at over 4,000 metres and in whose bluie waters the volcanoes of the same name are reflected.
Puritama hot springs, a chance to soothe your body in waters that are naturally over 30 degrees Celsisus and the Tatio Geyser fields, witness the force of nature.
Finish, moon conditions permitting, with a guided tour of the galaxies on a star gazing tour.
Check our other Chile treks, San Pedro de Atacama Trek, or Atacama In Style.
➕ Day 1: Morning arrival to Calama Airport. Shared transfer to San Pedro de Atacama. Shared Valley of the moon tour. Hotel.
Morning arrival to Calama Airport. Shared transfer to San Pedro de Atacama with English speaking guide.
(Note: We pick you up from Calama airport and take you to the hotel. Calama airport is best accessed via flights from Santiago, Chile. You can also arrive into San Pedro via Bolivia, from the Uyuni Salt Flat, by bus or private transfer. Contact us for details.)
Afternoon shared Valley of the moon tour. Depart from your Hotel in San Pedro of Atacama and head to the Cordillera de la Sal (Salt Mountain Range), where you will visit the Valley of the Moon ('Valle de la Luna') that forms part of the National Flamingo Reservation.
This unique place is famous for its natural rock sculptures, one of them being 'Las Tres Marias' (The three Mary's) formed by the wind erosion, Next, visit Death Valley ('Valle de la Muerte) where salt formations resemble works of art.
Finally, end your trip with a magical sunset at the Kari Viewpoint, one of the highest points of the 'Cordillera de la Sal'. Hotel.
➕ Day 2: Shared tour to Atacama Salt Flat and Altiplanic Lakes. Hotel. (B,L)
After breakfast, depart from your hotel for a shared tour to the Atacama Salt Flat and Minique and Miscanti lagoons. Drive to the Atacama Salt Flat, one of the largest in the world. Visit Soncor and the Chaxa Lagoon, where three species of three species of pink flamingos. the James, Chilean and Andean, can be found.
Continue and travel further within the Altiplano, reaching 4,300 metres above sea level and the Minique and Miscanti lagoons which lie at the foot of the Minique and Miscanti volcanoes.
Return stopping in Socaire for lunch at one of the rustic kitchens in the village.
After lunch, drive to the village of Toconao, where we will visit the main square, the bell tower built in 1750 and made of cactus wood and the church of San Lucas, both National Monuments.
Return to to San Pedro de Atacama. Hotel.
➕ Day 3: Morning Shared Cornisas trek. Afternoon shared Puritama hot springs. Hotel. (B)
After breakfast we take a short drive after which we will be dropped off at the Catarpe tunnel at the the top of the Salt Range where we will start our 2 1/2 hour trek into the heart of the Valle de la Muerte tackling the sand dunes and with stunning views of the Valley.
In the afternoon we head on a shared tour to the Puritama hot springs 33 Km North of San Pedro at 3,500 masl. Here there are natural pools with waters between 30degC and 33degC. There are bathrooms and dressing rooms connected to the pools by wooden walkways.
➕ Day 4: Morning shared half day Guatin and Cactus Valley trek. Afternoon free. Hotel. (B)
We depart from our hotel in San Pedro de Atacama, for a 30 minute drive to Guatin, 3,000 masl. We will head off walking down a narrow canyon, through a cacti forest and crossing streams and small waterfalls. Good fitness required. Waliking time approximatley 2 1/2 hours.
Afternoon free. Hotel.
➕ Day 5: Shared Tatio geysers. Evening shared star gazing tour. Hotel. (B)
Pick up at dawn from your hotel in San Pedro de Atacama. Head towards the Altiplano, reaching an altitude of 4,320 meters above sea level, to visit the Tatio Geysers, one of the most important geothermal fields in the world.
The fumaroles can easily reach 10 meters high and the geysers up to 8 meters. After witnessing the spectacle there is time for a swim in the natural hot pool nearby The drive back includes stops at the wetlands of Putana and the typical altiplanic village of Machuca. Return early afternoon to San Pedro. Rest of the afternoon free. Explore San Pedro from its famous archaeological museum to its colonial church - one of the oldest in Chile.
In the evening shared star gazing tour - climatic/moon conditions permitting. Transfer to the observation site. Explanation of the sky followed by observations through the telescopes. The tour finishes with a warm drink and transfer back to San Pedro. Hotel.
➕ Day 6: Shared transfer to Calama airport. (B)
Shared transfer to Calama airport for departure flight.
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Fitness and experience
In this program you will be trekking between 2 to 3 hours on two days at altitude. Although the treks themselves are not particularly strenuous the terrain and altituded may be more taxing than expected. Please bear in mind that the weather in the Atacama changes from day to night causing the temperatures to drop considerably. These weather conditions can easily affect both body and morale. You need to be in good health and physical condition to enjoy such an experience.
Being at altitude, especially in the tropics, is usually a pleasure as it isn't so hot, there are few insects and the air is clear. However, when gaining altitude, air pressure drops and the amount of oxygen reaching the lungs is reduced. Although we build plenty of acclimatization time into our itineraries, certain ill-effects are possible. Nevertheless, all of these can be minimized or prevented if care is taken.
We work with The Altitude Centre in the UK and offer 20% discount on a consultation.
The experts there can determine your body's sensitivity to low oxygen (conditions at altitude) and help you plan for your holiday at high altitude.
On reaching heights above 3,000m (approx 10,000 ft), especially when ascent has been straight from sea level, heart pounding, mild headache and shortness of breath are normal, especially on exertion.
To avoid the effects of AMS (accute mountain sickness, a syndrome known locally as soroche, whose symptoms can include of bad headache, dizziness and nausea), you should:
Rest for a few hours on arrival at altitude and take it easy for the first couple of days. Note: you may feel fine on arrival and tempted to exert yourself as normal. Don't be fooled: you might be benefiting from oxygen brought in your blood from sea level.
Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration (altitude is a diuretic). Coca tea (mate de coca) helps alleviate symptoms.
Eat light meals, with high carbohydrate and low fat and protein content. Dine early, allowing digestion time pre-sleep.
Avoid over-exposure to the strong highland sun (UV rays are very powerful) - especially in the early stages - making sure you wear a broad brimmed sunhat. Apply lip-salve to prevent chapped lips.
Avoid or minimise consumption of cigarettes and alcohol. Avoid sleeping pills.
If you do get AMS: Rest, take non-aspirin painkillers (for headache) and coca tea. Symptoms should subside after a day or two.
Pregnant women, people with a history of heart, lung, kidney or blood disease or blood pressure problems, should consult their doctor before traveling to high altitude.
This itinerary is based on 3 star hotel accommodation. Other options are available.
We can arrange (or assist with) your flight to Chile and Calama at competitive rates through our ATOL-bonded agency.
When booking flights, we can advise you of the best routes and options, and quote for you. Best routing will depend on your overall plan for travel in Patagonia. The most direct route in is via Santiago on Chile, and then fly on to Calama. There are overland options too, or access overland from Bolivia/Argentina and Peru.
As International/Internal flights are often not through ticketed (i.e. two different airlines, check when booking) any delay or flight schedule change could result in you missing connecting flights. You may incur rebooking or other additional costs for which we cannot accept responsibility.
Please contact us for flight advice especially if you do make a connection on the same day. It is important to purchase a through ticket and not separate tickets for connections, so that you are covered for any delays.
Please note all airline schedules are subject to change and are out of our control.
All transport used is private for the tour and the tours are on a shared basis. Transportation is usually by mini van that seats 8 to 14.
It is a condition of booking any of our holidays that you have comprehensive travel insurance to cover you for trip cancellation (by you), activities involved and destination. This cover should include repatriation costs, air ambulance and helicopter rescue.
We work with Travel Nomads, who offer insurance solutions to people in more than 140 countries across the world.
Should you decide not to purchase this insurance, you must provide us with details of your alternative insurance with or before your final payment.
More destination information
Don't forget to check our Travel Facts about Chile as well as our Chile Language And Culture Guide with a free Spanish Language app available to download.
And please read our guide to Keeping Safe, Fit and Well While Travelling as well as our FAQs and Flight Information page.
Contact us if you need any more information.
Remember this is the Southern Hemisphere, so the seasons are the opposite to those in the Northern Hemisphere. The Atacama's weather follows a desert hot day / cold night pattern. The Atacama Desert is the driest place on Earth so the chances of rain are minimal.
Summer: Daytime temperatures can range between 15degC and 20degC (low 60s and low 70s F). At night these can drop to between 0degC and 5degC (23s and 40s F).
Winter: Daytime temperatures can range between 13degC and 20degC (low 60s and low 70s F). At night these can be between -10degC and 0degC (23s and 40s F).
Good kit is vital for every trip.
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Be nice to your feet! Make sure hiking boots are broken-in. Bring moleskin, Second Skin (or similar) for fast foot treatment and blister prevention.
If you are bringing a camera, include plenty of film or digital cards with enough megabytes for hundreds of pictures and spare batteries.
If you are concerned about airport security x-ray machines and your film, then consider adopting the travel style of many professional photographers -- separate your film from their black canisters. Put your film in plastic or net bags to be easily hand/visually inspected. Then you can combine your film and canisters on reaching your destination. If your film has clear canisters, this is not necessary.
Stuff sacks are great for sorting your gear. Use different sizes and colors to differentiate the contents in your duffel bag/backpack.
Typically, you will be carrying your water-bottle, fleece or wind stopper jacket, rain jacket & trousers, your camera and other small miscellaneous items in your daypack.
Valid passport, airline tickets, photocopy of passport & driver's licence.
Casual city clothes
Bring a few outfits for city wear. These can be left in a luggage storage room at your hotel while on trips
➕ Daypack (20-35 litres) to hold water-bottle, rain gear, warm jacket, lunch for the day camera, etc.
Small locks (for securing duffel zippers)
Medium weight parka or a down jacket.
Waterproof jacket and trousers. The jacket needs to be water proof and roomy. Side-zip pants are recommended.
1-2 long-sleeve shirts - no cotton
2 short-sleeve T-shirts - no cotton
1 pair of hiking pants - cotton or synthetic material (no jeans)
1 fleece or sweat pants (for cold evenings)
2 pairs hiking shorts
Long thermals - synthetic or wool - light to medium weight top & bottoms.
2-3 midweight (wool or synthetic)
2-3 liner socks if needed
Athletic-type socks, several pairs, city use
Hiking boots that are waterproof and well broken-in.
Running/tennis shoes or sandals are very comfortable
1 lightweight wool sweater or windproof fleece
1 wool or synthetic warm hat.
1 light sun hat with a wide brim.
1 pair of medium-weight wool or synthetic gloves
Swimming gear for the pools
1 or 2 one-litre water-bottles
Travel pillow, ear plugs
Emergency repair kit (needle & thread, nylon cord, buttons, safety pins.)
Toilet items. (Biodegradable soap, toothbrush, toilet articles.)
Towelettes (i.e. Wash 'n' Dries; useful for hygiene.)
Towel and/or washcloth.
Compact flashlight or head lamp. (Bring fresh, spare batteries and bulb.)
Plastic bags for items that must stay dry, or wet items. (Various sizes)
Sunscreen and lip balm with an SFP 30+
Sunglasses. (The wrap around type are nice to help keep dust out of your eyes).
Camera and lots of film, Passport carrier or money pouch, Wind jacket and trousers, trekking poles (collapsible), reading and writing material, spare eyeglasses or contacts, insect repellent (not usually needed), snacks, chocolate etc., binoculars (small and lightweight)
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