Either side of the highest flat salts in the World sits the stunning Atacama Desert, on one small corner of the immense high plateau (altiplano in Spanish), and on the other Bolivia. Crossing the salar is one of the great drives of the world, a fantastic experience when the bright blue skies contrast with the blinding white salt crust. The altiplano is literally breath-taking, not only because of its altitude, being between 4,800m and 3,400m (14,600ft – 11,400ft), but also because of the stunning scenery. There is nowhere else like it on earth.
A wonderful way to explore this unique eco-system is to take a 4WD road trip from the San Pedro de Atacama, across the altiplano, crossing the Uyuni salt flat and arriving at the town of Uyuni in Bolivia (you can do it the other way around). It’s an ideal adventure for those who find rainforests hot and claustrophobic and love the idea of 4x4 race, akin to the Dakar Rally.
The desert itself has no roads simply a series of dirt tracks complete with corrugations, dips, bumps and large stones. The most amazing aspect of this desert is how it manages continually to transform itself. Out of nowhere the scenery changes completely. We move from volcanoes to sand to flamingo covered lakes to hot thermal springs. The surrounding beauty is most evident in the many multi coloured layers that ring the volcanoes which contain several minerals that have oxidised over the millennium. They provide a border to the scenery that is surreal and very striking.
‘At-a-Glance’ Illustrative Itinerary
DAY 1: San Pedro de Atacama – Hito Cajon – Laguna Verde – Geysers
DAY 2: Laguna Colorada – Desert of Siloli – Laguna Honda – San Juan
Today you will travel through the Siloli desert area and see surreal rock formations and pass by some other high altiplano lakes.
DAY 3: Full day on salt flats – Salar de Uyuni – Uyuni
Today you will visit the amazing salt flats. Here you can see the "ojos del sal" where water is bubbling up through holes in the Salar; the local workers gather salt into mounds and visit Isla Incahausi where you will find giant cacti and have great panoramic views of the surrounding salt flats.
On arrival in Uyuni it is possible to take the train or fly up to the capital of Bolivia, La Paz. If you do the journey from Bolivia to Chile you can transfer from San Pedro to Calama for a flight back to Santiago. We would highly recommend spending 3 or 4 days in the stunning mountain desert of Atacama.