Chile’s Atacama Desert is the driest place on Earth, a travellers dream for stunning landscapes, wildlife, trekking, stargazing and moon-like experiences. The Atacama Desert receives less than 1mm of rain each year and as a result it is almost entirely without greenery, shade, cities or pollution. The humidity in the area is just 4% which contributes to a clear atmosphere with wonderful light and stunningly clear night skies.
The beauty of the Atacama is in the extreme surreal landscape of volcanoes, geysers, high altitude mineral lakes of deep blues and greens. Visit the Salar de Atacama, a vast 3,000 sq km salt flat, flamingos forage in the pools of salty water and eat the shrimp, giving them their bright pink hue colour and provide a startling contrast to the white flatlands. An early 4am start is required to see the El Tatio geysers at their best 14,173ft above sea level. As these are 55 miles from town, an early 4am start is required, whilst an afternoon tour is best to see sunset on the sculpted rock formations of the Valle de la Luna, Valle de la Muerte and Tres Marías.
And on any evening just sit back and stargaze the best natural planetarium on Earth with a glass of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc or Malbec. The crystal clean air and an absence of light pollution means the stars and planets of the southern sky are there for all to see. A startlingly bright and busy Milky Way, Saturn and Jupiter are routinely visible, and on a good night you will see the Magellanic clouds, two irregular distant dwarf galaxies visible in the southern hemisphere.
‘At-a-Glance’ Illustrative Itinerary
DAY 1: Depart arrive in Santiago, on an evening flight.
DAY 2: Arrive in the morning, transfer through to your hotel of choice. In the afternoon take a tour of the old city, European style market and the funicular up to Cerro Cristóbal for superb views of the city and take the rest of the day at leisure.
DAY 3: Explore Santiago, surrounded by the Andes Mountains, at leisure.
DAY 4: Flight to Calama, the gateway to the Atacama Desert, with stunning views of the Andes en route. Take an afternoon tour of Moon Valley, an otherworldly experience walking through canyons and over dunes, watching the sunset over the surreal landscape.
DAY 5: An early start to catch the high altitude Tatio Geysers at their best and see the spectacular display of searing steam and water shooting into the air at dawn. Take a dip in the warm waters. Depart for Toconao, a town built of white volcanic stone. Continue to Salar de Atacama, the vast salt lake now home to flamingos.
DAY 6: Fly back to Santiago and collect your self-drive car with full briefing, maps and itinerary description. Drive to Valparaíso overlooking the Pacific Ocean and explore on foot the artistic neighbourhood perched on the hillsides.
DAY 7: Drive south to the picturesque town of Santa Cruz in the Colchagua Valley, famous for its excellent wines. Stay for 2 nights and explore the surrounding countryside and vineyards.
DAY 8: a day touring the ‘La Ruta del Vino’.
DAY 9: Continue on south to Pucón. This is a whole day’s driving and if you have time then stop mid-way at Salta de Laja before continuing on.
DAY 10: Explore Pucón, famous for its pristine scenery with snow-capped voclcanoes, crystal clear lakes and national parks, you can numerous activities locally – climb Volcan Villarica, rafting, mountain biking, horse riding, fishing, trekking to name a few.
DAY 11: Take another day enjoying outdoor activities in Pucón.
DAY 12: Drive further south to Puerto Varas located on Lake Llanquihue, near Petrohue Falls and Lago Todos Los Santos whose deep, clear emerald waters and crowned with snow peaks.
DAY 13: Explore the area at your own pace with walks and boat trips. Nearby is the Island of Chiloe, the home of the humble potato.
DAY 14: Drive to Puerto Montt airport where you will return your car and fly to Santiago to connect with your international flight.