Comprehensive nature and photographic journey designed to discover the wealth of landscapes and wildlife of the Atacama Desert. 6-day private tour to the Atacama and the Chilean Altiplano. Explore pristine wildlife hotspots, remote corners with outstading photographic highlights and Atacameño villages; private transportation and naturalist/photographer guide

Next departure: October 10-15, 2018 • 8 guests plus FSE Tour Leader.

6-day trip • Starts/Ends: Santiago or Calama, Chile. Custom departures; check out our updated rates with hotel options.

Atacama Desert Explorer © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions

Photographing wildlife in the High Andes © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions


Book this trip, reserve space now!This nature and photo itinerary will allow you to discover the scenery, wildlife and cultural riches of the world's most arid desert, the mythic Atacama. The Atacama Desert is truly a mosaic of habitats, an open book of rewarding explorations, and on this nature and photo safari will deliver very different and exciting highlights every day of your journey. From geyser fields to lifeless sand-dunes, from flamingo-filled saltpans to an amphitheatre of volcanos, from highland lakes teeming with wildlife to seldom-visited canyons and ridges. Join us on this trip to northern Chile, with countless highlights for the nature enthusiast and the keen photographer alike.





Salar de Talar (Aguas Calientes) and its impressive and colorful mountain surroundings - a true paradise for the nature photographer © Claudio F. Vidal -

Salar de Talar © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions


Itinerary in Brief (6 days / 5 nights)

Day 1 • Drive to San Pedro de Atacama – Valle de la Luna (Moon's Valley) – San Pedro de Atacama (5 nights)

Day 2 • Petrogliph Field - Valle del Arcoiris (Rainbow Valley) – Chaxa and Tebiquinche lagoons

Day 3 • Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoos – Salar de Talar

Day 4 • El Tatio geyser fields – Vado de Putana – Puritama river

Day 5 • Pakana Monks – Salar de Tara – Salar de Pujsa

Day 6 • Pukara (fortress) de Quitor – Catarpe – Drive to Calama


Trip Highlights

• The Atacama Desert, the driest in the world.

• Spectacular and diverse landscapes dominated by volcanoes, snowy peaks, puna grasslands and saltpans.

• Up to three flamingo species (Chilean, Andean, and James's).

• Explore the pukaras, ayllos and ritual villages from remarkable pre-Hispanic cultures.

• Photographic visit to El Tatio Geyser fields, one of the highest and third largest geothermal field in the world.

• Interesting mammals such as vicuñas, guanacos, foxes and striking birds that include Puna Rhea and Horned Coot.



Detailed Itinerary and Activities

Day 1 • Drive to San Pedro de Atacama – Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon)

After meeting your guide at Calama Airport, you will be transferred to the pleasant oasis village of San Pedro de Atacama, our base during the following five nights. There are four hotels to choose (see links below). During the afternoon we have a planned visit to the barren and lifeless Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) to discover its impressive geological features. Cordillera de la Sal - the Salt Range - is part of a massive geological system being pushed up and folded some 23 million years ago. Here we will see glistening layers of salt, gypsum, chlorates, borates and clay forming dramatic and multi-coloured sculptures, valleys and escarpments, interspersed with vast dry lakes and dunes, with their characteristic and delicate patterns and textures. We will have time to see and photograph the most famous formations including 'Las Tres Marias' - The Three Maries - and the 'Anfiteatro' - Amphitheatre. We will be at location in one of the best view points to witness a dramatic sunset; the sun rays will tinge the rocks, providing superb photographic opportunities of the valley against the omnipresent Licancabur Volcano - the sacred and protecting mountain for the Likanantai or Atacameño people. Altitude: 2.550 m.a.s.l. (meters above sea level) | 8.366 ft.

Overnight at San Pedro de Atacama. (Lunch, Dinner) (Guide).


One of our guests documenting the sunset at Valle de la Luna - the Moon's Valley, Atacama Desert, Chile © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions

Sunset at Valle de la Luna (Moon's Valley) © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions


Day 2 • Petrogliph Field - Valle del Arcoiris (Rainbow Valley) – Tambillo woods and Chaxa Salt Lake

Another day to experience the dramatic vistas and surprising biodiverisity of the world's driest desert. Shortly after sunrise we will be at location to see the Atacama Desert and its culture from another interesting angle, as we admire the ancient petrogliphs left in the walls of a rocky outcrop by the ancestral caravans as they traversed through the desert from one oasis to the next. Tens of zoomorphic, anthropomorphic and abstract petrogliphs are discovered along the dedicated trail. Valle del Arcoiris or Rainbow Valley offers numerous view points from where it is possible  and we´ll spend the morning hours exploring canyons, gorges and gullies to appreciate the colossal folds modelled by the erosive action of the wind and water through millennia, with views revealing the plethora of contrasting mineral colours of the hills that give this valley its name. Later we shall visit Salar de Atacama, one of the largest salt flats in the world. The water in the saltpans has its origins in the geyser fields and from the melting snow and ice in the highlands. It accumulates temporarily in these huge depressions where it evaporates very rapidly. Salts are concentrated and precipitate, and the water becomes pink, blue or white, through colonization by saline-tolerant bacteria and diatoms. Some invertebrates (including shrimp-like crustaceans) are also able to survive in this extremely caustic environment. On our way to the heart of this huge salt lake, we´ll stop at one of the last stands of the endemic Tamarugo tree, home to the restricted Tamarugo Conebill. We will then drive to Laguna Chaxa in the Atacama salt flat before sunset to enjoy another photo session. The lake and its brine shrimps are literraly a magnet for the flamingos, this being one of the few places where you can observe up to three species; Andean, Chilean and Puna flamingos, the latter being the rarest in the world. Other birds we may see here are Andean Avocet, Andean Gull, Puna Plover and the migrant shorebirds, Baird's Sandpiper and Wilson´s Phalarope. The vision of the Andes in hundreds of shades of red reflected in the vast white Atacama salt flat at sunset and the silhouettes of passing formations of flamingos is truly exulting. 

Overnight at San Pedro de Atacama (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) (Guide).


Andean grassland near Lagunas Miscanti and Miñiques © Enrique Couve, Far South Expeditions

Licancabur Volcano, one of the sacred peaks for the Licanantai people © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions


Day 3 • Lakes Miscanti and Miñiques – Salar de Talar

This morning we will head south of San Pedro to explore the Lagunas Altiplanicas, high Andean lakes. We will pass through the interesting agricultural villages of Toconao and Socaire. Toconao in particular is characterized by its stone houses, beautiful orchards and quite complex irrigation system. From here we will gain height and we will visit the impressive Lagunas Miscanti and Miñiques. This is a protected reserve and we must keep on the well-defined trails at all times. The birdlife is quite rich at this typical lake of the Altiplano region and we will see a great array of waterbirds and songbirds. These lakes hold one of the few breeding populations of the scarce Horned Coot, largest and most threatened coot in the world. We might also see herds of Vicuña around these lakes, against the magnificent mountain backdrop formed by the homonymous volcanos. Later we will continue south to enjoy one of the most splendid vistas of the day as we reach Salar de Talar. There are great panoramic photo opportunities of the turquoise-colored lake and the soft textures of the surrounding mountains and volcanos. Altitude: 4.200 m.a.s.l. (meters above sea level) | 13.800 ft.

Overnight at San Pedro de Atacama (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) (Guide).


Andean Flamingo (Phoenicoparrus andinus), Atacama Desert, Chile © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions

Flamingos at Salar de Pujsa © Enrique Couve, Far South Expeditions


Day 4 • El Tatio Geyser Fields – Vado de Putana – Puritama River

Today we will start very early in the morning to explore the impressive El Tatio Geysers, located at an altitude of 13,800 feet. This is one of the highest geyser fields and the third largest in the world. During the first hours of the morning we´ll witness how this bizarre landscape, filled by columns of steam, covered by cones of crystallized silica and other salts, and containing ponds of boiling pastel-colored mud, slowly unveils before our eyes as the sun comes up. Surprisingly, some plants and animals are adapted to live in these extreme environments at the very limit of where life is possible. Later we will descend and explore the Putana River and its rich wildlife including Giant & Andean coots, Puna & Yellow-billed teals and other birdlife. We will have also the time to explore the flora, adapted to the extreme altitude and harsh conditions. One of the most conspicuous plants to see will be the tall columnar Atacama Cactus (Echinopsis atacamensis) which grows in the Guatin gorge and hillsides along Puritama river. Back in San Pedro, you will have a few hours on your own, to explore the town and visit the market and the interesting Father Le Paige Anthropological MuseumAltitude: 4.200 m.a.s.l. (meters above sea level) | 13.800 ft.

Overnight at San Pedro de Atacama (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) (Guide).

Horned Coot (Fulica cornuta), Atacama Desert, Chile © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions

The threatened Horned Coot, Fulica cornuta, is a possible species around San Pedro © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions


Day 5 • Pakana MonksSalar de Tara – Salar de Pujsa

Today we will enjoy of a full day of exploration at one of the most remote and least-visited regions of the Atacama Desert. We will drive east of San Pedro, following the international road, very close to the limit with Argentina, enjoying of the sunrise views of Licancabur Volcano and Laguna Blanca in Bolivia. At some point we will reach the remarkable rock columns called Monjes de Pakana - the Pakana Monks. From here, we will literally leave the road and in the hands of our capable driver we will head to the remote Salar de Tara. Dramatic and desolate valleys and ridges characterize the way to this incredible spot; one of the highlights of the day will be the Cathedrals of Tara, a truly remarkable geological spectacle. Once we reach the lake, we will see Andean and James's flamingos, plus several high-altitude birds including Puna Tinamou, Lesser Rhea, Golden-spotted Ground-Dove, Mountain Parakeet, Red-backed Sierra-Finch among several others. Here we can also find the bizarre Mountain Vizcacha , a large rock-dwelling rodent, and Vicuña herds. On the way back to San Pedro, we will stop at Salar de Pujsa, where there are large concentrations of flamingos, feeding on the alkaline waters. Altitude: 4.300 m.a.s.l. (meters above sea level) | 14.130 ft.

Overnight at San Pedro de Atacama (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) (Guide).


Andean Flamingo, Laguna Chaxa near San Pedro de Atacama © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions

Andean Flamingo, Phoenicoparrus andinus © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions


Day 6 • Pukara de Quitor – Catarpe Drive to Calama

Early in the morning we will visit the pre-Hispanic fortress called Pukara de Quitor, located just a short distance from San Pedro. This ancient complex of rock buildings, dates from the Inca occupation period more than 700 years ago, and its purpose was to protect the locals against other tribal groups. It lies in the hillsides of the homonymous range. At noon you will be transferred to Calama, where our trip ends.

(Breakfast) (Guide).



Trip Map

Atacama Desert Explorer Map


Dates & Rates


Scheduled Departures:

Group trip (up to 8 guests), fully guided by a Tour Leader from our company, based at Hotel Altiplanico.


Atacama Desert Explorer
Trip Code CHL03 • CHL006
Trip Length 6 days, 5 nights
Dates  2018 Oct 10-15
2019 TBA
Price per person USD 2,999
Single Supplement  USD 350


Custom Private Departures

You choose the date. Available year-round. Departures from Santiago de Chile (SCL) or Calama (CJC), Chile. 


Atacama Desert Explorer
Trip Code CHL03 • CHL006
Trip Length 6 days, 5 nights
Based at Hotel La Casa de Don Tomas
No. of guests 2 3 4+ Single Suppl.
Price per person $4,435 $3,452 $2,825 $190
Based at Hotel Altiplanico
No. of guests 2 3 4+ Single Suppl.
Price per person $4,604 $3,451 $3,005 $350
Based at Hotel Tierra Atacama
No. of guests 2 3 4+ Single Suppl.
Price per person $5,518 Ask $3,907 $770


Do you want us to arrange your flights from Santiago to Calama?

Domestic flights Santiago (SCL) – Calama (CJC) – Santiago (from US$200-300 per person). Duration of the flight: 2 hours (direct).


What the trip includes/excludes

The above price is per person in USD, based in single or double accommodation. Single supplement will be added if single accommodations are requested.

The trip price includes: All accommodations, meals and guide services as stated in the itinerary, private ground transportation during the tour, airport transfers Calama - San Pedro de Atacama - Calama, and park entrance fees. A daily bottle of mineral water is also included.

The trip price excludes: Domestic flights, tipping, travel insurance, à la carte dishes, snacks, drinks, laundry, telephone calls and anything else of a purely personal nature.



The Lodges


Hotel Altiplanico, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Check out our photo gallery of Hotel Altiplanico, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Click here.

Trip Advisor Review here.



Hotel Casa de Don Tomas, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Check out our photo gallery of Hotel Altiplanico, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Click here.

Trip Advisor Review here.



Hotel Tierra Atacama, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Check out our photo gallery of Hotel Altiplanico, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Click here.

Trip Advisor Review here.





Photo Gallery


Check out our photo gallery from recent nature trips and photo tours to the Atacama Desert.

Visit our Atacama Desert Photo Gallery -



The Atacama Desert


Atacama Desert,  Wildlife and Landscapes by Enrique Couve and Claudio F. Vidal ©  Fantastico Sur ExpeditionsThe Atacama Desert is Chile’s largest covering 5% of Chile’s territory with its 13,900 square miles (36,000 sq. km.). The Atacama Desert lies in the arid zone of western South America, spreading from 15ºS, in southern Peru, down to 30º S near the city of La Serena in Chile.  Many of the world’s largest deserts including the Kalahari and the Great Desert of Australia also occur at this latitude in the Tropic of Capricorn. The huge Atacama Salt Pan is situated between  23º41’S and 68º33’W, at an altitude of 7,560 feet above sea level (f.a.s.l.) (2,305 meters).

The Atacama is considered the most arid desert of the planet. Skies here remain clear over 300 days a year and in some areas no records of rainfall exist. Stretching along the western slope of the Andes Range, the desert is divided into three areas by altitude. The Inner Desert Area consists of the plateau situated between the Coastal and the Andean mountain ranges. This area varies between 3,600 and 8,200 feet (1,100 and  2,500 meters), with hardly any precipitation and very low humidity. The second  zone, the Marginal Tropical Area, includes the first ranges and valleys of the Andes, from 9,180 to 12,460 feet (2,800 and 3,800 meters). This area experiences low precipitation during the summer and slightly higher humidity, due to the effect of rivers and salt pans. Finally, the High Tropical Area exists above 13,120 feet (4,000 meters) in the Andes and is characterized by summer rainfall.

Human occupation in the Atacama Desert basin began around 11,000 years ago, in places with sufficient water to support vegetation. The seeds of algarrobo (Prosopis chilensis) and chañar (Geofroea decorticans), were both important food sources. Agriculture came later, beginning with corn and continuing with livestock. Following the domestication of Llamas (Lama glama) and Alpacas (Lama pacos), these camelids became essential for food, transportation and clothing.

The flora of these desert ecosystems has managed to adapt to the rigorous climate  and the  harsh  conditions of altitude. Despite the extreme aridity and scarce vegetation, the Atacama desert  depressions hold a wealth of fauna. Of the total of 183 vertebrate species, birds constitute 120 species.  Reptiles and amphibians comprise 37 and 5  species respectively.  21 species of mammals include a highly diverse group of camelids, carnivorous rodents,marsupials and bats.

Los Flamencos Nature Reserve was established to protect this fascinating community assemblage. Its 183,000 acres (73,986 hectares) encompass the entire altitudinal gradient from the Inner Desert Area ascending the Andes to the High Tropical Area. All seven sectors of the park are home to a wealth of floral and faunal communities. This reserve includes: the salt pans of Tara, Aguas Calientes and Pujsa in the high plateau, the  Valle de la Luna (Moon’s Valley) along the edge of the Atacama salt pan, Tambillo, Laguna de Quelara (Quelara Lagoon) and Soncor, and the incomparable scenic Miscanti and Miñiques lakes.



How to Book


Tour Registration

To book this tour, please complete our online registration form. We will process your booking form and will send you (within 24 hours) a note with space confirmation and a deposit invoice with payment instructions. The deposit amount is US$ 500 per person. Full payment of the tour fee is due 90 days prior to tour departure.

NOTE: Inquires received on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays will be replied during the following working day.


Cancellation Policy

Notice of cancellation can only be accepted IN WRITING from the person who signed the booking form and takes effect on the day such noticed is received by us.


Refunds are made according to the following schedule:

If cancellation is made 120 days or more before departure date, the deposit less US$ 200 is refundable.

If cancellation is made between 120 and 60 days before departure, the deposit is not refundable, but any payments covering the balance of the fee will be refunded.

If cancellation is made fewer than 60 days before departure date, no refund is available.

This policy and fee schedule also applies to pre-trip and post trip extensions, as well as any transfers from one tour to another. We strongly recommend the purchase of trip cancellation insurance to protect yourself.