Seize this rare opportunity to explore one of the driest places on earth, where salt flats crackle under your feet and volcanoes beckon in the distance.
Atlas Obscura's seven-day journey into Chile’s Atacama Desert begins with a tour of Iquique, a lively city on the coast. After visiting the Atacama Giant geoglyph, our group of 20 travelers will retreat to the oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama. From our home base here, surrounded by breathtaking scenery, we'll discover the diversity of the desert, including the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) and Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley), Salar de Atacama (Atacama Salt Flats), the geysers of El Tatio, and more. At night, we'll have the chance to admire the sparkling desert sky by telescope.
- Ancient archaeology: San Pedro de Atacama is considered the archaeological capital of Chile, a place where evidence of human activity goes back more than 10,000 years. We'll explore ancient fortress remains, plus the ruins of Tulor Village, a key settlement dating to 300 BC.
- Altiplanic Lagoons: Located at 13,500 feet above sea level, the Miscanti and Meñiques lagoons are home to unique flora and fauna that exist only in these protected areas, including a large congregation of flamingoes.
- Alien Investigations: We'll visit the abandoned town of La Noria, where Oscar Muñoz discovered the tiny "Ata" skeleton to widespread curiosity and controversy—accompanied by Mr. Muñoz himself.
- Dinner under the stars: The Atacama is one of the best places on Earth to view the night sky—and a perfect place to be whisked away to a special desert location to be wined and dined under a dazzling display of constellations.
A $250 non-refundable deposit is required to secure your spot; we have a very limited capacity, and we expect the trip to fill extremely quickly. The trip will cost $3,420—the $250 deposit plus $3,170 final payment—and will cover all fixed costs including accommodations, local guides, and all meals and activities listed in the itinerary.
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE TRIP?
If you have any questions that aren't answered in the itinerary, or would like to chat with someone about whether you think this adventure is the right fit for you, please don't hesitate to contact us! Email us at [email protected] or give us a call at 1-800-567-2216 anytime between 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. ET.
Iquique Arrival & City Tour
- After your arrival at Iquique's Diego Aracena Airport and transfer to the group's hotel, take some time to settle in and have lunch at your leisure. Iquique is an up-and-coming coastal city, once a saltpeter mining town and now a beachside sport and resort destination. Sprouting up in the 19th century, the city was ceded to Chile by Peru following the War of the Pacific, and is still a major copper mining hub.
- Our group will then meet for a welcome dinner and orientation. After dinner, we will head back to our hotel where we'll be joined by Oscar Muñoz, a collector of lost historical objects in the towns of northern Chile and the man who discovered the "Ata," or Atacama Skeleton, in 2003. Muñoz's unusual discovery prompted DNA tests and was included in Sirius, a full-length documentary investigating purported evidence of alien life. We'll hear more from Muñoz about the region and his controversial discovery.
- Afterwards, head to bed for some rest or, if you'd like, stay out and explore more of Iquique.
La Noria & Abandoned Cultural Sites
- After breakfast, we'll depart for La Noria, an abandoned town located 35 miles from Iquique. La Noria was where Mr. Muñoz found the six-inch Ata skeleton, wrapped in a white fabric tied with a purple band.
- After a chance to explore La Noria, we'll enjoy lunch in Huara, a city with a fascinating historical and cultural past, especially during the War of the Pacific in the 19th century.
- After lunch, our day will continue with a visit to the Atacama Giant, a large, anthropomorphic geoglyph located at Cerro Unitas. This is the largest prehistoric anthropomorphic figure in the world, with a height of 119 meters (390 feet). The Giant represents a deity worshipped by the local inhabitants from the years 1000 to 1400, and is one out of nearly 5,000 pieces of ancient artworks that have been discovered in the Atacama in the last three decades. This specific geoglyph also served as an early astronomical calendar, based around the moon's movement, which could then determine the day, crop cycle, and season.
- Afterwards we'll visit Humberstone, one of two former saltpeter refineries to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.
- This evening, after a day packed with unusual sights and abandoned history, relax and take dinner on your own.
Off to San Pedro de Atacama!
- After breakfast, we'll depart for San Pedro de Atacama, tucked up on an arid plateau in the Andes mountains, and surrounded by a landscape of salt flats, volcanoes, geysers, and hot springs.
- En route, we'll visit the enigmatic Pintados Geoglyphs. Extending 4 km along a hillside, the Cerro Pintados site features approximately 400 images of animals, birds, humans, and geometric patterns, etched on the surface or formed by a mosaic of little stones around the year 1000.
- We'll enjoy a delicious picnic lunch, and arrive in San Pedro de Atacama at approximately 5:30 p.m. After that you will be free to take some time to wander! San Pedro offers lots of restaurants and nice places to taste the local food; we'll be sure to offer our recommendations for dinner spots.
Tatio Geysers & Dazzling Constellations
- This morning, we'll depart our hotel at around 4 a.m. to ensure early arrival at the high geyser field. Here, as the day breaks, you'll get to witness the geysers erupt with explosive vents of steam reaching up to eight meters in height. In the calm, dawn light, it's quite a mystical scene.
- After this dramatic start to the day, we'll return to San Pedro at around 1 p.m. and allow everyone a few hours to get lunch and rest after the day's early start. If you have extra energy, there are opportunities to rent bikes or visit the handcraft market—though we recommend you take the chance to relax before an exciting evening of astronomy.
- Tonight, we'll head out to explore the desert skies. Via a unique astronomical tour, you'll learn how to translate all that you're seeing in the sky with your naked eye. Everyone will also have the opportunity to observe the stars and planets through powerful telescopes to discover a new world—our universe! The Atacama is one of the best places on Earth to see the sky, and we can guarantee you'll never experience anything quite like it.
- To top off this long and breathtaking day, you'll be whisked away to a special location in the desert known as “Bosque de Tamarugos,” where you'll be wined and dined under the stars of the Atacama.
A Day of Archaeology
- San Pedro de Atacama is considered the archeological capital of Chile; discovery of human establishments dating back more than 10,000 years began in large part with the mid-20th century excavations of Father Gustavo Le Paige. This morning, we'll begin with a visit to the town's Archaeological Museum. The Museum, featuring important pieces of handicraft as well as mummies, explains the different stages of the Atacameño culture, beginning with aboriginal fortresses built in the 12th century to protect against enemy attack.
- After the museum, we'll visit Tulor Village, the most important archeological site in the entire region, where humans lived as far back as 300 BC.
- We'll also explore the Catarpe and Quitor archaeological sites.
- After lunch, we'll head to our next destination: Yerbas Buenas and the Rainbow Valley, named for the rainbow of colors found on this area's varied rock formations.
- At Yerbas Buenas, we'll view an important example of cave art expressed in petroglyphs.
- At the end of the day, with many millennia of history to unpack, take a relaxed evening on your own, and if needed, an early night in.
Lagoons, Flamingoes, and Desert Sunsets
- Today, we'll visit one of San Pedro’s most beautiful places: the Altiplanic Lagoons of Miscanti and Meñiques. These lagoons are located at 13,500 feet above sea level and are home to singular flora and fauna that exist only in these special, protected areas.
- Afterwards, we'll have lunch in the town of Socaire, where ancestral traditions have endured through the centuries.
- We'll then continue onwards to the Salar de Atacama, or Atacama Salt Flats, distinct for its white and rugged surface, and the great flocks of flamingoes that choose these waters for nesting.
- On this last evening together, we'll head out to one of the best places in the area to take in the breathtaking desert sunset: Cordillera de la Sal. Cordillera de la Sal includes two beautiful valleys, the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) and the Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley). To celebrate this natural spectacle—and an unforgettable week together—we'll enjoy a farewell cocktail.
Airport Transfer & Calama Departure
- Sadly, this is our last day in the world’s driest desert! But even after we depart to our home destinations, we'll hold on to the memories of exploring archaeological ruins, stunning natural wonders, one-of-a-kind astronomy, local food, and great company.
- The trip ends with a transfer to the airport in Calama.
YOUR ATLAS OBSCURA ATACAMA TRIP INCLUDES
- All lodging in double-accommodation rooms in modern, well-equipped hotels throughout the trip. (Single supplement for a private room is available for $470. Otherwise we'll work to place singles together.)
- Transfers to and from the Iquique and Calama airports.
- All entrance fees, activities, and meals, as per the itinerary.
- Private transfers and excursions with your local guides.
- A full briefing packet for each explorer, including country information, final itinerary, logistical and contact information, recommended reading list, and packing list.
- A great group of fellow Atlas Obscura fans, excited to explore all that this unique destination has to offer!
- Please email us at 1-800-567-2216 anytime between 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. ET. with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, flight planning, and payment, or call us at
NOTE ON ITINERARY
Itineraries and pricing are subject to change. This particular tour has been designed with specific activities and events in mind, whose schedules and availabilities may change in coming months due to inclement weather, forces of nature and other circumstances beyond our control.
NOTE ON FACILITIES & PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Many of the areas we'll be exploring on this adventure are remote, and travelers should be ready to experience some basic facilities. Some days may be long and involve significant walking while visiting sites. To enjoy this adventure, we suggest reasonable fitness and health, a moderately active lifestyle, a flexible mindset, and a positive attitude.
Travelers should plan to arrive into Iquique's Diego Aracena International Airport (IQQ) no later than 3 p.m. on December 8. Travelers should plan their return flights departing out of Calama's El Loa Airport (CJC) anytime after 9 a.m. on December 14. We are available to offer support and assistance with your travel arrangements.
You will be charged a non-refundable $250 deposit to hold your space. The final payment of $3,170 will be due by September 27, 2017. All reservations will be final after this date and subject to our cancellation policy. For travelers wishing to have single accommodations during the trip, an additional $470 will be included in the final payment.
TRAVELERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR
- Transportation and flights into Iquique’s Diego Aracena International Airport and out of Calama’s El Loa Airport.
- Travel insurance (required).
- Baggage charges.
- Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings.
- If applicable, applying for a Chilean visa.