The Great Atacama Desert

The famed Atacama Desert has often been described as a moon-like setting due to its desolate landscapes. The odd combination of rock formations, canyons, salt basins and lava flows, make this region one of the most striking regions in all of Chile and it appears the landscapes were pulled right off a science fiction book. Travelers from all over the world visit the dry setting of the Atacama to be witnesses of its bubbling geysers, hot springs, crystal-clear blue lagoons, and its beautiful valleys and rivers.

The Atacama plateau extends all the way from the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Our home and adventure center for our 4 night journey is the award-winning Tierra Atacama Hotel, found just 20 minutes away from the Spanish colonial village of San Pedro de Atacama and surrounded by a green oasis. At an altitude of 7,000 feet, you will feel like you can literally touch the clear and star-filled skies that hover over you at night. The skies here are some of the clearest in the world, which is why a few of the best observatories on the planet are found in Atacama.

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Each day guests can choose their activities for the day, whether it be two half day excursions or one full day excursion. The choice is made every day on the spot, in order to make sure the activities tailor to your mood and energy. Below are some of the options of the fantastic places you can visit:

The Great Atacama Desert
The Atacama Desert covers a total area of 40,541 sq. mi (105,000 sq. km), stretching 600mi (1000km) from southern Peru into northern Chile. Officially the driest place on Earth, the Atacama Desert receives almost no rainfall whatsoever. In fact, it is so dry that some weather stations in the desert have never recorded a single drop of rain. As a result of these harsh conditions, plant and animal life is almost non-existent, particularly in the lower Atacama Desert. The northern coastal areas, however, do receive a little more rainfall, and as a result, are less arid.

Reasons why the Atacama Desert is so dry
There are three main reasons that contribute to the Atacama Desert being the driest place on earth. The first reason is that the desert sits on the wrong side of the Andes with regards to prevailing winds. The prevailing southeast trade winds that carry moist air are forced to rise. The moisture condenses, and falls on the opposite side of the Andes to the Atacama. This is commonly known as a rain shadow.

The second reason is the high air pressure in the Atacama Desert. Essentially, descending air warms up, meaning that any moisture within turns to water vapor (gas, not liquid) as opposed to rain.

The third and the last reason is the cold Humboldt Current from the Pacific Ocean. Any onshore winds are usually chilled so they are unable to pick up moisture from the ocean. Cumulatively, the effect of the aforementioned three points creates the driest place on earth…The Atacama Desert.

Atacama Desert Temperatures
The Atacama Desert is pretty cold despite being the driest desert and the temperature ranges between 0°C to 25°C. The annual rainfall in this dry desert area is less than 0.004 inches/0.01cm of rain per year. Since the desert lies between Andes Mountain in the east and Chile coast to the west, this region has rain shadow effect and is deprived of almost all moisture.


Flora in the Atacama
Plants do not grow in this region as the desert is covered with marine fog. However, some species of cacti, algae, and lichen are found.

Animals That Live in the Atacama Desert

Birds
Birds are probably the largest animal group in the Atacama Desert. Humboldt penguins live year-round along the coast, nesting in desert cliffs overlooking the ocean. On salt flats both near the Pacific and inland, Andean flamingos flock to eat the algae. Other birds, including species of hummingbirds and sparrows, visit the desert seasonally to feed on insects, nectar, seeds and flowers. The Atacama helps sustain several threatened species, such as the Tamarugo Conebill, the Chilean Woodstar and the Slender-Billed Finch. When flowers are in bloom, the deserts’ ecosystems even support birds of prey, such as burrowing owls and Chimango Caracaras.

Mammals
Because of the desert’s extreme aridity, only a few specially adapted mammal species live in the Atacama. Darwin’s leaf-eared mouse eats grass, insects and seeds. The South American gray fox, also omnivorous, lives on eggs, fruit, lizards, rodents, seeds and even scorpions. The viscacha, a relative of the chinchilla, also lives in parts of the desert. Larger animals, such as guanacos and vicunas -- both relatives of llamas -- graze in areas where grass grows, irrigated by melted snow. Vicunas need to remain near a steady water supply, while guanacos can roam into more arid areas and survive longer without fresh water. Fur seals and sea lions often gather along the coast.

Reptiles and Amphibians
The Atacama Desert has surprisingly few reptile and amphibian species. The Vallenar toad lives on the desert, where it lays eggs in permanent ponds or streams. Iguanas and lava lizards inhabit parts of the desert, while salt flat lizards live in the dry areas bordering the ocean.

Insects and Arachnids
Many parts of the Atacama Desert are too dry to sustain even insect life. In other areas, sand-colored grasshoppers blend with pebbles on the desert floor. Beetles and their larvae provide a valuable food source in the desert. Desert wasps sometimes prey on other insects. During especially warm, humid seasons, butterflies visit the desert. Red scorpions also live in the desert, where their color helps conceal them from predators such as gray foxes.

Find additional facts on the Atacama Desert on the Quasar Expeditions South America travel blog!

STARTING PRICE

5 Stars: $1818 USD per person*
4 Stars: $1580 USD per person*


DESTINATIONS

Atacama Desert


ACTIVITIES

Walks & Hikes, Bike Rides, Horse Back Riding, Star-Gazing.


PHYSICAL LEVEL

Easy walking


TOUR ITINERARY IN BRIEF

  • Day 1: Morning flight from Santiago to Calama & transfer to hotel
    AM | PM: Rest of the morning at leisure, to relax and get settled in. Lunch at your hotel followed by a short briefing about your afternoon activity. Choose today from one of the several half-day tour options available from the hotel.


    Meals included: Lunch, Dinner
    Overnight at hotel of choice in Atacama
  • Day 2: Full day in San Pedro de Atacama
    AM | PM:Today you have the option of taking two half day or one full day excursion in the Atacama Desert. You can also choose to rest and relax at your hotel, use the spa and pool or just catch up on your sleep.

    Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Overnight at hotel of choice in Atacama
  • Day 3: Full day in San Pedro de Atacama
    AM | PM: Today you have the option of taking two half day or one full day excursion in the Atacama Desert. Your guides will recommend excursions based on your acclimatization to high elevation, your physical ability and your travel style.

    Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Overnight at hotel of choice in Atacama
  • Day 4: Full day in San Pedro de Atacama
    AM | PM: For 3 night programs, you will check-out today and take a transfer from your hotel to Calama airport for your flight to Santiago. You will have lunch at the hotel today as well if your flight departs in the afternoon.

    For 4 or 5 night programs, your adventure continues. Again you willhave a choice today between two half day or one full day excursion in the mighty desert

    Meals for 3 night programs: Breakfast, Lunch
    Meals for 4 or 5 night programs: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Overnight at hotel of choice in Atacama
  • Day 5: Full day in San Pedro de Atacama
    AM | PM: For 4 night programs, you will check-out today and take a transfer from your hotel to Calama airport for your flight to Santiago. You will have lunch at the hotel today as well if your flight departs in the afternoon.

    For 5 night programs, your adventure continues for one more day. You will have a choice today between two half day or one full day excursion in the mighty desert.

    Meals for 4 night programs: Breakfast, Lunch
    Meals for 5 night programs: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Overnight at hotel of choice in Atacama
  • Day 6: Transfer to airport your flight back to Santiago
    AM: For 5 night programs, this marks the end of your adventure in the Atacama Desert. You will transfer this morning from your hotel to Calama Airport for your flight back to Santiago. Depending of the time your flight leaves, you will have breakfast and possibly lunch at your hotel before departing.

    Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch


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TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

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GUEST TESTIMONIALS
TOUR OPTIONS IN CHILE
Choose between any of the 4 regions below for packages or
click here for excursion and hotel rates

Santiago & Surroundings

Located in the centre of Chile is Santiago, capital of the country and point of departure to all other destination within its narrow geographic bounds, as well as the other countries that lie beyond.

Nature has blessed Chile and its people with a little of everything to be found throughout the globe, and it is here in the center of the country where it is possible to find much of this diversity without the need to travel far.

Since its location is in a valley, it's surrounded by mountains that offer attractive panoramas. Close to the city, visitors can find ski resorts, wine valleys, beach areas and the port of Valparaiso with its rich heritage.

In the surroundings of Santiago the most important wine regions of the country are found which are known as Wine Valley, where you can visit the vineyards and taste different wine strains accompanied by Chilean cuisine.

TOUR ADVENTURES
DURATION
8 days
STARTING PRICE
$220 USD per person
DESTINATIONS
Vira Vira Lodge

This package promises an ideal kick-off to your Patagonia adventure. Following arrival, travelers will enjoy a half-day tour of Santiago, an overnight stay at the famously luxurious Singular Santiago, and seamless airport transfers for the duration of your adventure.

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DURATION
9 days
STARTING PRICE
$340 USD per person
DESTINATIONS
Tour of Valparaíso

Enjoy the history and cuisine of Valparaíso prior to your Patagonia journey. The perfect balance between cultural immersion and relaxation, take in the best of the city on a full-day tour, then lounge poolside with ocean views at Casa Higueras

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DURATION
13 days
STARTING PRICE
$640 USD per person
DESTINATIONS
Colchagua Wine Valley

Awaken your senses through exploration of the renowned Colchagua Wine Valley prior to your Patagonia safari. From your arrival in Santiago, enjoy a tasting tour at Matetic Winery, followed by 2 nights immersed in nature at Chile's vineyard-situated Clos Apalta.

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DURATION
9 days
STARTING PRICE
$510 USD per person
DESTINATIONS
Casablanca Valley

A wine-lover's delight, this tour highlights the vineyards of magnificent Casablanca Valley. Immerse yourself in the beauty of this region prior to your Patagonia adventure, from wine tasting to horseback riding and ultimate comfort at hotel Casona Matetic.

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The Atacama Desert

The other worldly beauty of the Atacama Desert is like no other place on earth. This sense that you are on another planet is accentuated by Atacama’s 7,000 ft (2100 m) elevation, offering some of the clearest skies in the world, and giving you the feeling you can literally touch the star-filled skies that hover over you at night.

Your stay can range anywhere from 3 to 5 nights, and each day you have a choice of two half-day or one full-day activity. The choice of activities varies by the property you choose to stay at, however these activities are entirely flexible and can accommodate to your physical abilities and travel style.

Amazing opportunities await each day for outings to bubbling geysers, hot springs, crystal-clear blue lagoons, and movie set-like mountains and valleys. For those in search of awe-inspiring landscapes and views, the Atacama desert is one of the world’s top destinations.

TOUR ADVENTURES
DURATION
11 days
STARTING PRICE
$1,860 USD per person
DESTINATIONS
Quito Colonial Quarters & Otavalo Valley

Treat yourself to an Atacama excursion before your Patagonia safari, complete with cultural dining experiences, beautiful accomodations at the Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa, and coordinated airport transfers. From spa treatments to city tours, Chilean immersion begins here.

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Easter Island

At 3.700 km off the South American continent and surrounded by the clearest, deepest waters on the planet, Easter Island (also known as Rapa Nui) has been the cradle of a unique and enigmatic culture that continues to endure today. The island’s language, music, and numerous traditions are kept alive by the island’s inhabitants, while the enormous carved stone Moai are testimony to their mysterious past.

The Rapa Nui culture has evolved to the present day keeping many of its original forms, those expressed in foods, sports, dances, music, ceremonies, crafts, and most importantly the language Vananga, which is still actively used. The dances, like Sau-Sau and Tamuré, together with the traditional music, continue to add color to festivals and ceremonies. The gastronomy is a repository of ancient recipes like Tunuahi, in which fish is cooked over volcanic rocks heated by firewood. For its remoteness, geographical beauty, and rich culture, Rapa Nui was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995.

Amazing opportunities await each day, to explore the island on foot, by bicycle or by boat, unveiling its unique history and charm every step of the way. For those in search of awe-inspiring landscapes and views, in combination with a mysterious dive into history, Easter Island should be at the top of your list.

TOUR ADVENTURES
DURATION
11 days
STARTING PRICE
$2,130 USD per person
DESTINATIONS
Easter Island activities

Easter Island is known for its rugged beauty and rich history, a perfect start to your Patagonia journey. From Santiago, take a side-tour to Easter Island and explore the pristine coastline, artisanal traditions, famous moai, and inviting culture.

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Northern Patagonia &
The Region of the Lakes

Northern Patagonia is home to the Lake District, a region encompassing parts of both Chile and Argentina with a high concentration of ancient forests, blue lakes, volcanoes, and picturesque alpine villages. Compared to the windswept glacier country of the south, the Lake District is lush, mild, and feels a world apart. It’s the Switzerland of Patagonia.

Chile’s Lake District is anchored by Temuco to the north and Puerto Montt to the south. The Chilean side boasts an impressive six national parks and numerous other natural reserves and protected areas. Resort towns Puerto Varas and Pucón garner much of the attention and are great base camps for enjoying the outdoors.

TOUR ADVENTURES
DURATION
11 days
STARTING PRICE
$220 USD per person
DESTINATIONS
Vira Vira Lodge

Bask in the enchantment of Northern Patagonia at Vira Vira Lodge, outside of Pucon. Situated on an organic farm in the Chilean Lake District, enjoy farm-to-table dining, daily yoga classes, and invigorating expedition activities before your Patagonia adventure.

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