Atacama Desert Trip
The Atacama Desert in the north of Chile is known for being the most arid desert in the world with high temperatures during the day and very cold nights. The lack of water and the endless desert landscape could drive anyone mad. However, beneath its tough exterior there are many secrets and unique experiences waiting to be discovered for those who are willing to push themselves to their limits. Forget your camera! You won’t have time for it! There is no better place to discover yourself than in the Atacama Desert.
Santiago – Valparaiso (117 kms.)
We started our adventure in Santiago and journeyed toward Valparaiso on route 68, so that we could stop in Curacavi to buy some typical Chilean curacavi cakes (pastelitos chilenos). Back on the road to Valparaiso, we made a detour to one of our favorite central region beaches: Las Docas, located in Laguna Verde. A former pirate´s secret unloading zone, it is now a beautiful, quiet beach with white sands and crystal, clear water. It is never crowded and is surrounded by forest. You can park your van with no problem at the beach entry located 200m above sea level, or pay between $1000 and $2000 to park it at the edge of the beach. From there we continued on route 68 and after Placilla we took another detour to “camino La Pólvora”. We followed this road until we reached the prison of Valparaiso (don’t take any hitchhikers from here). At the junction we turned left to Laguna Verde where we spent the night right in front of the beach.
Valparaiso – Pichidangui (308 kms.)
The next day we finally arrived at Valparaiso and spent the day there walking around and checking out Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion, exploring by foot to catch the best views and to experience the bohemian lifestyle. To make your visit to “Valpo” as easy as possible, try walking rather than driving: you can use funiculars or elevators to get to the top of the hills, or use the endless stairways that carve a zigzag path up the face of all the hills. Driving your car through the one-way streets of Valparaiso can lead to comical and dangerous car situations, but you can always take a taxi. From Valparaiso we drove along the coast in order to see the rocky landscape of the shore between Valparaiso and Concon. We stopped in Concon and ate empanadas at Las Delicias which were cheap and tasty! We did not want to stay in Concon, so we continued to Ritoque beach for a nice afternoon. If you would like to stay in Concon, you can watch sunset at the Concon dunes.
At dawn we took route 5 and headed up north to Pichidangui. On our way we stopped by the side of the road to buy some avocados from some street vendors. Choose some that are not yet ripe so that you will have some for your entire trip. We spent some quality time in Pichidangui at the beach there and stayed for the night, then continued north to National Park Las Chinchillas (near Illapel). Once we get there, we took a nice nap.
Pichidangui – Parque Nacional Fray Jorge (230 kms.)
Continuing north we passed by Los Vilos to Reserva Natural Las Chinquillas. We then passed by the cities of Combarbala, Monte Patria and Ovalle, and headed west to Fray Jorge National Park near the coast. We got a good night sleep there and the next day we went into the park. It is very beautiful.
Parque Nacional Fray Jorge – Elqui Valley (190 kms.)
We made a short stop in Tongoy to eat and relax before making our big drive to the valley. Heading north to La Serena we made our way to Puclaro Lake and Rio Magico in Elqui Valley. Don’t forget to buy supplies and food in La Serena because it is much more expensive to buy these things in Pisco Elqui, and you will have much less too choose from (except if you´re buying pisco or papayas). The Valley is perfect for staying a couple of days and to see an ocean of stars.
Elqui Valley – Punta Choros (219 kms.)
We went east, back to La Serena and headed north toward Punta de Choros. You can have a nice lunch here, maybe even some BBQ, and if you want, you can take a boat to Isla Dama (National Reserve of the Humboldt Penguins). We spent a splendid night here at Punta de Choros.
Punta Choros – Llanos del Challe National Park ( 284 kms.)
The next day we got back on route 5 to Vallenar and then headed west to Huasco. A little bit north of here we found Llanos del Challe National Park. Here we found great camping facilities and a good place to stay the night. To access the site there are two options. The main begins at km. 668 on Route 5 North, approximately 17 km. north of Vallenar, then follow the side road C-440 that passes through the Mineral Los Colorados and Canto de Agua up to Carrizal Bajo. The other way is to take C-470 along the coast linking the towns of Carrizal Bajo and Huasco.
Llanos del Challe National Park - Punta Cachos (210 kms.)
Then we mobilized north, up to Carrisal Bajo, and from there, east to Canto del Agua, to make our way to Totoral. We reached Playa del Medio in Totoral with our wicked camper and then wandered around between Punta Cachos and Bahia Salado. We spent the night here in one of the many beaches we found.
Punta Cachos – Bahia Inglesa (30 kms.)
The next day we woke up early in the morning and started driving to Bahia Inglesa, to spend the whole day chilling at this incredible beach. It is the kind of place you where you will want to spend a lot of time. The waters are tame enough that they have earned the nickname “la piscina” (the pool). We continued from here north to Caldera along the coast, and from there to Chañaral following the coastal road up to National Park Pan de Azucar.
Bahía Inglesa – Pan de Azucar (100 kms.)
We recommend that you stay here at a camping site. Each site is equipped with cooking grill, 20 liters of potable water and a small terrace with roof to provide you the vital shade in the middle of the desert. Highly recommended from the wicked team is to visit with your van “Las Lomitas” inside the park, go early so you can apreciate a funny natural event that happens here at sunset. The entrance cost $2000, and the camping another $2000.
Pan de Azucar – Cerro Paranal (480 kms.)
After we were done here, we started our way back to Chañaral to continue north, direction to Taltal and Paposo. Paposo is located 54 km north of Tal Tal. It is suitable for swimming, fishing and other sports enthusiasts. There is a natural reservoir where you can enjoy watching desert natural species. We also went to Paranal observatory but it necessary to make shedule your visit at: email@example.com
Paposo – San Pedro de Atacama
We stayed the night at Hornitos, and the next morning we headed south to Antofagasta on route 5 then drove 250 km. to San Pedro de Atacama. Here there are some things that you MUST see like Tatio geyser, Death Valley, Salar de Atacama, Moon Valley and the Puritama baths. In order to see everything here we recommend a four day stay as minimum! To park your van find a quiet street with a spot that will have shade in the morning to avoid waking up in sweaty and hot. (We recommend when going to Geyser del Tatio to join a tour or hire a guide because the route can be very confusing and you must drive when is still dark. It is better to go with a driver who knows the way). You can also take a tour in the Chiquicamata Mine, the biggest of its kind in the world.
San Pedro de Atacama – Humahuaca (Argentina) (518 kms.)
After San Pedro de Atacama it is time to take a trip to Argentina. Once we had done and saw all we wanted in San Pedro, we were ready to start our adventure into Argentina and cross Los Andes Mountains through Paso Llama. We took route 52 from San Pedro to the border, and once on the Argentinean side, we made a stop in Salinas Grandes and Pumamarca (the seven colors mountain) to take a couple of pictures. Then we headed north on route 9 to Humahuaca. This is a cool place to spend the night.
Humahuaca – National Park Calilegua (425 kms.)
From Humahuaca we went to Jujuy to get some supplies and spend a day or two in National Park Calilegua, just a couple of km. away from Jujuy. Then, after a few days, we went back to Jujuy to start heading south on route 9 to Salta. From there to Cafayate we found one of the most beautiful landscapes in Argentina while travelling on route 68. We stayed at Aguas Negras to camp where we found plenty of drinking water and baths.
Calilegua – Tafi del Valle (121 kms.)
From Cafayate we wanted to see Tafi del Valle, but before reaching it, we found the Quilmes ruins, a must stop if you go this route. We found a nice place for stay and sleep here.
Cafayate – Talampaya (754 kms.)
Our next stop was Talampaya Park. This is a long trip on route 40 and there is not anything to do and nowhere to stop. To enter the park, you must drive to Puerta de Talampaya. In Talampaya there is an area called Moon Valley and an area called Campo de Bochas which are both declared UNESCO heritage.
Talampaya – San Juan: if you like the city you can stay, but the wicked team decided to go to Mendoza because in San Juan there´s not really much to do or see. Route 40 will take you to Mendoza.
Talampaya – Mendoza (525 kms.)
From Talampaya we took route 40 to the west toward Menoza. In Mendoza we walked through the city and at night we went and partied in San Martín Park. At night you can go in your van to a square in town and hang out with all types of people. It is no problem to park here and spend the night.
Mendoza – Tupungato (102 kms.)
As we slowly wake up after a long night of drinking fernet, we bought some “mate”, prepared some hot water, and asked for help in choosing the right place to prepare a BBQ in Tupungato.
Tupungato – Uspallata (177 kms.)
From Tupungato there are 2 choices: with the last of our strength, we drove to Uspallata to do some adventure tourism (rafting, trekking, etc.) and spend some quiet time on Aconcagua National Park ($20 ARS) before reaching the border of Chile. From Uspallata or Aconcagua Park it is easy to get to Santiago. You just need to take route 7. On the Chile border, try to not get scared from the SAG personal: green dressed custom personnel that look for any prohibited substances in your car, from apples to drugs. After this, the way is easy and enjoyable (if you don’t get dizzy after customs).