Private Atacama Desert luxury travel
Home to bewitching landscapes like simmering geyser fields, lunar valleys, crystalline salt flats, and snow-covered volcanoes, northern Chile’s Atacama Desert is one of the country’s most dramatic and captivating regions. And though it’s just a short flight from Santiago, visiting the Atacama, at times, can feel more akin to Mars or the Moon than planet Earth. (It’s so extraterrestrial that NASA used it as a testing site for Mars Rovers.) Once the sun sets, the inky black night sky is illuminated by celestial bodies, offering some of the world’s best stargazing. Combined with experiential destination resorts, adventurous outdoor pursuits, and curious wildlife, the Atacama Desert is a sublime destination for the wild at heart.
Atacama Desert travel highlights
- Enjoy a sunrise amid the otherworldly landscapes of the Moon Valley
- Stargaze beneath some of the world’s clearest night skies
- Stand among the early-morning mist of the El Tatio Geysers
- Hike the Rainbow Valley’s color-banded terrain
- Soak in the soothing geothermal waters of Puritama hot springs
- Admire the high-altitude, mirror-like Chaxa, Miscanti, and Miñiques lagoonsView flamingos and dramatic rock formations at the Tara Salt Flats desert oasis
What to expect on a luxury trip to the Atacama Desert
Memorable, luxury accommodations: From high-end and design-forward resorts to cozy, stylish hotels modeled after traditional Atacama architecture, the region’s unique lodgings are as unforgettable as the beguiling landscapes that envelop them. Expect gourmet meals, all-inclusive expert guiding, outdoorsy excursions, wilderness picnics, and well-equipped spas offering a host of wellness treatments.
Exclusive experiences: Spend your days on bespoke, luxury Atacama Desert tours, excursions, and activities, arranged through your resort or with an expert in our network of guides. From night sky photography to horseback riding, we love to arrange experiences that speak to your special interests. Some outings may be in small groups; others might be privately guided, but all will be assuredly personalized.
Expert local guides: Welcoming, English-speaking expert guides will help interpret all things Atacama while imparting a local perspective.
Seamless, worry-free travel: Chile is a long, mountainous country with cities and regions of fascination in the very north, the very south, and everywhere in between. To access the Atacama Desert, you will take a short flight from Santiago to Calama, and then a ground transfer to your accommodation. Extraordinary Journeys will coordinate all connections and transfers so you can enjoy seamless, worry-free travel.
24/7 in-destination support: Our job doesn’t end when your boarding pass is printed. Extraordinary Journeys is always by your side—even while traveling. We have reliable boots-on-the-ground support and a 24/7 concierge just a phone call away.
Atacama Desert FAQs
With more than 300 nights of clear skies each year, there is no “bad” time to go stargazing in the Atacama Desert. However, some periods are better than others.
During the winter months (April to September), lower temperatures further reduce atmospheric humidity, further improving visibility.
More important than planning the right time of year, is choosing the right time of the month. You want to avoid a full moon because the brightness will reduce overall visibility, making it more difficult to view celestial bodies. We can plan your trip to coincide with a new moon for the clearest skies and best visibility.
Ideally, four to five nights gives you enough time to adjust to the altitude and visit both popular and off-the-beaten-path highlights. With more time, you can explore at a relaxed pace to truly experience and connect with the rhythms of the Chilean high desert. However, if you’re pressed for time, you can cover most of the Atacama’s highlights, like the Valle de la Luna and the Tatio Geysers, with a three-night stay.
Located in northern Chile, the Atacama Desert is a two-hour flight from the capital city of Santiago. Land in Calama—host to the region’s main airport—and then make a one-and-a-half-hour drive to San Pedro de Atacama.
San Pedro is the small, adobe town that serves as the base camp for most adventures, and is also home to many of the Atacama’s best luxury hotels.
Though San Pedro de Atacama sits at 8,000 feet above sea level, most of the Atacama’s most popular geological highlights (like the El Tatio Geyser Field) are situated at elevations of 10,000 feet above sea level—or higher. Because of this, it is possible to experience symptoms of altitude sickness like headaches and dizziness.
Our South America travel experts can design a luxury Atacama itinerary that thoughtfully accounts for elevation and acclimatization. What’s more, your guides will be trained to recognize symptoms of altitude sickness and have strategies for alleviating discomfort.
What are the best months to visit the Atacama Desert?
With its dry climate, plentiful sunshine, and warm weather, the Atacama Desert is a year-round destination. Apart from some low chances of precipitation in January and February, you’ll likely experience clear, comfortable weather at any time of the year.
However, because of the altitude, nighttime can be chilly—even during summer—so packing both cold and warm-climate clothing is recommended. Dressing in layers is also smart; mornings can be cool, temperatures rise during the day, and then dip after sunset.
As a high-altitude desert, sun safety is also paramount. Use sun protection like high-SPF sunscreen, quality sunglasses, and hats throughout the year, but especially during the summer.
Where to go on a luxury Atacama Desert vacation
From flamingo-filled lagoons to technicolor valleys of multi-hued stone, many of the Atacama Desert’s most spectacular geological wonders are conveniently located within a day’s drive of San Pedro de Atacama. Here are some of the best places to include on a luxury Atacama Desert getaway.
Enter a world of kaleidoscopic reds, whites, yellows, and greens in the multi-colored Valle de Arcoiris or Rainbow Valley. Varying concentrations of minerals, clay, and salt have transformed this rocky valley near San Pedro into something out of a sci-fi film. Enjoy hiking trails, scenic lookouts, and the opportunity to view ancient petroglyphs at the nearby Yerbas Buenas archaeological site.
You don’t need a rocket to get to the Moon…just a vehicle to make the quick drive from San Pedro. Moon Valley lies just outside of town and is one of Atacama Desert’s most popular natural monuments. With its craggy ridges, salt-covered plains, and endless sky overhead, the otherworldly landscape makes you feel like you’re walking across the Sea of Tranquility.
El Tatio Geysers
Sitting 14,170 feet above sea level, the El Tatio Geyser Field is one of the highest of its kind on Earth, and the third largest in the world. Visit early in the morning to observe the cold, high-altitude air filling with steam as the geysers, mud pots, and hot springs spew, gurgle, and erupt with hot water fed by geothermal activity deep beneath the ground. Walk along designated paths around the site to safely view the sky-high geyser streams and bubbling mud pots up close.
Puritama Hot Springs
Nestled at the bottom of a winding valley and hidden by wafting fox tail grasses, Puritama Hot Springs are the perfect spot to unwind and relax after full days of outdoor adventures around the Atacama. Soak in eight different hot springs, each with different mineral content—like calcium or magnesium—for various health and wellness benefits.
Highland lagoons: Chaxa, Miscanti & Miñiques
Even though the Atacama is the driest non-polar desert in the world, that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of water. High-altitude lakes dot the region, but three of the most mesmerizing are the Chaxa, Miscanti, and Miñiques lagoons. These mirror-smooth lakes offer striking reflections of the sky and the snowcapped mountains and volcanoes that fringe the horizon. You can even spot native wildlife like bubble-gum pink flamingos and spindly vicuñas.
Tara Salt Flats
Located within Los Flamencos National Reserve, the Tara Salt Flats or Salar de Tara is a vast expanse of rippling lakes, stark-white salt flats, and surreal volcanic rock formations stretching away to a horizon of rolling, rocky mountains. Stand in awe of the Monjes de Pacana—towering rock pillars standing sentry over the landscapes surrounding it—and keep your eyes peeled for sightings of local wildlife like culpeo foxes, vicuñas, and flamingos.
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