Self-Drive: Atacama Desert 4d


This short adventure in the northern highlands of Chile gives you just a taste of this enigmatic landscape. The desert oasis village of San Pedro de Atacama, which has the best tourist facilities in the region, provides the base for this itinerary. Having your own vehicle gives you flexibility and freedom to roam and explore this magnificent landscape. This itinerary is flexible and can be adapted or extended according to your wishes. Please inquire.


Upon arrival, pick up your rental vehicle at the airport or at the car rental office in Calama. Your Atacama adventure can begin! Start your journey through the spectacular northern desert highlands of Chile and head for San Pedro de Atacama. Once the centre of a Mesolithic culture, it is now the hub of intrepid desert explorers. Impressive rock fortresses perched on steep mountains encircle the green valley, making it a truly unique and stunning place to visit. It contrasts with the eerily silent desert landscape of vast plains where salt lakes, encrusted with octagonal-shaped crystals, reflect the towering volcanoes. Overnight in San Pedro de Atacama.

Vicunas, Chile


You have a full day to explore your surroundings at your leisure, and there are many fascinating sights to see. Only about an hour from San Pedro lies the Los Flamencos National Reserve. Despite the hostile conditions, the Altiplano is home to many species of wildlife. Its dark blue lagoons are home to flocks of flamingos and numerous other bird species – it is an ornithologist’s paradise. 

The Atacama Salt Flat is also a not-to-be-missed highlight of the region. Surrounded by large volcanoes, it is the largest salt flat in Chile, and salt crusts dominate this landscape. Another out-of-this-world natural highlight is the intriguing Moon Valley with its weird stone and sand formations. Although they look otherworldly, the weird shapes are actually the result of centuries of erosion. At sunset, the colours and textures become extraordinarily vivid. Overnight in San Pedro de Atacama. (B)

El Tatio, Atacama


Before the break of dawn, depart from San Pedro and head north to the famous El Tatio Geysers; a geothermal field flanked by soaring peaks. El Tatio is situated at 4,300 meters above sea level on the Altiplano. It is the highest geothermal field in the world and boasts spectacular scenery. At dawn, you will be able to observe powerful spurts of steam that shoot out from various geyser blowholes and steaming ponds. On your way back to San Pedro, continue on to the Puritama hot springs, where you can enjoy some rest and relaxation as you soak in the natural thermals pools. Overnight in San Pedro de Atacama. (B)


After breakfast, depart for Calama and drop off your rental vehicle before you board your flight for the next leg of your journey. (B)

Itinerary Download:

Atacama Adventures

Rates 2021/2022


Self-drive itineraries are highly flexible and can be adjusted to your preferences. The rates below are sample rates for this itinerary with the specific car types and hotels mentioned in the table. However, Hotels are subject to availability as well as your choice. The final rate of this itinerary will reflect the specific options you have chosen in the course of developing your itinerary.

Rate per person, based on double occupancy. For single or triple rates, different hotels or extra nights, please inquire.


Rental Cars with Hotel Don Tomas with Hotel Altiplanico
Mitta cat G $524 $633
Mitta cat J $508 $600
Europcar cat I3 $495 $604
Europcar cat F2 $537 $654
Many international airlines fly to Santiago, the capital of Chile. The nearest airport that serves the Atacama region and its main tourist hub, San Pedro de Atacama, is in Calama.

The flight between Santiago and Calama takes about 2 hours and there are several flights per day.

The driving time between Calama and San Pedro is 1 hour 30 minutes.


  • 3 nights including breakfast
  • 4 days car rental including unlimited free mileage, local tax (IVA), and CDW coverage with a deductible (for details see rental contract)
  • Roadmap and descriptions.
Chile car rental companies charge an additional airport service fee when the vehicle will be picked up from the airport. This service charge is not included in the published rates. This extra fee has to be paid upon returning the car.
The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on earth! But that does not mean it never rains. Occasionally, a phenomenon known as ‘Bolivian winter’, can be observed during the months of January – April, which can bring tremendous downpours, which don’t last long but can be very intense, and may be accompanied by lightning.
The rest of the year it is pretty dry and sunny during the day and cool or cold at night. The desert sands do not retain any heat. Nights are often clear, and skies are almost entirely free of light pollution, which makes for perfect star-gazing conditions.
San Pedro is located at an altitude of 2443m above sea level. Many of the nearby attractions will take you even higher. It is important to keep in mind that above 2500m of elevation anyone can be affected by altitude sickness. Symptoms include headaches, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath etc. It is recommended to take it easy on the first day, drinking plenty of water and abstaining from alcohol. If you do experience symptoms return to lower elevations as quickly as you can.
El Tatio Geyser
We strongly recommend that you join a guided tour to visit the El Tatio Geyser (4320m above sea-level) or follow one of the several tour vehicles to get to the geysers, due to the darkness and the very complicated road conditions.


  • Fleece and wind- and weatherproof outdoor coat or jacket
  • Short- and long-sleeved cotton shirts.
  • Trekking pants (preferably ones that can be unzipped into shorts). Thermal underwear for high ascents or to visit the geysers, especially during winter.
  • Comfortable hiking boots with anti-slip rubber soles and sturdy ankle support to avoid possible sprains.
  • Sneakers or sports shoe
  • Swimsuit
  • Flip-flops for use at the Termas de Puritama hot springs or at lakes
  • Sunglasses, sun hat, sunscreen, and lip balm
  • Hat or headband to protect your ears from the wind or the cold when at the geysers.
  • Small Backpack
  • Casual, light, informal clothing for hotel

Car types


cat F2: Mazda Cx-5 4×4 (At) or similar (Jeep)

cat I3: Mitsubishi L200 Katana (Mt) or similar (Pickup)


cat G: Toyota RAV4 or similar

cat J: Mitsubishi L200 4×2 Katana or similar (diesel)


Please note that car rental companies only reserve a specific category of cars, not a specific type of car within that category.

Please mention at the time of booking if you need a vehicle with automatic transmission.

Rental cars do not come with a GPS system by default. They can be added on at an additional cost, but the cover is not complete in remote areas.


Driving License

Foreign nationals must have an international driver’s license in order to be able to drive in Chile.


Driving at High Altitude and in the Desert
  • Thin mountain air can affect your car’s engine and diminish your acceleration and climbing power
  • The potential for overheating is greater
  • The potential for vapor locks is greater

Driving in remote areas bears certain risks and should only be attempted by competent drivers, who should be capable of changing a tire if need be.

  • Always carry plenty of water.
  • Avoid driving at night (very dark and no street lights).
  • Be aware that the heat and dry air can play tricks on your visual perception.


Hotel Aliplanico

The Hotel Altiplánico San Pedro de Atacama is situated outside of San Pedro, at 10 minutes walking distance from the city center. It is an exceptional and impressive accommodation built completely out of adobe which gives the hotel a special local identity. It features 29 rooms, all of them with a unique design aiming to emphasize the highland roots and boast a terrace showcasing the Andes. From the inner garden, you can enjoy a great view of the snow-capped surrounding volcanoes. In this magnificent hotel, you can also find a swimming pool, a bar-restaurant, internet access, a private parking, and laundry service. It is definitely the perfect place for some peace and quiet.


Hotel Casa de Don Tomás

Hotel Casa de Don Tomás is a beautiful oasis nestled in the middle of the San Pedro de Atacama desert. It features 41 spacious rooms, all of them with private bathroom, telephone, safe deposit box, and heating. Amongst its facilities, there is also an outdoor swimming pool, a coffee shop and a snack bar. All these along with the comfort and the relaxation ambiance it offers will surely guarantee a magical stay in northern Chile.