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Explora Atacama 4-Night Itinerary

Shoehorned between the glimmering Pacific Ocean and the snowcapped Andes, the incredible landscape of Chile’s remote Atacama Desert is like no place on earth. The driest desert on the planet, this jagged, rust-colored, vast, rocky expanse is peppered with white salt pans and dotted by volcano-topped horizons. In fact, after experiencing this lunar landscape, you’re likely to draw comparisons with other out-of-this-world settings.

To get here, you’ll be privately guided by Surtrek representatives from the moment you arrive in Chile to the moment you leave; and to experience a customizable 5-day/4-night Atacama tour based at the luxury Awasi Atacama Hotel, selections have been made from the 40 daily outdoor excursions (“Explorations”) offered at the luxury lodge, with each adventure introducing travelers to the richness of this fascinating desert region.

Whether you choose to ride on horseback over the Chula Dunes, take a morning bath in the volcanically warmed waters of the Tatio Geysers, or hike along the same trails that members of the ancient Atacameño people once did, you’ll find each activity one of both subline pleasure and perspective-changing impact – connecting you with your senses and the world around you like never before.

All of this is experienced with no sacrifice of your creature comforts. At the lodge, you’ll be treated to gourmet-class dining and turn in nightly in smartly posh accommodations – a dramatic contract to the jagged, rust-colored ravines and the volcano-topped horizons just outside your door.

Reviews

“I want to thank you for arranging a perfect tour for me. I know you did not have control over who the other people would be, but it all, on all fronts, was perfect. The itinerary was sensational and the boat fabulous.”Risa Steinberg

Highlights

Chile, Atacama Desert, Trekking, Mountain Climbing, Horseback Rinding, Mountain Biking.

Itinerary at a Glance

Day 1: Arrival at Explora Atacama – Ayllus Horseback Riding
Day 2: Ayllus Bicycling – Spa & Lodge Lounging – Evening Massage
Day 3: Tatio Geysers – BBQ Lunch – Dunas de la Chula Horseback Riding
Day 4: Puritama Hot Springs Reserve – Piedra de la Coca Biking – Astronomy Experience
Day 5: Punta del Inka Hike – Departure
South America Map

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1
Arrival at Explora Atacama – Ayllus Horseback Riding

8:30 AM (approx.): Santiago de Chile Flight to Calama, Chile – If just arriving in Chile on an international flight and planning to proceed immediately to Atacama, travelers typically make their connection at the Santiago International Airport (Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport [SCL]), which will fly onward to the airport in Calama Chile (CJC), the closest airstrip to San Pedro de Atacama.

Otherwise, if you’re already in Chile and continuing your tour of the country, Surtrek representatives will privately drive you from your hotel to the Santiago airport, where they will assist you with your luggage and help you with checking in for your flight to Calama, the airport closest to your destination.

In either case, plan on arriving and checking in at the airport at least one hour before your 2-hour morning flight to Calama.

1:00 PM (approx.): Departure for the San Pedro Oasis & the Explora Atacama Lodge – Upon landing at the Calama airport, uniformed Explora guides and staff will be there to welcome you in the luggage claim area. As they offer you a choice of refreshing juices, you’ll find the service throughout to be warm, considerate, friendly and refreshingly unstuffy.

After being assisted with your luggage, you will head off on a 1-1/2-hour private drive through the scenic Atacama Desert.

En route to San Pedro de Atacama, you will be served a delicious box lunch consisting of homemade baked goods, Chilean specialties, hot coffee, and fresh juice.

After passing through the oasis village of San Pedro de Atacama, you will then continue for about a mile to the Explora Atacama Hotel, which blends seamlessly into the terracotta-colored-walled roadway.

2:30 PM (approx.): Arriving at the Explora Atacama Hotel – Reaching the lodge, you will be led to your room, where you will have time to unpack, get settled in, shower and relax. No matter which of the three categories of rooms you choose (a Catur suite, a Yali room, or a Tulur room), each provides

marvelous slate floors, whitewashed adobe walls, wooden beam ceilings (some with skylights), and a wall of windows boasting Andes Mountain views. Bright yellow hues and blue tones — said to ward off evil spirits — and bold plaid bedspreads add to the homespun feeling.

4:00 PM (approx.): Ayllus Horseback Riding – Having had a chance to catch your breath, we will mount up for a quick 1–1/2-hour introductory horseback ride around the San Pedro oasis to four ayllus (meaning “family settlements” or “communes” in the ancient Quechua language of the Incas).

Some 15 of these ayllus continue to exist around San Pedro de Atacama, each faithfully embodying the peaceful agrarian way of life of the ethnic Lickan Antay people. As these small communities have remained relatively intact for millennia, you’ll see homes built with straw roofs and adobe, as well as thousand-year-old irrigation channels that water family gardens.

5:30 PM: Return to the Lodge – Making our way back to the lodge, you’ll have time to dust yourself off, shower, rest up and relax before dinner.

7:30 PM: Welcome Dinner – Tonight, your welcome dinner will be served at Explora’s open-air restaurant, where before dining you’ll find on your table a welcome pot of chachacoma tea – a local remedy to ease your adjustment to the Altiplano altitude. Shortly after, you’ll be served a sophisticated Andean fare, whether quinoa tabbouleh, empanadas, and chupe de mariscos (a seafood stew).

8:30 PM: Briefing on the Next Day’s Activities – Later this same evening, your guide will discuss the excursions planned for the next day. In this briefing, they will explain the places you will visit, as well as details about the history, cultures, and geography of the Atacama.

In addition, your guide will offer useful tips on what to bring, what to wear, and what you can expect so you are fully prepared when we head out from the lodge for some Ayllus bicycling in the morning.

9:00 PM: Socializing / Relaxing / Turning in for the Night – After a long and hectic day, you may wish to sit across from one of the lodge’s outdoor lounge areas to sip a post-dinner drink under the stars. The lounge bar offers a range of excellent Chilean wines, spirits and a Pisco sour made with locally grown leaves of the Rica-rica plant. 

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Lunch - Dinner
Day 2
Ayllus Bicycling – Spa & Lodge Lounging – Evening Massage

7:00 AM: Wake-up Call / Buffet Breakfast – The day begins early in the Atacama, as there’s much to see and do! You’ll get a wake-up call about sunrise and have at least an hour to shower and dress before going to breakfast. Today’s early morning dining experience at Explora Atacama takes advantage of local produce to create breakfast dishes that are light and tasty. In addition, international breakfast standards like pancakes and French toast will be in the buffet.

8:00 AM: Ayllus Bicycling – This morning, get in gear to ride off on a mountain bike to the Beter archeological site, one of the first settlements of the prehistoric Atacameño people. While the scenery along the way is nothing short of spectacular, you’ll also find that this cultural park’s purpose is to promote the ancestral memory of the original peoples through a host of activities. Getting off your bike, you’ll have a chance to visit the site and learn about this fascinating local history.

Next, we’ll continue to the Solor ayllu (“settlement”) for authentic cultural contact with the community and to visit the village’s tiny desert bookstore, the first rural book store in Chile. We’ll then return to the hotel by bike.

11:00 AM: Return to the Lodge / Free Time – Cycling back to the lodge, you’ll have time to shower, rest up and relax before lunch.

1:30 PM: Buffet Lunch – In the Explora Atacama dining room, choose from at least a half-dozen options; perhaps an Asian-inspired lunch featuring spring rolls with shrimp, or maybe a dorado fish grilled with peppers and onions. And what about preceding any of this with a salad entree made with queso de cabra (local goat cheese), shrimp, and merkén – a Mapuche condiment made from red smoked chili peppers?

3:00 PM: Spa & Lodge Lounging – Surrounded by pampas grass and other local flora, the Explora’s four pools are the perfect place to relax and enjoy the quiet of the desert after a demanding morning Exploration. The temperature in any one of these pools ranges from 77°F to 82°F (25°C to 28°C). In the nearby area are the sauna, steam baths, and four outdoor hot tubs. In addition, after an exhilarating morning excursion and a filling lunch, you can choose to invigorate your body and soul in the lodge’s Turi Puri Spa – a truly revitalizing experience with a soothing range of options (extra). In any case, you’ll have all afternoon to rest up and relax.

7:00 PM: Gourmet Dining – For tonight’s dinner, you can choose the main indoor dining room or the outdoor dining room. Explora Atacama created this variety of settings where guests are in the company of interesting people while savoring gourmet-class cuisine.

8:30 PM: Briefing on the Next Day’s Activities – Tonight, your personal guide will again outline the details of the next day’s activities at the chilly Tatio Geysers, recommending what you should bring, and giving more details on the history and geography of the Atacama.

9:00 PM: Evening Massage – At the Explora’s massage center, located near the hotel in a restored colonial-era adobe-straw building, discover a new level of inner peace, outer harmony, and revitalized energy. Named “Turi Puri” (which means “House of Water” in Kunza, the language of the area’s early inhabitants), this center invites you to choose from a well-honed menu of classic massage treatments (extra). Or, crank up the romance level with an under-the-stars couple’s massage.

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Breakfast - Lunch - Dinner
Day 3
Tatio Geysers – BBQ Lunch – Dunas de la Chula Horseback Riding

5:00 AM: Buffet Breakfast – An early breakfast will be served buffet-style, featuring cheese, cereal, ham, yogurt, bread, and muffins, as well as scrambled eggs topped with linseed, homemade bread, fresh juices, espresso coffee and muesli with yogurt and fruit.

6:00 AM: Tatio Geysers – The Atacama Desert is an endless wonderland when it comes to natural geology, and the El Tatio Geysers prove just that! You’ll have to get up early to enjoy the show just as the sun comes up, which is when El Tatio is most impressive, given the angle of light that casts through the haze while steam billows from the ground.

Driving off before sunrise, we’ll spend the whole morning exploring the largest geothermal field in the southern hemisphere. Referred to by locals as “Grandpa crying,” the Tatio Geysers sit at 2.7 miles (4,321 m) above sea level and consist of some 70 beautiful fountains of water and steam spewing into the air. Along with these are 60 pools of boiling water and bubbling mud, in addition to a number of natural hot springs and small fumaroles (openings in the ground that emits steam and gases).

Once at the Tatio Geysers, you’ll also have a chance to bathe in an artificial swimming pool specially installed in the geothermal field.

This is also a good chance to appreciate the unique plant and animal life that has adapted to this extreme environment. So, on the way and once there, keep your eyes peeled for llama-like vicuñas, foxes, wild donkeys, and flamingos, among many other species.

1:30 PM: BBQ Lunch – Just a short walk from the hotel itself is Explora’s “Quincho” – an inviting BBQ pit on the patio of a renovated, traditional adobe house near the hotel. For your welcome lunch, like on other special occasions, the lodge’s culinary team will get together with guests to cook-up a traditional lunch of split-roasted-lamb, beef, and fish, as well as other local dishes – all accompanied by Andean music, song and dance performances by accomplished local artists.

1:30 PM: Dunas de la Chula Horseback Riding – This afternoon, you’ll find yourself galloping across one of the most spectacular and dramatic landscapes on earth! Mounted on horseback, you’ll fit in perfectly with the Wild West appearance of the picturesque desert where time has clearly stood still. One of the Explora’s most popular rides is Dunas de la Chula, where you’ll gently walk (or canter)

across sand dunes and past rock formations, with the immense Andes mountains and a salt lake on the horizon.

We’ll first saddle up and ride to the Salt Ridge, crossing the San Pedro River to the Chula Dunes, where you’ll have a panoramic view of the Andes Mountain Range and the San Pedro oasis. From there, we’ll follow a dry riverbed to the Dinosaurs Valley, eventually returning to the Explora Hotel by riding across the pampa …a completely satisfying afternoon ride.

7:30 PM: Gourmet Dining – Like all nights, dinner will be simply world-class. You’re sure to enjoy a menu of fresh, delicious Chilean fare (with a bit of continental influence), whether served in the dining room or the al fresco lounge. Promising to be a culinary feast for the senses, this evening’s dinner will be paired with select South American wines, or freshly pressed juice if you choose.

8:30 PM: Briefing on the Next Day’s Activities – Your personal guide will outline the details of tomorrow’s morning activities, explaining the place you will visit and what you’re likely to experience at the Puritama Hot Springs Reserve.

9:00 PM: Socializing & Relaxing / Turning in for the Night – Relax in comfy couches and overstuffed chairs as you enjoy the free open bar while sharing stories about your Atacama excursions with other guests.

Before turning in for the night, you can also do some final stargazing in the Atacama skies from the lodge’s observatory.

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Breakfast - Lunch - Dinner
Day 4
Puritama Hot Springs Reserve – Piedra de la Coca Biking – Astronomy Experience

7:00 AM: Buffet Breakfast – A savory international breakfast will be served this morning, with a range of excellent buffet options. You’re sure to find that the level of comfort, service, and breakfast cuisine on offer is truly exceptional, especially in such a challenging environment.

8:00 AM: Puritama Hot Springs Reserve – The high Andean starry nights, combined with the cold Atacama winds, can chill unprepared travelers to the bone. Happily, however, these mountains are volcanic and pour forth the planet’s heat into a series of steaming pools, the Explora-owned Puritama Hot Springs (the name “puritama” simply means “hot water” in an ancient, pre-Inca tongue, suggesting that these medicinal springs have been used for millennia). With high concentrations of relaxing lithium and minerals that accord all sorts of health benefits, these warm waters are guaranteed to mellow you out. Temperatures hover around 33°C (91°F), so they aren’t ridiculously hot, making daytime visits a treat. For easy access, the spring’s 8 pools are easily accessible by boardwalks.

12:00 PM: Lunch – After a busy morning at the hot springs, we’ll return to your hotel for an authentic Chilean lunch of ceviche, salads, grilled tuna, rice and beans prepared by experienced chefs. Due to the numerous excursions that guests go on, the hotel’s cooking staff is always focused on providing travelers sufficient “fuel” for each day’s journeys. Indeed, food on an Atacama vacation is key to enjoying the desert properly!

1:30 PM: Piedra de la Coca Mountain Biking – We’ll leave by bicycle to the Catarpe Valley along a road that goes up to the Salt Ridge. After riding through an ancient tunnel, we’ll begin a descent taking us to a point along the large network of commercial routes that the ancient Atacameño people built to link themselves to other regions, such as the coast and the Bolivian Altiplano. The traces of these prehistoric inhabitants of San Pedro are still visible today in rock, where they made mysterious inscriptions representing foxes, flamingos, and lamas, but also human beings.

One of these is a ceremonial petroglyph called the Piedra de la Coca (“the Stone of Coca”). Once here, it’s possible to not only see this stone art but also walk where the people of this bygone civilization did thousands of years ago. At the same time, you’ll appreciate the beautiful, natural formations of the Salt Mountain Range (Cordillera de la Sal). We’ll continue our trip to the stony Paciencia Plains, and pass through the scenic Mars Valley on our way back to the hotel.

5:30 PM: Free Time – After cycling back to the lodge, you’ll have plenty of time to shower, rest up and relax before dinner.

7:00 PM: Gourmet Dining – For tonight’s dinner, you might select mushroom quinoa risotto or lamb with tabbouleh and hummus, as the chef’ focus is firmly fixed on using innovative techniques and a modern approach to both the flavor and presentation of these dishes, while also staying true to regional recipes and seasonal ingredients.

8:30 PM: Guide Tour & Departure Briefing – Your guide will give an evening briefing, reliving the events of the day and explaining what you will experience in the Atacama tomorrow. Over drinks, you’ll have the chance to chat with your guide about their experiences and pick their brains for their zoological and ornithological knowledge.

As you will be leaving the next day, the guide will also tell you what to expect at the airport and provide other useful information.

9:00 PM: Astronomy Experience – Nowhere on Earth is better for stargazing than Chile’s Atacama Desert, where super-observatories have opened up to a wave of astro-tourists seeking unpolluted skies.

To provide its guests with unparalleled opportunities to observe the heavens, the Explora Hotel developed its own observatory – a different way of exploring the universe above. Tonight, you’ll zoom

in on everything from a single or double star to a nebula, a cluster, or even a galaxy. This new look at the heavens begins with a brief explanation of the stars and the main constellations before you start observing them for yourself using the lodge’s telescope.

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Lunch - Dinner
Day 5
Punta del Inka Hike – Departure

7:00 AM: Buffet Breakfast & Packing up – For your final breakfast at Explora, join everyone in the main dining room and order up some eggs any way you like …even benedict- or omelet-style with your choice of filling. In addition to international breakfast standards like pancakes and French toast, Chilean specialties will also be in the buffet.

8:00 AM: Punta del Inca Hike – Today, we’ll continue to get up-close and personal with the beauty of the Atacama Desert. Starting out the day, we’ll drive by van through 13 miles of scenic desert to reach the Guatín ravine and the small settlement of the same name at the junction of the Puritama and Purifica rivers. Here, at the source of the Vilama River, we will begin a 2-½ hour trek along a canyon known as the “Valley of the Cacti,” so called due to the existence of its giant cacti. Cutting across the canyon, we’ll cross the river several times, descending along different waterfalls.

On this hike, you’ll once again experience an incredible place that offers the breathtaking scenery, bizarre landscape, unique ecosystem, and amazing opportunities to explore some of the desert’s hidden gems in a way that only hiking provides.

1:30 PM: Lunch – The lodge’s dining room gives you the choice of enjoying a leisurely lunch inside or by the pools, where your meal will be paired with a slightly chilled glass of Chilean white wine as the sun warms your body.

3:00 PM: Drive to the Calama Airport – After lunch, as you’re driven back to the airport in Calama, enjoy your last look back at the spectacular Atacama Desert, a unique region of inspiring natural wonders.

4:30 PM: Departing Flight to Santiago de Chile – Reaching the Calama Airport, Explora staff will be on hand to help you with your luggage, get you your boarding pass, and help you check in. At the airport’s security gate, your guide and Explora staff will say goodbye, truly hoping that you enjoyed your stay and your Atacama travel experience.

If you’re like most travelers to Atacama, your departing flight will take you back to the city of Santiago, the capital of Chile, where you will be met by Surtrek representatives if planning to continue your tour in the country (otherwise, you’ll be able to easily catch your connecting flight home or onward).

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Breakfast

Prices

2020 - Price per person
RoomCatur SuiteTulur RoomYali Room
5 DaysUS$ 4,859 PPUS$ 3,264 PPUS$ 3,691 PP
*Price per person based upon double occupancy.
*PP (per person)
Included in the price:
  • Transfers to and from the Calama airport during pre-established times
  • Accommodations
  • 3 meals a day, plus snacks and open bar
  • Two (2) half-day Explorations or one (1) full-day Exploration daily, with Explora guides
  • Services of a bilingual guide on all Explorations
  • Ground transportation for Explorations, as required
  • Equipment for Explorations on horseback and by bicycle, as well as trekking poles
  • Astronomical observation session at the hotel observatory
  • Entrance fees to reserves, national parks, archeological sites and the Puritama hot spring
  • Use of swimming pools, hot tubs, and relaxation areas
  • Wi-Fi in common areas.
Not included in the price:
  • International flights / Domestic flights
  • Tips
  • Health Insurance / Travel insurance
  • Personal Expenses
  • Spa Services
  • Telephone Calls
  • Laundry Services
  • Premium Alcoholic Beverages

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