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Explora Atacama 3-Night Itinerary

Brimming with out-of-this-world landscapes, diverse wildlife, ancient culture, and loads of opportunities for adventure, traveling to northern Chile’s Atacama Desert, you’ll find it like no other destination on earth. And while it might be the driest desert in the world, what it lacks in water, it makes up for with postcard-perfect scenery. While each of its varied landscapes seems to have been taken from other dimensions, all of them offer you endless prospects for outdoor adventure and exploration.

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 4-day/3-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 trekking down a dune to Kari Canyon, mountain biking in the Catarpe Valley, horseback riding to the Ayllus oasis, or stargazing at the lodge’s own observatory, you’ll find each activity a quintessential way to explore and discover the landscapes, history, and culture of this unique region – one of Chile’s most enigmatic territories. 

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“Thank you again for making our holidays in Ecuador unforgettable. Both of us will definitely recommend Surtrek as well as Cuyabeno Lodge.”Dijana Mitic

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: Kari Canyon Hiking – Cordillera de la Sal Overland Expedition
Day 3: The Tambo Fortress Mountain Biking – Solor Horseback Riding
Day 4: 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 on 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 the city of Calama, which has 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, the landing strip closest to your destination.

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.

7:00 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, or 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, the guide will explain the places you will visit, as well as details about the history, cultures, and geography of the Atacama.

In addition, the 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 Kari Canyon 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
Kari Canyon Hiking – Cordillera de la Sal Overland Expedition

7:00 AM: Buffet Breakfast – For your first desert sunrise, sit down to a sumptuous buffet breakfast featuring a wide variety of dishes. Why not try the quinoa with apples and cherimoya juice for the perfect tasty fuel for a day of physical exertion?

8:00 AM: Kari Canyon Hike – Setting out on this morning’s trek, the stage is set for big adventures in the otherworldly scenery of the Atacama Desert – from multi-hued valleys and rocky canyons to towering sand dunes and azure-colored lagoons.

Today’s hike starts in the “Moon Valley” (Valle de la Luna) at the famous Kari Viewpoint, also known as the “Piedra del Coyote” (“Coyote Rock”). This rocky outcrop rests high above the valley affording sweeping views of the otherworldly setting below.

We’ll then walk through Kari Canyon for about two hours, admiring the mesmerizing views of the Atacama. Along the way, you’ll witness statuesque rock formations and a fine blanket of salt that gives the valley its lunar aspect. Eventually, we’ll reach a small stream and follow its serpentine trail between collections of clay and salt. Though a somewhat long hike, you’ll be comforted to know that we’ll return to the lodge by van.

11:30 AM: Return to Lodge

12:00 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-style house near the hotel. For your welcome lunch, like on other special occasions, the lodge’s culinary team will get together 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: After-Lunch Siesta / Horse Stables Visit – Following lunch, you’ll have free time to take an after-lunch siesta and simply relax. Or, you may want to visit the property’s stable to meet the hotel’s own “horse whisperer,” Gaela, who supervises the breeding, raising, breaking, feeding, and care of the hotel’s horses.

3:30 PM: Cordillera de la Sal Overland Expedition – Setting out in a 4x4 land cruiser, we’ll ride across what was once a lake, but whose bottom has risen over millions of years to create a bizarre, otherworldly landscape. This is the Cordillera de la Sal (Salt Mountains), whose name was derived from the fact that its rocks appear to be splashed with salt. Molded over time by rain, wind and the intense desert sun, across this area are natural sculptures, sand dunes, and sedimentary rock formations of varied stratifications and color.

Once there, we’ll walk up to the highest point of this mountain range to take in the stunning views. At heart is the Licancabur Volcano, which can be seen from hundreds of miles away. If staying until sunset, you’ll have a chance to witness the remarkable sight of this desert area transforming from red to purple and then to black.

7:00 PM: Return to the Lodge / Free Time – After hiking back to the lodge, you’ll have time to shower, rest up and relax before dinner.

7:30 PM: Gourmet Dining – Tonight’s dinner will be in either the main indoor dining room or the outdoor dining area – the choice is up to you. Explora Atacama created this variety of intimate indoor and outdoor settings where guests can be in the company of interesting people from around the world while tasting fine dishes and sipping the hotel’s incredible selection of Chilean wines.

8:30 PM: Briefing on the Next Day’s Activities – Your personal guide will again outline the details of the next day’s Solor horseback riding activity, explaining the places you’ll visit, and details on the history and geography of the Atacama Desert.

9:00 PM: Socializing & Relaxing / Turning in for the Night – As with every afternoon and evening, guests have the run of a free open bar, including a selection of eminently sippable Chilean and international spirits. Softly lit, decorated with artwork by local artisans, and dotted with comfy couches and overstuffed chairs, the indoor bar is just the place to curl up in as you work your way through the wine list and mingle with other international travelers.

Then too, the Explora lodge also has its own observatory and telescope for stargazing across the Atacama’s famously clear skies. 

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Breakfast - Lunch - Dinner
Day 3
The Tambo Fortress Mountain Biking – Solor Horseback Riding

8:00 AM: Morning Wake-up Call / Buffet Breakfast – The day starts with a wakeup call of soft music and information on weather conditions. You may request an earlier wakeup call inviting you to watch the stunning sunrise over the jagged desert landscape.

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

9:00 AM: Tambo Mountain Biking – Cycling through the middle of the Atacama Desert — the driest non-polar region in the world — you’re sure to discover a beauty that’s more Martian than Earthly.

Today’s mostly flat route will offer stunning views of the Andes Mountains as well as ruins of a once-thriving civilization and a hundred-year-old church on a hilltop, in addition to some spirited pedaling through a dazzling canyon.

Biking first to the Catarpe Valley, we will ride along an old road that crosses the Salt Ridge until reaching the Cuchabrache Ravine, which is known for is known for several well-preserved archaeological sites, some which even include pre-Incan petroglyphs.

Following dried clay and crystallized salt creeks, we will reach the tiny San Isidro Chapel. Standing alone on a hilltop in the middle of nowhere is this iconic example of colonial architecture. Surprisingly, though, this church still conducts Sunday services that are an experience of pure spiritual splendor.

From San Isidro, after mountain biking along some of the most breathtaking and beautiful trails of the valley, we will cross to Tambo de Cartape. Perched on high ground, this pre-Incan fortress (constructed over 600 years ago!) was reconstructed in recent years. Its jagged red walls of stone give way to impressive views of the Andes Mountain range and its numerous peaks reaching almost four miles above sea level. As beauty like this is well worth trekking across a desert, we’ll then head home along some more of the most magnificent trails in the valley.

11:00 AM: Return to the Lodge / Free Time

12:00 PM: Picnic Lunch – The focus at Explora Atacama is health and wellness, ensuring only the freshest local ingredients are used to prepare your daily meals – even the picnic meals. Today, the Explora restaurant and its friendly staff will have specially prepared an Andean and Chilean picnic spread for your excursion. You can opt to try one of the local specialties like parrilladas (a mix of grilled meats), or seafood risotto, Mediterranean-style salad, and Chilean staples such as pastel de choclo (maize casserole).

2:00 PM: Solor Horseback Riding – Whether at a walk, a canter or trotting along on the charming trails near San Pedro de Atacama, horseback riding in the Atacama Desert is an experience like no other.

Today’s ride will be to the ayllu of Solor. This ancient yet still existing settlement is located just a half-mile south of San Pedro, where you’ll see one of the oasis community’s most developed farming areas. While this area is full of complicated trails, you’ll find that it’s also full of desert beauty.

6:30 PM: Return to the Lodge – Having made our way back to the lodge after a full day of exploring, you’ll have just enough time to freshen up before dinner.

7:00 PM: Gourmet Farewell Dining – For your going-away dinner tonight, perhaps you’ll decide on mushroom quinoa risotto or lamb with tabbouleh and hummus. In any case, the chef’s 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: Briefing on the Next Day’s Activities – Your personal guide will again outline the details of tomorrow’s activities, explaining the places you will visit, what to bring, and the wildlife you might see.

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

9:00 PM: Socializing & Relaxing / Turning in for the Night – Following another full day, you may want a nightcap before retiring. The perfect spot for this is the lodge’s outdoor lounge, where you’ll witness a kaleidoscope of stars and other heavenly bodies in the clearest Chilean sky.

As the temperature might dip to become even chilly, the roaring fire in the lounge bar makes for a warming and convivial spot in the evening. A sense of place is also created by the Explora’s traditional Inca artworks and wall-hangings.

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Breakfast - Lunch - Dinner
Day 4
Punta del Inka Hike – Departure

7:00 AM: Buffet Breakfast & Packing up – For your final breakfast at Explora Atacama, 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 20-foot-high cacti. Cutting through the canyon, we’ll cross the river a few times, descending along different waterfalls.

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

11:00 PM: Return to the Lodge / Free Time – Back at Explora Atacama after a morning of exploring the sandy surroundings, why not revitalize your spirits in the hotel pools and spa? Then too, for a little extra you can avail yourself of expert hands and aromatic scents at Explora’s Turi Puri massage room.

12:30 PM: Farewell 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.

2:00 PM: Drive to the Calama Airport – After lunch, as you’re driven back to the Calama airport, enjoy your last look back at the sprawling and spectacular Atacama Desert, a unique region of inspiring natural wonders.

5:00 PM: Departing Flight to Santiago de Chile – Reaching the Calama Airport, Explora Atacama 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 Atacama 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 - Lunch

Prices

2020 - Price per person
RoomCatur SuiteTulur RoomYali Room
4 DaysUS$ 3,836 PPUS$ 2,577 PPUS$ 2,914 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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