Self Drive: Northern Shores and Parks

Itinerary

This itinerary sets out to explore a little bit beyond the Atacama hub around San Pedro. Discover some of the beautiful and amazingly diverse National Parks of the region, both inland, and along the coast. Despite the seemingly desolate landscape, there is a lot to discover.

Day 1
CALAMA AIRPORT – SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA (101 KM / 63 MI)

 

Upon arrival at the Calama Airport, pick up your rental car and start your adventure driving towards the oasis of San Pedro de Atacama. Once there, you will have the afternoon at leisure to explore the surroundings. It is recommended to visit the Moon Valley, boasting various stone and sand formations, which have been carved over centuries by wind and water. This place is known for its incredible range of colors and textures, looking somewhat similar to the surface of the moon. Overnight in San Pedro de Atacama.

Day 2

SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA
Today will be a great time to discover the wonders of the Atacama Desert. Only a few kilometers away from San Pedro you will find the Los Flamencos National Reserve boasting a remarkable range of wildlife. It is home to dark blue lagoons, flamingo flocks, and many other bird species, turning it into an ornithologist’s paradise. The Atacama Salt Flat is another ‘must-see’ of the region. It is the largest salt flat in Chile with huge volcanoes and salt crusts dominating its landscape. Overnight in San Pedro de Atacama. (B)

Day 3

SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA – ANTOFAGASTA (312 KM / 194 MI)

In the morning, leave the quaint town of San Pedro de Atacama to reach the coastal city of Antofagasta. Along the way, you will pass Estación Baquedano. This small village was once the grounds of a prosperous railway station. Afterward, keep going until arriving at your destination of the day. Once in Antofagasta, you will have time to explore the city and some of its highlights such as the natural monument “La Portada”, an impressive 43 m /140 ft high rock formation in the shape of an arch nestled in the middle of the ocean. Overnight in Antofagasta. (B)

Day 4

ANTOFAGASTA – CHAÑARAL (373 KM / 232 MI)

Your adventure will start early today as you drive southbound to reach the coastal city of Chañaral. This town is known for its quaint streets and having no high-rise buildings. On your way, you can visit the Pan de Azúcar National Park where you will be able to observe the local nature. You might like to stop along the way for an easy trek to an impressive lookout point. Overnight in Chañaral. (B)

Day 5

CHAÑARAL – COPIAPÓ (166 KM / 103 MI)
In the morning, take time to visit the park’s coastline and the Pan de Azúcar Island, which can be reached with a boat ride through the waters of the Pacific Ocean. If lucky, you might be able to spot some of the Humboldt Penguins that inhabit the area. In the afternoon, head south to reach the city of Copiapó. Overnight in Copiapó. (B)

Day 6

COPIAPÓ – NEVADO TRES CRUCES NATIONAL PARK (196 KM / 122 MI)
Today you will have the amazing opportunity to explore the Nevado Tres Cruces National Park, located at a high altitude and a few hours away from the city. Once inside the park, you can partake in a soft trek to one of the various lookout points in the area to admire the Santa Rosa Lagoon or the Maricunga Salt Flat, among many other highlights. Overnight in Copiapó. (B)

Day 7

COPIAPÓ
Every great adventure must end. Today you will drive to the Copiapó Airport to return your rental car and board your departure flight. (B)

Rates in 2018/2019

Valid thru to April 30, 2019

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.

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

 

Car TypeRate per person
Europcar cat F2$1180
Europcar cat I3$1140
Hertz cat G$1135
Hertz cat J$1108

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.

The return is from Copiapo Airport. There are several scheduled flights back to Santiago per day.

Flight time is approximately 1h15min.

  • 6 nights including breakfast
  • 7 days car rental including unlimited free mileage, local tax (IVA), and CDW coverage with a deductible (for details see rental contract)
  • drop-off fee Calama – Copiapo
  • 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.
Weather
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.
Altitude
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

Europcar

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

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

Hertz

cat G: Toyota RAV4 or similar

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

 

Hotel Casa de Don Tomas (Standard Room)

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.

NH Antofagasta (Standard City View Room)

The NH Antofagasta is situated in the exclusive southern zone of Antofagasta City, at only 10 minutes from the civic and commercial centre. The hotel offers 136 acclimatised rooms, divided into standard rooms (single/double) and suites. All of them feature cable TV, heating, air conditioning, hair dryer, line telephone, mini bar and safe deposit box. Additional services include a swimming pool, restaurant, bar, room service, laundry service and parking.

Aqua Luna Hotel (Standard Room)

The Aqua Luna Hotel is located in the small town of Chañaral, 28 km south of Pan de Azúcar National Park. The accommodation offers 15 rooms with free WIFI connection, minibar, cable TV and private bathroom. General facilities include comfortable common areas, parking, meeting facilities and a cafeteria.

Atacama Suites (Superior Room)

This beautiful and modern 15-story hotel is nestled in the heart of Copiapó, only a few minutes away from several highlights of the city. Atacama Suites has 99 elegant and fully equipped accommodation units designed to meet the needs of all guests. Amenities vary with some featuring living room, dining area, terrace, kitchen, and Wi-Fi. The hotel also has a work-out room, business centre, meeting rooms and an outdoor pool with a terrace boasting magnificent views of the city and the surroundings. Atacama Suites is a great alternative for an unforgettable stay.