Discovering Northern Chile

Discover Northern Chile and travel through the unique landscapes and small villages of the Andes in Chile’s northern reaches; encounter ancient indigenous cultures; and take in fascinating ecosystems, from the Salar de Surire Natural Monument salt flat to Lauca National Park with its rich biodiversity.

Country Information

Chile & Bolivia


Discovering Northern Chile Enrichment Series

(Countries Visited)

Chile & Bolivia



(Interest Type(s))

Romantic Getaways


Sustainable Travel


Adventure Travel

(Tour Length)

7 Days

Tour Highlights

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  • Explore ruins of former mining towns, Santa Laura and Humberstone, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Travel through traditional Andean villages to learn about ancient indigenous cultures such as Aymara and the 2,000-year-old Chinchorro culture
  • See the archaeological treasures of northern Chile such as El Gigante de Atacama, the largest prehistoric anthropomorphic figure in the world
  • Spend time in the Lauca National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, with its amazing flora, fauna and topography
  • Discover the fascinating ecosystem of the Salar de Surire Natural Monument, encompassing salt flat and small salt lakes

Day 1: Santiago, Chile / Iquique
Welcome to Chile. Upon arrival in Santiago, you will connect with your flight to northern Chile! This afternoon you are met at Diego Aracena Airport by your driver and guide, who accompany you to your hotel. You will have a brief overview of the next day’s activities. The remainder of the day is at leisure. Terrado Suites Hotel Iquique

Day 2: Iquigue / Atacama Desert Crossing / Arica
After breakfast, begin the journey that will takes you to the Pampa del Tamarugal. Visit the ruins of two former mining towns, Santa Laura and Humberstone, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005. See the extraction and processing area of saltpeter, which revolutionized the global mineral fertilizer industry in the mid-19th century. Learn how the early inhabitants of the driest desert on the planet survived. Then, drive the Pan-American Highway north, with a stop at the village of Huara, once a railway station. It offers fascinating glimpses into this desolate, uninhabited landscape. After lunch, continue north across cross deep ravines. In these valleys, discover large geoglyphs more than a thousand years old. These geoglyphs served to guide the ancestral community at sites such as Aura, Tiliviche and Chiza. You arrive at the city of Arica in the afternoon. The evening is at leisure. Diego de Almagro Hotel (B,L)

Day 3: Arica / Putre
Explore the city of Arica this morning on a walking tour of the city center. Three buildings were designed by Gustave Eiffel, including the San Marcos Cathedral and the former Peruvian Customs buildings. Then you head to the Valley of Azapa and the Archaeological Museum of San Miguel de Azapa. Explore the interesting collection of artifacts that include mummies of the 2,000-year-old Chinchorro culture. Travel to neighboring Valley of Lluta, where green crops contrast with the arid slopes, and see several panels of geoglyphs. Lunch today will be at a country restaurant offering dishes featuring local produce before you continue the ascent to the foot of the Andes, and the Quebrada Cardones natural monument. Notice the distinctive candelabra cactus, and explore the hillsides for the biggest and oldest specimens. At the higher altitudes, stop at the Copaquilla lookout for views of the deep gorges that cross the desert to the sea. The winding path leads to the town of Putre, 3,500 meters/11,500 feet. This is the ideal place to acclimatize for the days to come. Enjoy dinner at a restaurant in the village. Hotel Q’antati (B,L,D)

Day 4: Putre – Lauca - Putre
Begin the day with an exploration of the Lauca National Park, declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1981 due to its high biodiversity and landscape value. Ascend to Chungará Lake, 4,500 meters/15,000 feet above sea level. Enjoy a hike along the shore. Later, stop to view the Cotacotani lagoons and Parinacota Volcano, 6,330 meters/21,000 feet tall, and its twin Pomerape Volcano, just slightly smaller at 6,240 meters/20,500 feet. Savor a picnic lunch in this dramatic Andean landscape near the village of Parinacota, which you visit after lunch. This small and ancient settlement is known for its beautiful Andean colonial church, which is only open during religious holidays when descendants of the original inhabitants gather here. Continue traveling back to Putre, occasionally passing herds of llamas or alpacas. Tonight, you meet for dinner in the village. Hotel Q’antati (B,L,D)

Day 5: Putre / Colchane
Discover the Andean Altiplano, crossing the great Vicuña National Reserve, where you see herds of vicuñas, relatives of the camel. Visit small Andean villages, including Guallatire, beside the smoking volcano of the same name. You continue on to Salar de Surire Natural Monument that encompasses a salt flat and small salt lakes, sheltering several indigenous Andean species of wildlife and plants. This is one of the Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. Arintica Volcano towers over the salt flat. The protected area, along with Lauca National Park and Las Vicuñas National Reserve, were designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1981. In shallow lakes scattered across its surface it’s possible to observe the three types of Andean flamingos and other Andean birds. On the banks of this ancient salt lake, is the Polloquere geothermal field. Enjoy a picnic lunch and a dip in the hot springs. Head south across the 4,700- meter/15,500-foot Isluga Mountain Pass to Volcano National Park, passing through small settlements of shepherds and their herds of llamas and alpacas. The cultivation of quinoa and potatoes generates income for these communities. The people of Equelga and Isluga are known for their beautiful churches. The Isluga Volcano, like the Guallatire, sends smoke into the sky. Arrive in the town of Colchane at 3,800 meters/12,500 feet to simple guest rooms with private bathroom. Camino del Inka Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 6: Colchane / Panavinto / Iquique
Set out this morning for the town of Cariquima, known as a central meeting place for members of the ancient Aymara culture central. It also has been famous for centuries for handcrafts. Continue towards Panavinto to take in the forests of giant cactus (Echinopsis atacamensis), some more than 5 meters/16 feet high and almost 1.5 meters/5 feet in diameter. You have views of the great Coipasa Salt Flat before you descend to the coast as the landscape changes around each bend in the road. The vastness of the desert and small isolated hills reveal one of the archaeological treasures of northern Chile, El Gigante de Atacama. This is the largest prehistoric anthropomorphic figure in the world 119 meters/390 feet, and represented a deity for the local inhabitants from AD 1000 to 1400. It was an early astronomical calendar used to determine when the moon set, the crop cycle and seasons. Coming to the Pan American Highway, you have lunch in the town of Huara. Later, continue to Iquique, and check into your hotel before meeting for dinner. Terrado Suites Iquique Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 7: Iquique / Santiago / Depart
This morning, you area transferred to the airport in Iquique for your flight to Santiago and your connecting flight home. (B)

Land price, per person, double occupancy: From US$600 per person per day

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