Mystic North

The area between the beaches of the northern Chilean Pacific Coast and the highlands (Altiplano) is full of wonderful landscapes. With your own rental car you are flexible and you can discover all the amazing attractions of the Altiplano independenlty.
Well planned with the right partner, a rental car trip to the Altiplano region is safe and uncomplicated.
Our sample itinerary covers the Altiplano in a nutshell – after all, there is so much to discover in the rest of Chile!
It’s best to plan your trip in Chile with your own rental vehicle in stages and to cover the long distances with domestic flights. Car-Rental-Chile makes it possible: We will be happy to advise you on domestic flights and assist you with the booking process.

First of all, a few tips on trips with a rental car to the Altiplano area:
Some highland roads are remote gravel roads where you rarely see other vehicles. There may be poor cell phone reception, so in case of a breakdown you should be well prepared. In orderto make sure you do not have to worry about emergencies, Car-Rental-Chile offers additional accessories such as emergency kits, extra spare tires, and tools.

Please be aware, that most of the roads are made of gravel, sand or stones, so we recommend careful driving. Keep in mind that, on gravel roads you can only go about half as fast as on asphalt.
Always bring about twice as much mineral water (be careful with tap water in Northern Chile) as you need and don´t forget to put warm clothing or blankets in the car – in the evenings, the temperatures in the Altiplano drop very fast.
Also, make sure to fuel your rental car at every opportunity, because gas stations are few and far between in some areas.

Be careful with the altitude! As the name says, the Altiplano (“high plateau”) is located high; some attractions are at about 4,500m altitude. Travellers with health issues or those having suffered from altitude sickness before , should rather refrain from this tour – health comes first!

Accommodations in Arica and Iquique range from simple hostels to high-end hotels.


Sample Itinerary for a Rental Car Trip to the Chilean Altiplano:

Pick up your rental car at the airport in Arica. Please have your driving license and a credit card ready, since a copy of the card must be deposited as a guarantee. The copy will be erased upon return oft he car, if there is no damage.

Experience Arica, the City of Eternal Spring! In the beautiful city center the work of Gustave Eiffel awaits you: the French engineer designed the San Marcos Cathedral as well as the historic customs office on the main square. Visit the famous Morro rock, the symbol of Arica. It is a sandstone outcrop of 130m, which was stormed by the Chilean army during the war against Peru. There is a smlall museum that highlights this important event in Chilean history, and the viewpoint on the top of the Morro offers a spectacular vista of the city, the long beaches, and the lush Lluta Valley.
Enjoy the rest oft he day at one of the beaches.

Overnight stayin Arica. Distance covered: about 20 km on asphalt (only aeropuerto – city center)

Prehistoric Traces in the Azapa Valley
Drive your rental car eastwards out of town and discover the Azapa Valley today. This place is not only the main area of Chilean olive production, but hosts the Museum San Miguel de Azapa, where you can marvel at the oldest mummies in the world! Did you know, that the world´s oldest mummies are not from Egypt, but from the Chinchorro culture? The Chinchorro people lived on the North Chilean Pacific coast in the Stone Age and began to preserve their dead around 5.000 BC. Organs and muscles were removed. Then, the body was carefully remodelled with mud and straw, mantled with its original skin and decorated with a mask and hair dress before painting it with manganese oxide. Nobody knows exactly why the Chinchorro people did that, but one theory says that there might have been a high childhood mortality rate due to naturally high levels of arsenic in the groundwater. By mummification, the Chinchorro children could live on…

After this interesting history lesson, stroll over local markets or visit an olive farm before heading back to Arica’s pleasant beaches. Have a look on the slopes of the Azapata Valley, there are ancient geoglyphs: large images of shepherds and herds.

Overnight stay in Arica. Distance covered: about 50 km on asphalt.
In case you arrive in Arica early on the first day, you can also visit the museum in the Azapa Valley on this very first day and shorten the tour by one day.

Lauca National Park
Today you will undertake a fascinating all-day excursion to the Lauca National Park and let yourself be enchanted by the sublimity of the Altiplano sceneries. First, you cross the green Lluta Valley, which provides a surprising contrast to the surrounding desert. On your way, you can observe mysterious rock paintings of lamas and humans on the hillsides as well as remains from the Inca Conquest. The highlight of the tour is Lake Chungará (4,500m), whose emerald green surface beautifully reflects the snow-covered volcano of Parinacota (6,400m). This is a real postcard-panorama! Observe the local fauna such as guanacos, alpacas, flamingos, chinchillas and others who manage to live in this seemingly hostile environment.
The churches of the pre-Hispanic highland villages Parinacota (4,392 m) and Putre (3,500 m) are worth a detour on the way back. The adobe buildings date back to the early 17th century and are among the earliest evidence of European colonization in the area.

Overnight stay in Arica. Distance covered: about 400 km, mostly on asphalt.
Please be aware, that the difference in altitude between Arica and Lake Chungará is 4.500m, covered in only one day. If you are not absolutely sure, that you do not have altitude problems or are not in optimum health conditions, you should rather refrain from this excursion. Turn around immediately at the first sign of headache or nausea!
If you are not sure, you might also take this excursion as a guided tour, so that help is available and you do not have to drive yourself.

Arica – Iquique and Salpeter-Ghost-Towns
Leave Arica today in the morning on the Panamericana Highway with direction to Iquique. Make a short detour to the «giant of Atacama», an ancient, 86 m high image on a hill about 70 km before reaching Iquique.

Very close to Iquique, take the detour to the former nitrate mining towns of Humberstone and Santa Laura, which will transport you back in time to the 19th century, the era of the nitrate boom. They were built in 1872, when the area still belonged to Peru, in order to extract the ‘white gold’ from the desert soil. Santa Laura once was home to more than 400 inhabitants, while Humberstone hosted even 3,500 workers. There are warehouses, a church, a school, a sports stadium and even a hotel with a swimming pool. Actors from all over the world performed in the locas theatre. All those remains just left there from one day to the other create a bizarre atmosphere in this now UNESCO heritage site.
Iquique itself, the former bastion of the nitrate boom, awaits you with long white beaches and a busy port along with magnificent buildings from the time of the boom – a very attractive combination!

If you are the adventurous type, you can also do a paragliding excursion in Iquique. For this you should plan an extra day.

Overnight stay in Iquique. Distance covered about 350 km on asphalt.

Drop off your rental car in Iquique and take your return flight.