Stunning Desert

Avoid being one of many by touring the Atacama on your own…

Most tourists take guided tours to explore the Atacama Desert. Consequently, many of the small buses of different agencies meet at the same time at the same place and the magic of desert gets lost. With your own rental car, you are flexible, and you can discover all the amazing attractions of the Atacama Desert independently and without the typical schedule. Well planned with the right partner, a rental car trip to the Altiplano region is safe and uncomplicated. Our sample itinerary is meant for „Atacama novices“ and covers a moderate time – 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.

First, a few tips on trips with a rental car to the Atacama Desert:

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. 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 drinking water as you need and don´t forget to put warm clothing or blankets in the car - in the evenings, the temperatures in the desert 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! Some attractions are at about 4,300m altitude. Travelers with health issues or those having suffered from altitude sickness before, should rather refrain from visiting those attractions - health comes first!

Accommodations in San Pedro de Atacama range from simple campsites to extravagant luxury hotels. Make sure to book your accommodation in advance, since this is a very popular vacation spot - among Chileans as well as foreign tourists.

Sample Itinerary for a Rental Car Trip to the Atacama Desert

  • Day 1

  • Day 2

  • Day 3

  • Day 4

  • Day 5

  • Day 6

Calama - San Pedro de Atacama

Pick up your rental car at the airport in Calama. Unless you have already brought everything, buy your excursion provisions and water in Calama. There is no supermarket in San Pedro de Atacama, only small shops with limited variety and slightly higher prices.

Drive eastwards to San Pedro de Atacama. On this route you will pass the “Cordillera de la Sal” (“Saline Mountains”) - they really consist of salt – and a valley with the very inviting name of “Valle de la Muerte” (“Death Valley”), before you reach the oasis of San Pedro de Atacama. Stroll through the town and let the day fade out in one of the many nice restaurants or at the plaza.

Overnight stay in San Pedro de Atacama. Distance covered about 105 km on asphalt.