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Chile - Atacama Trek

Fixed Departures in 2018:
every Monday

Difficulty: Demanding

Valley of the Moon, Atacama, Chile

This is a classic trek that leads through some remote and beautiful areas of the Atacama. As it takes place at high altitude it is physically demanding and should only be attempted after adequate acclimatization by people who are physically fit. However, there is vehicle support and you will only have to carry your day pack. All camp gear will be transported from one location to the next by car. There are regular departures for this trip every monday throughout the year.

Day 1 : Calama - San Pedro
Upon arrival at Calama you will be picked up at the airport. We set off on our drive to San Pedro de Atacama (98km) right away. En route we will see amazing rock formations as we pass through the Cordillera de la Sal. A briefing is scheduled at lunchtime. In the evening we'll take a 3-4hrs walk into the silent Moon Valley, hike enormous sand dunes and admire the sunset.
Overnight at our Hotel in San Pedro. (L, D)

Day 2 : Trekking through San Pedro riverbed
From San Pedro to San Bartolo, Atacama Desert, Chile

Once we finish breakfast we board the van and drive to the great Fortress of Quitor, which dates from the twelfth century - a fine example of pre-Inca architecture in the Atacama region. Then we start a walk to the mouth of San Pedro River, entering in the small canyons that limit its stream. As we enter the canyon our walk turns into an amphibious trek, given that the path crosses the river in different spots. A special environment amidst strange geological formations. We finally reach a small valley which we cross until we arrive at the ghost town of San Bartolo, a former mining enclave that is now abandoned. We camp there and tonight we will have the first experience of the amazing starry nights of Atacama.

Hiking the Atacama Trek

Day 3 : Exploring the Heart of Atacama From San Bartolo to Rio Grande, Atacama Desert, Chile
We start the day with a demanding trek, gaining altitude as we leave the river bed and move towards the plateau level.A long the way we observe abandoned mines, old and steeped in legends. The trail continues through the river canyon and we start watching the giant cacti and other strange life forms that are adapted to the harsh climatic conditions in the desert, surviving on the banks of the river. There are some areas of the valley that are so dry that scientists have not found life there yet, not even bacteria. After crossing a section of the canyon we finally arrive at Río Grande Village, one of the few original indigenous communities of Atacameño people that still remain. We camp on the banks of the river and, if we are lucky, we will get to know some of the local villagers. (B, L, D)

Day 4 : The Great Desert Ascension From Rio Grande to Machuca, Atacama Desert, Chile
Today we have the most challenging day of the trek ahead of us in terms of physical demand. Once we finish breakfast we start trekking towards Machuca Village. The trail continues along the course of small streams that give form to narrow and beautiful valleys inhabited by native people and their herds of llamas. We continue gaining altitude as we border steep desert canyons, until we reach the awesome 'bofedales of Machuca', grassy matts that live in the waters of shallow lagoons, an environment rich in wildlife. From here which we enjoy an amazing view of Licancabur Volcano, the sacred mountain of the Atacameño people. At this point we will have climbed above 13.000ft above sea level. We camp next to a big bofedal and we dedicate our time to rest while we get acclimatized to the Altiplanic weather.(B, L, D)

Day 5 : Descent by the Altiplanic Canyons From Machuca to Puritama, Atacama Desert, Chile
After a hearty breakfast we leave the bofedales of Machuca and start descending through the canyon. It will be a long journey though easier than the previous days as the terrain gradient will let ‘gravity’ support us along the way. We finally arrive at the natural pools of Puritama Hot Springs, where we enjoy a marvelous bath. A welcoming, relaxing refreshment that will soothe the muscles after the great exertion of the previous days! When our body and mind are at ease we board our transfer and drive back to San Pedro.(B, L, D)

El Tatio, Atacama, Chile

Day 6 : The Cherry of Atacama San Pedro, Salt Flat and High Land Lagoons, Atacama, Chile
We get up and feel the satisfaction of having completed a challenging and wonderful trek; we have crossed the heart of the Atacama with the same explorer spirit as its first inhabitants. As a reward for our efforts we will be transferred on a van to see the amazing Salar de Atacama, home of astonishing birds like the Chilean Pink Flamingos. Then we continue driving towards the highlights of Atacama: the marvelous Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons, plenty of turquoise waters that contrast with the yellows of the Altiplanic landscape which make this place incredibly scenic. Once we are ready we return to San Pedro. Tonight we will have our farewell dinner, a great occasion to share thoughts and feelings about the journey we have just completed together. Surely the old Atacama Desert will now have a special space in our memories.(B, L, D)

Day 7 (Sun): San Pedro - Calama
We take this day to relax and wander around town, visit its craft shops, church and museum, and feel the blend of native culture and the sophisticated modernity installed by foreigners, including Chilean people from big cities who decided to leave behind ‘civilization’ and move to this place on the edge of the world. In the afternoon we drive to Calama Airport in time to catch our flight. Good Bye Atacama! (B)

Tour is only available as a private departure. Rates vary with currency fluctuation and are thus only available on request.

Pre-Departure Notes

A trek in Atacama requires a lot more physical preparation than most vacations. You will be trekking between five to seven hours a day, mostly on dry sandy terrain. On the last days the trail through the high lands (average 4,100mt/10,500ft) will also constitute a demanding factor.

Although the treks themselves are not particularly strenuous, their length and the challenging terrain will be more taxing than expected. Please keep in mind that the weather in Atacama changes from day to night causing the temperatures to drop considerably. These weather conditions can easily affect both the body and the morale. You need to be in excellent health and physical condition to enjoy such an experience.

You should start your moderate training several months before departure, then slowly build up to a more strenuous level. Stop the strenuous activities if you feel dizzy, faint, have difficulty breathing, or experience any other significant medical discomfort.

Here is a recommended program that should get you in good shape. This is only a guideline and can be adapted to your preferences depending on your actual fitness level. Consult a physician before commencing any new workout program.

Week 1 through 4: Start moderately and work out a minimum of four days per week. Strike a good balance between aerobic workout and muscle strengthening. Outdoors, you can run, hike, or mountain bike on hilly terrain to best achieve the aerobic fitness component. Indoors at a gym, you can use the stairmaster and treadmill wearing a backpack with some weight in it to substitute for the outdoor activities. Work on muscle strengthening either by lifting weights or by doing pushups, sit-ups, and squats. Include a long hike at the weekend (there's no better way to train for a trek than to trek!)

Running: 3 to 5 miles is an adequate training run.
Biking: 1- to 2-hour rides. Try to include some hills.
Hiking: 5- to 6-hour hikes. Try to include some hills.
Treadmill or Stairmaster: 50- to 60-minute sessions.

Week 5 and onward until departure: Increase your workouts to a minimum of five days per week.

Remember that an Atacama trek can be the trip of a lifetime and you really want to enjoy it, so please take your training program seriously- it'll be worth it!

Altitude Sickness

During our trips in the Atacama region you might experience altitude sickness. Some people experience altitude sickness at altitudes above 3.000 m. Symptoms are headaches, vertigo, drowsiness or insomnia, shortness of breath and others. (see staying healthy section

To avoid altitude sickness you should avoid a quick ascend from sea level to the altiplano to let your body adapt gradually to the reduced oxygen. Furthermore you should avoid or limit alcohol consumption, drink extra fluids and don't overeat. Given rest and relaxation most people will recover from the symptoms. Pain killers might combat headache. If symptoms do not disappear or get even worse you have to move to a lower elevation so as to avoid further complications and serious damage.