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Chile to Peru Reverse

Atacama, Uyuni and Titicaca | View photos »

Vast landscapes and vast skies dominate this high altitude journey from Chile, through Bolivia to Peru. From the Atacama Desert, cross the Uyuni Salt Flats and Lake Titicaca to the hot springs of the Colca Canyon.

17 day trip described, guide price £6,415pp i

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Sample itinerary

Fly to South America

Travel overnight to Chile, this will normally be on a Friday for you to land on the Saturday morning in Santiago de Chile.

Land in the Chilean capital

Arrive this morning in Chile, often having been able to watch the sunrise as you come over the Andes. You are collected at the airport by your guide. Since it will generally be too early for check in, you will head straight out for a guided introduction to the city including the main monuments, the parks, and crucially, the markets where you will get the best possible sense of the capital. In the early afternoon, check in to your hotel and relax.

Travel to the Atacama Desert

Fly up to the north of Chile to the hub of the Atacama Desert, San Pedro, set on a plateau at 2,400m on the edge of huge salt flats. Settle in to your boutique lodge on the edge of town, The lodge retains a team of excellent guides who run a wide variety of excursions each day, from half-day vehicle based trips to full-day hikes and bike rides. This afternoon you should have the chance to enjoy your first excursion out into the desert.

Tatio geysers and Atacama salt flats

Each evening the guides run through a list of the trips which will be running the following day, giving you the chance to adjust your activity levels accordingly to how you feel and the things that you most enjoy. Today you might choose to get up early to visit the world’s highest geothermal field at sunrise when they come to life in a spectacular display of steam. After lunch you might like to take a gentle bike ride for 20km across the compacted surface of the salt flats to a series of lagoons, home to a family of flamingos.

Out and about in the Atacama

If you enjoy horse riding, you might like to head out into the desert with routes ranging from a gentle couple of hours to five hour challenging rides. If you want to be less active then there are some wonderful trips by 4x4 to the high Altiplano lagoons, famously rich in birdlife. This evening, head out to explore the night skies in the company of a local expert. Even to the completely untrained eye, the night skies are incredible but with a guide and a little equipment to help you, they are unforgettable.

Walk to the top of a volcano

After several days of being active at altitude, today’s walk takes you perhaps as high as you will ever stand. The road east out of San Pedro steadily climbs towards the Andes. Over the course of the hour-long drive you rise nearly 3,000m to the trailhead at an old sulfur mine. The air is very thin at this height so it is a slow and steady walk along a shallow valley towards the summit of Toco Volcano at over 5,600m. The surrounding landscapes are far, far below giving you the most spectacular views of Chile’s Atacama as well as Bolivia and Argentina.

Cross from Chile into Bolivia

Set off for the next phase of your adventure as you cross the high Bolivian Altiplano to the vast salt flats of Uyuni. For the next two full days you will be travelling with your guide in a 4x4 vehicle. We make the experience as comfortable as possible but you are heading off into some very, very remote areas on dirt roads. Stop to see beautiful lagoons and surreal rock formations along the way to your very, very remote small hotel at the eye watering altitude of 4,600m.

Cross the Uyuni salt flats

Continue north today and enjoy the wonderfully colourful desert landscapes and lagoons before you get to the Uyuni salt flats. To give you some reference, at 12,000 square km they are slightly larger than Jamaica or the Gambia. The endless blindingly white salt against the bright blue sky makes this one of the most awesome landscapes in South America. Drive north across the salt and pretty much smack bang in the middle of the salar you arrive at a most unexpected sight – Isla Incahuasi. Commonly known as Cactus Island. Later on drive to the northern edge of the salar and the tiny village of Tahua at the foot of Thunupa volcano to stay in a hotel made entirely of salt.

Caves and volcanoes of Uyuni

Walk along the edge of the salt this morning to the network of caves which was a burial place for the pre-Inca communities. Afterwards walk on a steep trail up the side of the volcano to a viewpoint where you have another fabulous panoramic view of the salar. Cross over the salt again to the eastern edge of Uyuni where you will see locals 'harvesting' the salt. They do this by piling it into hundreds of cone-shaped mounds and then shovelling it into trucks. Stay the night in another salt hotel but one with heating all night!

Fly to the Bolivian capital

With just under 800,000 inhabitants La Paz is one of the smaller cities in South America and is therefore easy to navigate on foot. There are markets everywhere which gives the place a colourful buzz. Unlike most South American capitals, in La Paz you still see a lot of the local women wearing traditional brightly coloured dresses and tiny bowler hats. As you wander you will probably find yourself at the Witches’ Market, home to all manner of products sold for ritual purposes.

Cross Lake Titicaca to Peru

Today is a long (and beautiful) travel day as you leave Bolivia and make your way over Lake Titicaca and into Peru. From La Paz it is a 1.5 hour road trip to the vast blue expanse of the worlds highest navigable lake. Here you board a catamaran to travel across the southern part of the lake to Sun Island, the source of the Inca creation myth. Your crossing ends at the lakeside town of Copacabana where you clear customs, enter Peru and switch vehicles for the last section of the journey as you drive to Puno (about two hours) around the lakeshore.

Drive to the Colca Canyon

Set off early this morning towards the beautiful landscapes of the Colca Canyon, a drive of around six hours in total on a comfortable bus. There is a guide on board to talk you through the journey and there will be stops along the way to allow you to stretch your legs and admire the beautiful views. The journey ends in the Colca Canyon, at a lovely lodge with its own hot springs, where you will spend the next three nights.

Relax or head out into the Colca Canyon

You have two full days to explore the area or relax. For your time in Colca, we leave you at leisure, so you can choose to do as much or as little as you like. The hotel has its own small tour operation which means that you can sign up for excursions as you wish. There are a number of hikes leading directly out from the lodge; it is also an option to hire horses or mountain bikes for excursions into the countryside. Alternatively, you may like to take a day out to relax and soak in the lodge’s hot springs.

See the condors of the Colca Canyon

Another day to explore the lovely Canyon and relax at your lodge. One trip you'll definitely want to do is head out to Cruz de los Condores. Here the canyon falls away 1,200m to the river below your feet. The opposite wall of the canyon is 3,000m high so the top always has a dusting of snow. In the morning, the condors start to fly up from their roosts on the canyon walls below, passing by at eye level on the morning thermals. This afternoon you might like to go for a hike to the village of Yanque to visit the colonial church and museum.

Relax this morning then travel to Arequipa

This morning you have a few hours in watch to take a final dip in the hot springs. Head down to Chivay aronud lunchtime to board your comfortable small bus to Arequipa, again with a guide on board. Arrive into the lovely city of Arequipa later this afternoon and settle into your hotel, a beautifully restored colonial building which used to house the Royal Mint.

Arequipa at your pace

Today is an opportunity for you to simply relax and take things easy. The Santa Catalina convent and Juanita museum are both within comfortable strolling distance of your hotel so you should try to see these today. Arequipa is home to the Alpaca industry of Peru so you will find beautiful garments for sale. The silver is also first rate. As well as possibly the best shopping of your holiday, Arequipa has plenty of restaurants and cafes where you can try excellent ‘nuevo Andino’ cuisine.

Travel back home, via Lima

After a relaxed morning, catch your mid-afternoon flight back to Lima, connecting through to your overnight flight home. Flight times will vary according to the transatlantic carrier you choose. Again, we quote international flights separately

About this trip

Summary

Vast landscapes and vast skies dominate this high altitude journey from Chile, through Bolivia to Peru. From the Atacama Desert, cross the Uyuni Salt Flats and Lake Titicaca to the hot springs of the Colca Canyon.

How adventurous?

Activity
1 2 3 4 5
Comfort
1 2 3 4 5
Culture
1 2 3 4 5

Best time to go i

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

Level of activity

As a tailor made trip, you are in control of the levels of activity during this trip. This is particularly true in the Atacama and in the Colca Canyon where there are lots of choices for you to head off and be active, or be less energetic if you prefer. However, the journey from Chile, through Bolivia and over Lake Titicaca to the Colca Canyon is a very long one so can be demanding. This is partly the long periods spent off road, partly due to the freezing conditions at night and partly due to the altitude. In summary, this is not a trip for people who aren’t fit.

Saying that, we only operate with private drivers and guides across Uyuni. This is to allow us to pace your trip as comfortably as possible and also to make sure that we follow a route and timetable which avoids the ‘travelers trail’ which cuts across Uyuni. Even the incredible wilderness of the salt flats can be spoiled by a misguided group of singing backpackers. The hotels we use in crossing Uyuni are the best available but they are basic. En suite facilities are fine but they have limited power and therefore hot water. At these altitudes, the temperatures at night fall to far, far below freezing. Whilst the beds are piled high with warm covers and are toasty to sleep in, getting out of bed in the morning can be a challenge.

At the other end of the spectrum, in the Atacama, you stay in a luxury lodge which has a permanent guide staff who between them run a wide variety of activities and excursions each day. Every evening you will speak to the guides to find out what trips are running the following day. Depending on your mood and energy levels, you decide what it is you want to do. This means that you could make this part of your holiday anything from a relaxed bird watching and photography experience to a volcano climbing, horse riding and mountain biking adventure. Back at base, you are staying in a beautifully designed spa hotel on the edge of the oasis town of San Pedro.

The best time to take this trip is from March through to December. This encompasses the drier winter months of the high Andes. You should note, however, that in the depths of winter (July/August), the night time temperatures on Uyuni drop so dramatically that we tend to advise a shorter trip – two nights in unheated hotels is more than most people can enjoy. The trip is possible in the wetter season of January & February though again, we may need to adjust the trip as the Uyuni salt flats are generally covered in water.

Level of culture

This journey is culturally fascinating, from the Inca to the Aymara cultures to the melting pot that is Bolivia. There is more to the Atacama Desert than picture postcard good looks and fun adventure activities. The southern limits of the Inca empire were around here so you get much more of a sense of the high Andean, Aymaran cultures than is the case further south. Adobe buildings with thatched roofs, brightly coloured clothes against rich blue skies, domesticated llamas grazing in oases. This area feels recognisably, stereotypically, 'South American'. Yet you also have your guides with you to share their insights, perhaps a more complete, nuanced sense of Chile.

Bolivia is the country in South America with the greatest number of indigenous languages and communities. Whilst you will meet locals as you cross Uyuni, it will be in La Paz that you see the amazing variety of people who come together to make Bolivia. Peru is a country of cultural diversity too but also with a fantastic culinary scene and rich musical traditions. In each of these places, we try to make sure that our team of guides gives you glimpses to the richness of the cultures through which you pass.

Practicalities

There is a detailed itinerary for this trip, in its above form, please get in touch and we can email that to you.

Saying this, it is trip which we can and will tailor to you. In order to do this, we really need to discuss your plans with you first so please call. The holiday can be run with almost any number of days.

In the form set out above, this holiday includes internal flights, accommodation, most meals, transfers, excursions, activities and entrances as set out in the detailed itinerary. Naturally, on each and every one of our holidays, we include Pura’s expertise, local contacts, support and advice throughout, along with the reassurance of our financial protection and safety auditing.

Flights are quoted separately for this holiday. You need to fly into Santiago (airport code: SCL) and out of either Lima or, better, Arequipa (airport codes: LIM and AQP respectively).

Departs

Departs any day of the year, to suit you.

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The described itinerary is just a taster of what this trip could involve. We would work with you to tailor your personal trip.

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Book Send me exclusive content » Crossing the vast expanses of Uyuni Chilean flag The lively barrio of Concha y Toro in Santiago The pool area of the Tierra Atacama Lodge Dawn steam at the Tatio Geysers The Atacama Desert is one of the best places on earth to watch the night sky Looking out from the peak of Toco Volcano in the Atacama The beautiful rock formations of the stone trees in Bolivia Crossing the vast expanses of Uyuni Back breaking work on the Uyuni Salt Flats Women at one of La Paz's many street markets Crossing Lake Titicaca by boat from Bolivia High lagoon in the Altiplano outside Arequipa, Peru Looking out over the Colca Canyon in southern Peru Condors rising up from the Colca Canyon on the morning thermals Arequipa is famous for its mild climate and beautiful setting Views of El Misti volcano from inside the Santa Catalina convent Looking out of the cathedral of Arequipa by night