Argentina and Chile - Puna & Atacama Experience

Argentina and Chile - Puna & Atacama Experience

Style: PioneerGroundbreaking tours to unique destinations
Duration: 13 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers


Come and discover the hidden beauty of the North West of Argentina and Chile. Located between Salta to the west and the borders of Chile and Bolivia this elevated plateau of wildly striking and desolate landscapes is filled with the sights of salt flats, flamingos, ancient Inca trails, desert labyrinths and herds of llamas and vicuñas. We travel through the magnificent Puna from Salta to San Antonio de las Cobres and Tolar Grande right down to the frontier-town of El Penon, stopping at the various sights. From salt lakes to extraordinary colours, flamingos, clay deserts, dunes, strangely eroded atolls and pumice fields you will feel like the only people in this Mars- like landscape.

Tour Rating

Fitness ●●●○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●●○ | Culture ●●●●○ | History ●●●●○ | Wildlife ●●●○○

Tour Pace


Tour Highlights

  • An adventurous trip through some of the most awesome landscapes on the planet
  • The feeling of isolation in the deserts of the Puna and Atacama regions
  • Amazing geological features in the Valle De La Luna
  • Historical villages and towns
  • Remarkable Stromatolites in the area around Tolar Grande

Tour Essentials

Accommodation: Comfortable hotels and lodges
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary
Group Size: Maximum 12
Start Point: Buenos Aires
End Point: Buenos Aires
Transport: 4WD
Countries: Argentina & Chile

Tour Itinerary Notes

While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.

Tour Guide

Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour.

Day 1 - Buenos Aires

Arrival at Ezeiza Airport in the outskirts of Buenos Aires and transfer to the City (40min) with a private van and English speaking guide. Overnight and dinner in the Dazzler Recoleta or similar.

Buenos Aires

This sprawling metropolis that glitters in the afternoon rays from the River Plate is home to over one-third of the country's population. Founded in 1580, Buenos Aires is today the largest city in South America. Also known as the city that never sleeps, it’s many and varied around-the clock attractions never fail to surprise and impress. Here, the tango lives on not only in the breathtakingly complex movements executed by professional dancers at tango shows or in the popular plazas at the San Telmo antiques market, but also in the sensuous sway of couples from all walks of life who gather at the city’s many milongas to share their passion for the music. At weekends, the streets ring to a medley of different sounds. San Telmo, famous for its antique and knick-knack stalls; La Boca and the "Caminito" with is brightly painted walls where artists gather; Recoleta where hundreds of stands selling handicrafts fills its square; the gaucho market Mataderos where local groups perform songs from their native towns and the gauchos demonstrate their horsemanship skills. For art and culture lovers, Buenos Aires’ 57 museums house not only some of the continent’s most impressive private collections but also preserve the local heritage of customs and traditions from ornate silver mate pots to the fashion accessories of the 19th century. The grandeur of the Colón Theatre, an opera house acclaimed world-wide for its balanced acoustic is a must for classical music buffs who will also find a surprisingly broad choice of concerts and recitals of choral, orchestral and chamber works of a very high standard at concert halls and churches throughout Buenos Aires.

Day 2 - Salta

Transfer to the Airport of Buenos Aires, to take your flight to Salta. Arrival at the city of Salta and transfer to your hotel. Check in at the Design Suites Salta Hotel, and after a break, we will embark on a 3-hour walking tour of the city including a visit to the extraordinary MAAM Museum (Museum of High Altitude Archaeology).

Overnight at the Hotel Design Suites Salta (BD)


Salta still has a distinctly Hispanic feel to it, an urban skyline distinguished by the colonial architecture of its original buildings and churches, which has also influenced more modern construction to the point where the main square is a charming monument to neo-colonial style. The streets in the old part of the town run between old Andalusian houses with their tiled roofs, thick whitewashed walls and wrought-iron balconies brightened by scarlet and fuchsia geraniums. A recently completed restoration of the old city centre and new restaurants have added life to the austere structures after the sun goes down. Another new addition to Salta’s attractions is the Archaeological Museum which has many fine relics of Inca civilization including ones found in 1999 at an Inca sanctuary and temple near the Llullaillaco volcano in the heart of the Andes mountain range. Archaeologists discovered the exceptionally well-preserved bodies of three children who had been part of a ritual sacrifice to Incan deities and, lying next to them, an astonishing collection of over 100 gold and silver statues, ornaments, ceremonial garments and ceramics which are now on display at the Museum.

Day 3 – Salta to Purmamarca

(320km on an asphalted road. Maximum altitude 3000m. Altitude at final destination 2192m.

Estimated d riving time is 5 hours)

The Quebrada of Humahuaca is a long valley that ends near the border with Bolivia, located in the Jujuy Province, the most Andean territory of Argentina. It is famous for its coloured mountains, its geological formations and its historical villages. During our journey, we will enjoy the best of the authentic atmosphere of this area of Argentina including the food market of Humahuaca, a small hike in an amazing hidden red gorge and the Sacred Garden of Cardones at 3200m. We also explore the towns of Tilcara, Purmamarca and Humahuaca with their colourful craft markets, which are a trademark of the gorge. Overnight at the Hotel Altiplanico or similar (BL)

Day 4 - Purmamarca to San Pedro de Atacama

(430km on a paved road - Maximum altitude 4700m Altitude at final destination 2475m - Estimated driving time: 6 hours)

A fantastic drive on a perfectly paved road will guide us across the Andes, through dry salted lakes, volcanoes, groups of wild Vicunas and the infinity of the Puna Plateau. Visit Salinas Grandes and the old capital of the Puna, Susques and its church dating from 1598. Arrive at San Pedro de Atacama after a 50 km straight downhill descent with a view over the Atacama Desert and the perfect cone-shaped Licancabur Volcano. Overnight at Hotel Altiplanico (BL)

Day 5 - Tatio’s Geothermic Area and Puesta Del Sol/Sunset at Luna Valley

(190km on an earth road, 30 km paved road. Maximum altitude 4200m. Altitude at final destination 2475m. Estimated driving time: 5 hours)

A very early departure will take us to the Geyser del Tatio. El Tatio Geyser Field (locally known as Los Geysers del Tatio) is located within the Andes Mountains of northern Chile at 4200m. With over 80 active geysers, El Tatio is the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere and the third largest field in the world. Return to San Pedro de Atacama for a rest and in the afternoon we will experience the sunset on the mountains of the Andes and on the Moon Valley on the outskirts of the village. Valle de la Luna is an area of stone and sand geological formations which are declared as a natural sanctuary and is also part of the Los Flamencos Reserve. It is a stunning place of desolation where the wind has sculpted mounts and ravines of salt, clay and gypsum. There is no life in this valley, no humidity; it is one of the most inhospitable but beautiful places on the planet. Overnight at Hotel Altiplanico (BLD)

Day 6 - San Pedro Atacama to Tolar Grande

(250km on earth track and 110km on asphalted road - Maximum Altitude 4600m – Altitude at final destination 3600m Estimated driving time: 6 to 7 hours)

Today is probably one of the most intense days of the whole trip. Following one of the antique routes made by llama caravans trading goods between the oasis of the Puna, we will drive to Sico Pass and Miscanti & Miniques lagoons with its dark blue water, cobalt sky, flamingos and sacred volcanoes. Back on the Argentine Plateau, the landscape will completely change. The Labyrinth Desert is a fossil dune desert, made by clay and choke crystal and is the only maritime sediment deposit of the Puna. We arrive at the tiny Village of Tolar Grande, one of the remotest places on earth. Dinner in the town’s local “comedor” – simple restaurant. Overnight in Casa Andina Hotel (BLD)

Day 7 - Tolar Grande area

(140 km on earth track. Maximum Altitude 4000m. Altitude at final destination 3500m, Estimated driving time: 2 hours)

The morning will be dedicated to the exploration of the surrounding area of Tolar Grande including Ojos del Mar where in February 2009; researchers discovered a huge colony of living Stromatolites. The surroundings of Tolar Grande offer some great small hikes where you will be rewarded by a 360° view over the area from the Sacred Macon Mountain to the Llullaillaco Volcano. This is where the National Geographic discovered Inca Treasure alongside the bodies of 3 Inca children perfectly preserved by the ice and dryness. For lunch we will be back at Tolar Grande and have time to relax in the hotel in the afternoon we drive to Caipe, which was the old railway station where the mineral processed in the mines was carried by cargo train, and then transported to Salta. On our way back to Tolar Grand we will stop for sunset on a hill just outside of Tolar Grande. Dinner in the town’s local “comedor” – simple restaurant. Overnight in Casa Andina Hotel (BLD)

Day 8 - Tolar Grande to El Peñon

(340km on earth track. Maximum Altitude 4500m. Altitude at final destination 3400m. Estimated driving time: 7 hours)

Today’s crossing of the Arizaro dry salt lake mirrors the ancient journey of the Arrieros (shepherds guiding caravans of animals to Chile). Arizaro means Vultures Cemetery and comes from that period when many animals (cows and horses) perished during the crossing of the salt flats. We visit Antofalla, an important and spectacular example of a Puna Oasis. In the middle of a high altitude desert there is a green valley, thanks to a natural pure water spring, full of Alamos, Molles and Sauce trees. Antofalla, together with Antofagasta and Santa Rosa, were important stations for Llama caravans connecting this part of the Andes with the Oasis of Atacama. Antofalla is still inhabited by a tiny community of 60 people, all shepherds. We will have lunch in one of their homes and then cross the salt lake with views over the Antofalla Volcano (6400m) and home of llamas, suris (Andean ostrich), wild donkeys and vicuñas. We continue to Antofagasta de la Sierra, the biggest Oasis on the path connecting this side of the Andes with the Oasis of San Pedro de Atacama (Chile). It is a big village with more than 2.000 people who maintain their ancient traditions and culture. The name Antofagasta means “place where the sun shines” and it is surrounded by numerous volcano peaks. Dinner and overnight in Hostería de Altura El Peñón (BLD)

Day 9 - Campo de Piedra Pómez

(130km September to April / 200km May to August on earth track. Maximum Altitude 4200m Altitude at final destination 3400m - Estimated driving time: 4 ½ hours)

Visit Campo de Piedra Pómez, a strange and stunning landscape carved into the rock that gives rise to its name The Pumice. Of purely igneous origin, it was produced from a massive explosion so powerful that if one could have seen it, it would be similar to the mushroom cloud produced by a bomb. This cloud spread the ashes and debris in large areas and in different directions where it was crystallized and gave life to these wonderful rocks which have been carved by the winds of the Puna, where they became the best and most prominent Andean sculptures. We will also pass very close to a young volcano: the Carachi Pampa entirely painted in black by the spill of basaltic lava in ancient geological times.

Please note:  The itinerary for September to April includes tours to Campo de Piedra Pómez and to Laguna Grande - a place of unique beauty,  it is a saline lake that sits at an altitude of 4150m.  The itinerary for tours departing between May to August includes a  full day tour to Campo de Piedra Pómez.

Dinner and overnight in Hostería de Altura El Peñón (BLD)

Day 10 - El Peñón to Cafayate

(50km on earth track and 250km paved road. Maximum Altitude 4000m. Altitude at final destination 1683m. Estimated driving time: 5 hours)

After three days of intense travel on the Puna High Desert Plateau, there are still plenty of surprises. The paved road from El Peñón is a 150km long yellow field of Paja Brava, white lagoons and a deserted narrow canyon with rich vegetation. At Santa Maria you will experience a real Argentine Asado, prepared in a simple parrilla (barbecue grill) made by our good friend Raul. We will visit the Quilmes Ruins, probably the most interesting Pre Inca Ruins, with a dramatic story about the end of an ancient South American culture. Arrival and overnight at the pleasant village of Cafayate and its green vineyards is the perfect place to visit a local wine producer, famous because of the “Torrontés” variety of white wine. Overnight in the Viñas de Cafayate Wine Resort (BL)

Day 11 - Cafayate to Molinos

(90km on gravel and 100km paved road. Maximum Altitude 2300m Altitude at final destination 2020m - Estimate driving time: 5 hours)

This morning, we’ll travel on to the Quebrada de las Conchas gorge; 55 km of scenic sediment rock formations, dated from 40 to 100 million years old. The Ruta 40 is one of the most famous and longest roads in the world, and as we continue our journey to Molinos we’ll drive among deserted surreal scenarios, small ranchos of local campesinos, vineyards and giant coloured mountains. The Quebrada de las Flechas is a desert of quartz ashes and rocks covered by the mud of an ancient lake, the result of 500 million years of geological history, a place where during full moon nights, the lights reflect on the quartz offering us the impression of being in a lit desert. Overnight in Hacienda de Molinos (BL)

Day 12 – Molinos via Los Cardones National Park to Salta

(81km gravel and 122 km paved road. Maximum Altitude 3457m Altitude at final destination 1200m

Estimated driving time: 4 hours)

The road from Molinos to Salta is one of the most scenic drives of North West Argentina. We travel through four different eco systems from the Green Yungas to a semi deserted dry valley. A further 50km will take us from Piedra del Molino Pass at 3500m down to Salta’s Valle de Lerma at 1200m. View condors flying in the dark blue sky, guanacos and wild donkeys, as the stunning landscape of thousands of cardones – the local protected species of giant cactus – passes by. We have time to enjoy the view, take some amazing pictures and to go on a short walk in the unique red desert inside Los Cardones National Park. Overnight in Design Suites Salta Hotel or similar (BL)

Day 13 - Salta to Buenos Aires

Today we travel to Salta airport for a flight back to the Jorge Newbery Airport (for domestic flights) in Buenos Aires, where we will arrange a connecting transfer to the Ezeiza International Airport of Buenos Aires for your departing flight this evening (B)

Arrival and departure transfers
Internal flights
Transport throughout
All accommodation
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner) plus 1 ½ L of water per day
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

International flights
Any airport taxes
Travel Insurance
Items of a personal nature & tips (discretionary)

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