Sep 2019

Stretching 41,000 square miles from Southern Peru to Northern Chile, nestled between the Andes and the Chilean Coastal Range, lies the world’s oldest desert and the driest place on Earth: the Atacama.

Receiving less than 1mm of rainfall each year and with some areas having received no rainfall at all in over 400 years, the Atacama Desert is over 50 times drier than California’s Death Valley. Yet due the region’s lofty altitude — the elevation is 3000 metres on average and 6,680 metres at its highest point — summer’s high temperatures average just 27°C (80°F) and winter nights can reach freezing!

With such extreme climatic characteristics, you would be mistaken for envisaging a dull and desolate dustbowl, but the reality of the Atacama is a strikingly beautiful landscape of smoking volcanoes, rusty canyons, steaming geysers, salt flats and turquoise sinkhole lakes.

Beneath the ground are enormous mineral deposits of copper, sodium, iron, lithium, silver and gold and the region is home to over one million people, with settlements dating back over 6,000 years.

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The Atacama’s dunes, valleys, dry rivers and rocky mountains are popular with all-terrain sports enthusiasts and various championships have taken place here including the Atacama Rally, Chile Rally, Patagonia-Atacama Rally and the Dakar Rally; a self-driving overland adventure is truly the best way to explore this extraordinary terrain.

Arrive by private jet into Calama, the capital of El Loa Province, nestled in the heart of some of northern Chile’s most spectacular scenery, then head to the small bohemian town of San Pedro de Atacama.

A colourful desert oasis, San Pedro is located in the arid high plateau of Puna de Atacama at an altitude of 2400 metres – a great place to rest and acclimatise to the altitude and prepare for the journey ahead. Meet with your team of expedition experts, finalise your kit and map out the best route for the upcoming adventure, then celebrate the beginning of an exciting expedition with a private dinner of delicious regional specialities; ambience provided by local Atacamenian musicians.

Setting out early the next morning in 4x4s, head north toward the Bolivian border and begin the journey through Atacama’s spectacular lunar landscapes. Stopping for lunch en route, a delicious fusion of traditional Bolivian and modern international cuisine is prepared by the expedition team’s private chef and relished in an incredible setting between towering rock formations with sweeping views across the vast, ochre moonscape.

Stop near the active sulphur springs of Sol de Mañaña, an intensely volcanic area of geothermic fields lined with bubbling mud pools and geysers that blast out hot steam up to 15 metres high. Explore the otherworldly landscape, dotted with multi-coloured mineral lakes where bright pink flamingos breed each year.

For a challenging afternoon trek, drive up the slopes of Uturunku volcano and complete the hike to its 6008-metre peak. Though dormant, the volcano it has attracted much interest in the last decade because the hill has been steadily inflating, suggesting that and could be developing into a new super volcano.

Heading onward to the Siloli Desert rest in a remote yet comfortable desert lodge. Savour a sumptuous dinner with views over the surreal wind-swept landscape, dotted with strange rock formations that give rise to the name the reserve’s common name: the ‘Salvador Dalí desert’.

After breakfast the next morning, continue your journey north through more matchless landscapes and dreamlike topography, to reach the first breath-taking views over Bolivia’s gem: the incredible Salar de Uyuni.

with the guidance of an expert astronomer, explore the same galaxies, nebulas and constellations that have inspired Andean Cosmovision for thousands of years.

Salar de Uyuni is a thick salt crust stretching over 4,000 square miles of Bolivia’s Altiplano (high plateau). The world’s largest salt flat, it was formed over 20,000 years ago, when tectonic activity drained prehistoric Lake Minchin, leaving behind an estimated 10 billion tonnes of salt and one of the most remarkable vistas on Earth.

Spend your first evening on the flats, admiring the breath-taking views from Kachi lodge. With no clouds above and no external light pollution, the Salar is one of the world’s best places for stargazing, and when snow from the highlands flood the plains from December to March, the blanket of stars is mirrored in the water below, creating an unbelievably beautiful spectacle. Here, with the guidance of an expert astronomer, explore the same galaxies, nebulas and constellations that have inspired Andean Cosmovision for thousands of years.

Visit a small town where life has changed little over the last 100 years then drive further into the flats to explore the endless horizons. Enjoy lunch on a small cactus-covered island with 360-degree views over the Salar, discover tiny villages where people dedicate themselves to salt production using ancient techniques, and explore the vast expanse interspersed by huge gulches of water called the Ojos de Sal, “Eyes of the Salt”.

The endless horizon acts as a blank canvas which ignites inspiration in any creative thinker’s imagination. Stop along the way to play with the landscape’s surreal perspectives and create mind-bending photos with celebrated artist Gaston Ugalde. Known internationally as the Bolivian Andy Warhol or ‘Andean Warhol’, Gaston is inspired by the infinite creative possibilities of the Salar, and plays with the landscape to create mind-blowing photography, artworks, sculptures and installations using local materials.

As the sun begins to set on the flats, expect an unreal display of colours as the vivid oranges, reds, violets are reflected in the natural mirror below.

As the sun begins to set on the flats, expect an unreal display of colours as the vivid oranges, reds, violets are reflected in the natural mirror below.

Then, making the most of the mind-blowing natural phenomenon, gaze in wonder whilst being enveloped by the brilliant colours and dramatic explosions of an unforgettable firework display, before spending the night in an exclusively set up camp on the flats as the night skies above burst with a billion stars.