Atacama Desert self drive vacation in Chile

“Tailor made week exploring the beautiful and bizarre natural highlights of the Atacama Desert. Drive to San Pedro and get set for stars, salt and so much more.”


Santiago, Chile | Self drive through the Atacama Desert | Stay in San Pedro for stargazing, salt flats and flamingoes | El Tatio Geysers | Drive to Moon Valley and Salt Lake |

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Departure information

This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements

Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Atacama Desert self drive vacation in Chile


In order to ensure we protect the environment and minimise our ecological footprint we have a recycling system in our UK office and use recycled ink cartridges. We also minimise our waste by limiting the number of vacation brochures we print. Instead, we refer customers to our online resources and send most of our vacation information via email.

We always recommend overland travel using local transportation as opposed to short domestic flights where possible, however due to the vast distances covered during this trip flying is unavoidable. To put it into perspective the journey from Santiago to Calama, in the Atacama Desert, is over 1,500km. The rest of the trip involves traveling by hire car as opposed to flying. We can offer more suggestions for carbon offsetting if desired.

One of the hotels we work closely with in Santiago is the Hotel Carmenere, which is the first eco hotel in the city. It uses solar panels, which not only power the hotel but also supply energy for the national grid. Their 'food to fork' programme ensures the ingredients used in their kitchen are sourced sustainable from local farms. They also have a herb and vegetable garden, which guests can visit and learn more about.

Visiting Los Flamencos nature reserve on your own, without a group tour, has far less impact on the native wildlife. This is because large tour groups unavoidably cause noise and disruption, while small groups and solo visitors can observe the wildlife in a quieter, more respectful way, without scaring the wildlife.

Water restrictions can cause problems in the Atacama Desert, which is why we only work with hotels who use water responsibly and have signs in place to encourage guests to do the same. An example of this is the Atacama Adventure EcoLodge, which is constructed with adobe and other natural, local materials, and decorated in a modest, sustainable way.

Another way visitors can help protect the local environment is to avoid swimming in the unmarked lagoons in the desert. There are natural pools in the area that are safe to swim in, but these are clearly marked, and swimming should be done in a respectful way. For example, visitors should not enter the pools if they are wearing body lotions or sun creams, as these disrupt the ph level of the water and can damage the flora and fauna around the pools. In a bid to implement this, we often recommend hotels with swimming pools, so guests can bath and enjoy the warm weather without causing harm to their environment.


In order to ensure we have a positive impact on local economies and provide socially responsible vacations we only use local suppliers, which helps keep the money generated through tourism within local communities through employment of local guides and drivers.

We always recommend locally-owned restaurants and hotels where possible, aiming to support local communities and give tourists the opportunity to ‘travel like a local’. We also provide customers with a list of recommended restaurants tailor-made to their destination and dietary requirements but with a focus on family-run restaurants. In the Atacama Desert it is possible to do a gastronomic tour of local restaurants, and even visit village families to learn about traditional food preparation methods.

Further to this, visitors can visit local communities and villages with their own guide, and buy local handicrafts. This ensures some of the money generated from tourism ends up in the hands of those who need it. It also helps tourists gain a respect and an understanding of the cultural practices of the area.

We recommend our customers stay in the town of San Pedro rather than the city of Calama. Even though there are less facilities in the town, it is located closer to the sights or interest in the desert, and most of the hotels, shops and restaurants here are locally owned and run. One hotel we particularly like to work with is the Hotel Kimal, which is a small, locally owned hotel.

We are a member of Sustainable Travel International, a leading not-for-profit organisation dedicated to promoting awareness, appreciation and respect for local people and the environment through education and outreach programmes.

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