The Chilean Altiplano Overview

Posted On: Dec 30, 2019

The Chilean Altiplano Overview

An incredible 10 day / 9 night journey with otherworldly plants, animals and landscapes!

Group Tour dates for 2021 – November 20th – 29th.

Price: $2,750 USD pp.

Private tours offered from May – December – Contact us directly to book.

Featured plants:

Browningia candelaris, Echinopsis formosa, Trichocereus atacamensis ssp. atacamensis, Lobivia ferox, Oreocereus leucotrichus, varicolor and hempelianus, Neowerdermannia chilensis, Haageocereus chilensis, Cumulopuntia boliviana (various subspecies), Corryocactus brevistylus (all Cactaceae), Azorella compacta AKA Yareta (Apiaceae), Tillandsia marconae and landbeckii (Bromeliaceae), Cistanthe (various species – Montiaceae), Prosopis tamarugo (Chilean mesquite – Fabaceae) – famous desert tree from the pea family endemic to the Atacama + more!

National Parks and Places:

Arica, Putre, Lauca National Park, Las Vicuñas Natural Reserve, Salar de Surire Natural Monument, Volcán Isluga National Park, Puchuldiza Geysers, Laguna Roja (Red Lagoon), Iquique (Chilean Miami), Humberstone Ghost Town, Pampa del Tamarugal National Reserve, Salar de Pintados (painted salt flats) San Pedro de Atacama, Death Valley, Moon Valley, Guatín Valley, Puritama Thermal Springs, Laguna Cejar – the floating lake + more!

Tour summary –

This tour starts in Arica, the northernmost city in Chile just 18 km (11 mi) south of the Peruvian border. We will meet you at the Arica Airport (Chacalluta International Airport (ARI). Today is an orientation with an outline and discussion about the plants and habitats we will visit in the following days. We will also explore the best landmarks and attractions in Arica and discover why it’s called the city of eternal spring!

O/N Arica.

This morning we travel inland and encounter incredible terrestrial populations of Tillandsia marconae and landbeckii. We continue east to find Browningiacandelaris, arguably one of the most impressive of all columnar cacti! Haageocereus chilensis also grows in this extremely barren location, known as the pre-cordillera. We will then climb in altitude, officially arriving to the Chilean Altiplano. Here we find Oreocereus leucotrichus, hempelianus and Neowerdermannia chilensis while exploring the enchanting surroundings of Putre, nestled at 3,500 mamsl in the Andes. We will stay here for the next two nights and dine out in the evenings enjoying classic Andean cuisine.

O/N Putre.

Today we explore Parque Nacional Lauca to find huge populations of llareta (Azorella compacta) one of the oldest living plants on earth, with many aged over 3000 years! This is a truly otherworldly plant living in picturesque landscapes. You’re also going to love the vast Chungará lake and snow-capped Pomerape and Parinacota volcanoes. We will also see many Vicuñas, llamas and with some luck, the unique Chilean flamingos, the mountain Viscacha and Darwin’s rhea (Rhea pennata ssp. tarapacensis).

O/N Putre.

Today we make the enchanting high altitude drive from Putre to Colchane. Wetraversethrough Reserva Natural Las Vicuñas, Monumento Natural Salar de Surire and Parque Nacional Volcán Isluga. The scenery through these parks is truly epic and a photographers paradise. If you are game, there are hot springs where you can take a dip! We will spend tonight in the small pueblo of Colchane. Stargazing here is also a real treat!

O/N Colchane.

Today will begin with a worthwhile early rise to see the Puchuldiza Geysers flare up at sunrise (4300 mamsl). We continue on to explore the stunning altiplano scenery and more habitats of Llareta, Oreocereus, Cumulopuntia and Lobivia ferox. We finish the day by visiting an impressive and incredibly dense forest of Echinopsis atacamensis ssp. atacamensis – many are over seven meters tall!

O/N Colchane.

This is a special day where we travel to one of the country’s most amazing, hidden and isolated geothermal locations, Laguna Roja. The ‘Red Lagoon’ is of course the feature here, but curiously there is also an orange, green and yellow lagoon surrounding it. We will learn why this is through in depth discussions and demonstrations about the ecology and microbiology of this ancient place. While driving today, we will stop to see Oreocereus leucotrichus in some variable and interesting forms as the cold nights and harsh UV rays accentuate this plants defining features. We also get to see Browningia candelaris one more time on the descent to the coastal city of Iquique (The Chilean Miami), where we will take a rest from the altitude and enjoy the refreshing views of the Pacific Ocean.

O/N Iquique.

Today we take a well earned rest from the altitude and enjoy the most touristic coastal city in the north – Iquique. If you like seafood, here you can taste some delicious ceviche, and other fish dishes, but make sure to keep some leftovers when you visit the enormous sea lions waiting at the Caleta Riquelme’s wharf edge! Today you have the option to take a tour of the historic city centre, go sand boarding down Cerro Dragon or purely relax at the most popular beach in town – Playa Cavancha.

O/N Iquique.

This morning we will visit another large population of Tillandsia landbeckii, before visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Humberstone. This place was once a booming nitrate extraction site, but is now an eerie abandoned ghost town that was used by miners back in the 1880’s. From here we will pass through the Pampa del Tamarugal National Reserve to observe more Chilean endemic flora such as Prosopis tamarugo (Chilean mesquite – Fabaceae). We then cross and explore the fascinating Salar de Pintados (painted salt flats) and ancient geoglyphs. We continue on to San Pedro de Atacama and visit the spectacular Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) before relaxing in the pueblo for the evening.

O/N San Pedro de Atacama.

Today we visit the El Tatio geyser field, a hidden valley showcasing Trichocereus atacamensis ssp. atacamensis, Oreocereus leucotrichus and Echinopsis formosa. The Puritama Thermal Springs are a great way to relax after exploring! We return to San Pedro to enjoy the sights, sounds and food in the evening. Stargazing is amazing here too!

O/N San Pedro de Atacama.

This is our final day and farewell which includes a transfer to your next accommodation in San Pedro or one of the following transit points:

The Calama Airport (El Loa Airport – CJC/SCCF) or bus terminal

The Antofagasta Airport (Andrés Sabella Gálvez International Airport – ANF) or bus terminal.

Your next accomodation in these cities or the bus terminal in San Pedro

Health Recommendations

Please consult your travel doctor before the commencement of this tour, ensuring you are fit for a low to moderate degree of physical exertion on short, uphill walks while experiencing altitudes of up to 4500 meters above sea level/15000 feet.

What’s Included?

All private transportation, transfers and excursions. Bilingual English/Spanish speaking guide. Admission fees to all nature reserves. Accommodation on a twin/double basis. All breakfasts, box-lunches, dinners. Drinkable water in the vehicle. Emergency supplies are also carried. Tour inclusions will begin from lunch on day one to breakfast on day nine. Your full time tour leader will be your primary contact, accompanying you from your arrival to departure.

What’s Not Included?

International/domestic airfares, airport taxes. Tips to guides, drivers, hotel & restaurant staff etc. Drinks with meals in restaurants. Personal travel and medical insurance. Anything not specified under “What’s included?”

Arrival and Departure

Arrival: Arica International Airport – ARI, Departure: Calama Airport – CJC or Antofagasta. It is recommended that you arrive at least one day before your tour begins, however we accommodate any travel arrangements you have. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about our tours or need assistance with planning.


To secure your booking, please transfer 30% of the overall price as your deposit to the bank details provided to you. I am happy to split any bank transfer costs 50/50 with you. The remaining payment is the tour price minus the deposit, required no later than 60 days before your tour departure when we will also send specifications of what you need to bring for your trip. We look forward to seeing you in Chile!

Tour Details

  • Tour Interest: Cacti and flora, fauna, landscape photography, adventure tourism, culture and history.
  • Tour Type and Mode: Overland, all inclusive.
  • Tour Duration: 10 days - 9 nights.
  • Tour Dates: Group Tour dates for 2021 - November 20th - 29th. Private tours on request from May - December - Contact us directly to book.
  • Starts/Ends: Starts in Arica, ends in Calama or Antofagasta, Chile.
  • Difficulty: Low to moderate depending on fitness level.
  • Best time to Go: August - December to see the most cacti in flower.
  • Price: November Group Tour - $2,750 All Inclusive. Single supplement + 320 USD. Private tours based on group size.
  • Objectives: