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This trip is an adventure in the high Andean plateaus of Bolivia and Chile, including the unique Salar de Uyuni salt flats and the world famous Atacama desert.
We start in La Paz, explore the colonial city of Sucre and the mining town of Potosi before heading to remote parts of altiplanic deserts.
Here we visit lagoons of all colours and sizes and set against the backdrop of mighty snow-capped volcanoes.
First up is the incredibly vast Uyuni Salt Flats on our 4×4 tour. Here we travel among rock formations seemingly from different planets.
Having explored the high altitude terrain we drop down into Chile’s Atacama desert at one of South America’s most remote border crossings.
Here you can star gaze at some from some of the world’s clearest skies as well as marvel at the lunar landscapes.
Throw into the mix the vibrant cities of La Paz and Santiago, and the laid back student city of Sucre with its colonial charm and you are in for a super Bolivia and Chile tour.
La Paz, the world's highest (administrative) capital city and a melting pot of indigenous cultures.
Sunset over the Atacama desert.
Star gazing in some of the clearest skies of the world.
Sucre, with its beautiful colonial architecture and laid back feel.
3 days in Andean high desert and visiting the unique Uyuni Salt Flats.
Santiago, Chile's buzzing capital.
The overall organisation was brilliant. I would say the best guides for me were in La Paz and the local guide in Uyuni.
D. Duvaux, Bolivia tour
Today you arrive in La Paz, where you will be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel.
The city awaits on our walking tour.
Instead of exploring the main tourist areas however, we prefer to take you a little bit off the beaten track and will take you on a tour of a different kind. Exploring life of the communities of El Alto, visiting local markets, learning about the traditions of the indigenous Cholitas and hopping on the transport locals travel with every day.
Afterwards you will have a real insight into life of the diverse population of Pazenos.
Today you fly to the beautiful city of Sucre, UNESCO world heritage city and constitutional capital of Bolivia.
After checking into your hotel a half day tour of the city awaits in the afternoon, which shows you the most important monuments such as Casa de la Libertad, the beautiful baroque cathedral and several other churches in the old city (including two museums).
You have the evening to experience the vibrant restaurant and pub scene of this dynamic city.
There is plenty to do and see in Sucre so we suggest you spend a day to do just that.
You can choose to have a day on your own, or we can arrange optional tours for you, such as a visit to see the nearby dinosaur footprints, a visit to the traditional and beautiful Tarabuco Market (Sunday only).
Or perhaps the diverse community project of Jatum Yampara where you can see the traditional way of life in rural communities and learn about weaving, llama herding and the challenges the community faces today.
Today we arrange a private transfer to Potosi (or you can take a local bus). On arrival we check into our hotel, and have the rest of the day to explore the city.
The “Rich Mountain” that overlooks Potosí is the main source of silver in the area and the mining industry has shaped the city. We have left the afternoon free for you to explore but can arrange optional tours.
A visit to the Casa de Moneda gives a fascinating insight into the world of silver and coin production that brought riches to the city in the times of the Spanish Conquistadores.
Time to climb to yet higher altitudes as we get the bus to the remote town of Uyuni.
Roads are surfaced and the changing scenery will make the 4-hour bus ride pass quickly, with plenty to look at.
On arrival you will be met and taken to your hotel in the small town of Uyuni.
Today we have an unforgettable journey through 12,000 km ² of fantastic landscapes of salt. Prepare your camera! The dazzling white mantle of the Uyuni Salt Flat resembles an immense ice-field.
We drive onto the salt flat at the village of Colchani, centre of the salt factories. We visit one of these and learn about the families that are dependent on salt mining for their livelihoods.
We then visit the part of the salt plains where mounds of salt are collected, and from here we will head towards Incahuasi Island. You can set off to climb to the summit where you get a fabulous view, 360 degrees.
We have a box lunch on the island and then head toward the dominant and magic Volcano Thunupa whose slopes house the Chantani Museum. The museum is home to ceramics and silent mummies. We drive some way up the volcano and visit the Coquesa Mummies museum.
We will spend the night in the Tayka Salt Hotel.
We leave the salt flat and head to Charagua, a pretty place of corals and goat farmers. It will take us one hour, via a bumpy road, to arrive at the Burnt Town of San Pedro de Quemes, where we will leave the car to go and wander through its small streets and view the buildings which have inspired the hotel Tayka of Stone.
We take lunch in the Hotel of Stone. There is the optional Shepherding of Llamas trip, spending an hour or so helping a shepherd or shepherdess with the llamas, a vital part of life in the Salar.
In the afternoon we drive towards the lagoons – Cañapa, Hedionda, Chiarkota, Honda and Ramaditas, replete with flamingos happy to be photographed! Other birds, such as Andean gulls and ducks, accompany the flamingos in these lagoons, which are flanked by snow-capped volcanoes.
Next we enter the deserts of sand. These fantastic deserts are owners of the whole palette of terracottas. Red, oranges, ochers, coffees and beige – every bend in the road there are more colours, fighting for your attention. In front of the most impressive of these palettes of colours is the Hotel Tayka of the Desert, with private bathrooms, hot water and environmental heating waiting for us.
An early start today at 05.30, towards the Eduardo Avaroa and Flora and Andean Fauna Reserve and then the famous Stone Tree.
Next we travel to the Red Lagoon to observe the great population of flamingoes, then we’ll see the Morning Sun Geysers to catch them at their most active moment. This will be the highest point on our route, we will be at nearly 5,000m/16,404ft.
Here, noisy fumaroles and splooshing mud puddles make the earth seem to boil in reddish, grizzly, scarlet mud.
The desert and salt flat of Chalviri is another superb scene. It combines the dazzling white, the ochres of the desert, the blue of the water, and, in one of its corners, we can to take a dip in the hot springs of Polques.
Today is a day full of highlights, as next in line is Ladies of the Desert, a master piece created by the the wind and the Andean peaks around, with crazily shaped rocks in fantastic colours, all moulded by the winds. Nearby is the Green Lagoon, at the foot of Volcano Licancabur, another pearl of the reserve.
From the Green Lagoon we return to the Red Lagoon, have lunch, and then watch as the shifting sun helps to change its colour from a woody red to a blood red colour.
We then cross the border to Chile at the remote border crossing at Hito Cajones, and travel to San Pedro de Atacama where we check into our hotel.
A free morning to recharge you travel batteries and explore San Pedro.
Then, in the late afternoon we head to the Cordillera de la Sal (Salt Mountain Range), where you will visit the Valley of the Moon (“Valle de la Luna”) that forms part of the National Flamingo Reservation.
This unique place is famous for its natural rock sculptures, one of them being “Las Tres Marias” (The Three Mary’s) formed by the wind erosion, Next, visit Death Valley (“Valle de la Muerte) where salt formations resemble works of art.
Finally, end your trip with a magical sunset at the Kari Viewpoint, one of the highest points of the “Cordillera de la Sal”.
If night skies allow, we include a star gazing tour tonight, in an area that sees so little light pollution that it is famous for its starry nights.
After breakfast we take a short drive after which we will be dropped off at the Catarpe tunnel at the the top of the Salt Range.
From here we start our 2.5 hour trek into the heart of the Valle de la Muerte, tackling the sand dunes and with stunning views of the Valley.
We return to San Pedro for lunch, and in the afternoon we head on a shared tour to the Puritama hot springs, 33km north of San Pedro at 3,500m/11,483ft.
Here there are natural pools with waters between 30°C and 33°C.
There are bathrooms and dressing rooms connected to the pools by wooden walkways. A lovely, relaxed way to end your stay here.
Today you will be transferred to Calama airport (90mins), for your flight to Santiago.
On arrival you will be taken to your hotel, with the evening free to explore this vibrant capital city.
We start our city tour with a visit to Santa Lucia Hill, where the city was founded in 1541.
This hill is located in the heart of the city and it gives us an overview of the centre of Santiago.
Then, we walk to Lastarria Neighborhood, a cultural, gastronomic and tourist centre, considered since 1996 as a typical zone of Santiago.
Our tour continues through the Parque Forestal until reaching the bohemian Bellavista neighbourhood. Continuing to the San Cristobal Hill, we take the funicular and we ascend to the Immaculate Conception Sanctuary, where the statue of the Virgin Mary is located. From here we enjoy of a great view of the entire city.
Finally, we descend to return to our hotel in Santiago.
Transfer to the airport for your flight home, or why not add some extra days in Chile!
Prices From $4,439 / £3,764 per person
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Transfers, tours (shared tours in Bolivia, private tours in Chile), meals (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner), transportation, services and accommodation all as described in the itinerary.
Flights (can be added), services not mentioned, extras and tips.
We use 3* hotels in towns and cities, with hot showers and private bathrooms. Upgrades available at extra cost.
Salar de Uyuni – we use hotels made of salt with private rooms and bathrooms.
You will meet bilingual, English-speaking guides as you move around from site to site (tour leader available at extra cost).
They are qualified Bolivian/Chilean guides and will provide you with all the local timings and information.
Vegetarians and many other dietary requirements are catered for without problems. Please let us know in advance of any requirements you have.
Towns and cities
In Bolivia, there are a wide variety of eateries in towns and cities, from chicken and chips or burgers to more traditional fare. Quinoa, rice, potatoes and meats all feature heavily, as do soups.
In Chile, there is a lot more seafood plus a lot more influence from the rest of South America and the world. There are many fine dining and wine options in Chile.
Salar de Uyuni
Meals are provided at hotels – breakfasts usually involve hot drinks, coffee, juice, toast, eggs and fruits. Lunch will either be sandwiches and snacks (if on the road) or a soup with a main meal of rice/pasta.
Dinner usually consists of a soup to start and then a main of rice, pasta, mashed potato etc. Note that Uyuni remains a very remote area and sometimes choice is limited.
There is no strenuous activity, but much of this tour takes place at high altitude.
We build in acclimatisation and the fitter you are, the more you will enjoy the trip. Several days involve half or full day tours and so you need to be comfortable with being on your feet and walking around for several hours.
There are some 4-6 hour bus journeys, too. Most buses in Bolivia do not have toilets.
Land-locked Bolivia is a country of dramatic landscapes and fascinating native cultures and traditions.
The Altiplano or “High Plain”, averaging 3,800m, is its most populous region. The vast, luminous plateau is flanked to east and west by parallel Andean ranges.
La Paz, the world’s highest capital, lies in a deep canyon at the edge of the Altiplano, and at the foot of Illimani (6,400m). It is a striking city for its dramatic setting and its strong Indian character.
Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake. It was sacred to the Incas; according to legend, their founding emperor-gods rose from these waters to give birth to their empire. Just south of the lake stands the sacred pre-Inca site of Tiahuanaco.
On the south-western Altiplano are the Uyuni Salt Flats, the largest in the world. Here, the shimmering white salt pan and deep blue sky combine to create a truly magical spectacle.
The stunning Cordillera Real is a mountain range dominated by huge snow peaks, including Illimani and Illampu (6,380m). The Real divides the northern Altiplano from the tropical forests to the east. The Cordillera Real’s eastern slopes are characterized by the deep, sub-tropical Yungas gorges.
Further south, the tropical Chapare is the agricultural heart of Bolivia. East of this band of high forests and plantations lies Bolivia’s Oriente, a vast swathe of Amazonian jungle and savanna accounting for 2/3 of the country and featuring some of the last untouched wilderness on earth.
In the north-eastern Department of Beni, some 50% of the country’s mammals and birds reside. Below, and in no special order, we outline some of the top places to go and things to do.
Bolivia lies within the tropics, between latitudes 10º and 22º south. The climate, as varied as its geography, is affected by latitude and, especially, by altitude.
The best time to travel is the winter (dry season) between May and Oct when, typically, weather systems over the Andes are stable, and overall you can expect bright sunny days and cold clear nights. Most of the rain falls from Dec to March. Climate can be divided into these distinct zones:
The Andes and the Altiplano
There is relatively little precipitation on the Altiplano, especially in the dry season – most rainfall is from Dec to March. However, there is periodical, localised rain on high peaks and valleys all year round.
The further south and west you go on the Altiplano, the drier are the conditions; around Uyuni, semi-arid conditions prevail. The Andean sun’s rays are very strong.
Temperature-wise, the Andes and Altiplano experience significant fluctuations over a single day. At 4,000m, the pre-dawn temperature can drop to -15ºC, while noon temperatures at the same location can reach 20ºC.
Southerly cold winds mean the southern Altiplano is not only drier, but also noticeably colder and windier than the north (pre-dawn temperatures at Uyuni in July regularly drop to -20ºC).
On treks in the Cordillera Real in the dry season, expect a range of conditions within a single day: cold/freezing nights at camps above 4,000m (where pre-dawn temperatures sometimes reach -15ºC); warm, spring-like mornings and afternoons; and cold evenings. Conditions are generally dry, but note that mountain weather is fickle and localised, and precipitation is not unusual in the dry season.
Expect temperatures to swing between sun and shade, sheltered and exposed ground and with altitude gain and loss. A quick-setting sun means temperatures drop fast.
The city of La Paz (3,630m) is relatively sheltered. Average high/low temperatures range from 1-17ºC in June and July (coldest months) to 6-19ºC in Nov and Dec (warmest months). In June and July, it rarely rains more than 1 or 2 days per month, while in January there are on average 15 wet days.
The tropical lowlands & yunga (Amazon)
Year-round, weather conditions in the Amazon basin are hot and humid and always with the chance of rain.
There is a ‘cooler’, drier winter season between May and October. During this ‘dry season’, the average daytime high temperature is between 25-31°C and the average nighttime low is between 16-22°C.
In the dry season, heavy downpours typically occur every few days.
Note that around 80% of annual average rainfall – approx 2,000 mm in Bolivia’s northern lowlands – occurs in the wet season, Nov-April.
On rare occasions, between May and September, cold fronts from Argentina – surazos – can sweep into southwest Amazonia and push temperatures down to 9°C. (Surazos usually last between 1 and 3 days).
The Yungas shares the same dry/wet months but varies from quite wet to very wet depending on whether it is the ‘dry’ or rainy season. Average temperature is 24°C.
Good kit is vital for every trip.
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Bolivia has an incredibly local and varied set of weather systems, which means you need to be prepared for almost every eventuality.
When planning for these changeable climatic conditions you will encounter across Bolivia, layering is the most practical and versatile clothing system.
The sun is very strong throughout the country, so good sun cream, a hat and sunglasses are vital.
It can also get very cold at night time especially in the mountains and in cities like La Paz. Jumpers, fleeces and warms hats – which you can buy there – are also essential.
It can rain at any time, so always have a poncho/waterproof jacket handy.
Give plenty of thought to kit selection, and try to keep weight down.
Below is a more detailed guide.
Detailed kit list
Andean Trails has two decades of experience of dealing with South America holidays.
We pay a fee to the CAA for every licensable passenger we book since we hold an Air Travel Organiser’s Licence granted by the Civil Aviation Authority. In the unlikely event of our insolvency, the CAA will ensure that you are not stranded abroad and will arrange to refund any money you have paid to us for an advance booking.
We also offer ATOL (Civil Aviation Authority) protected holidays to give our customers peace of mind when booking and travelling.
When you buy an ATOL protected air holiday package from Andean Trails Ltd you will receive a Confirmation Invoice from us confirming your arrangements and your protection under our Air Travel Organiser’s Licence number 6275.
You can read more about ATOL, who is covered and what protections you have if not ATOL-covered, on our ATOL page.
What is ATOL?
The CAA’s ATOL scheme offers protection to your money and your holiday if you book with us. Not everybody is covered (see ‘Who is covered?’ for more), as you must purchase an ‘air package holiday’ with Andean Trails to be protected.
And ‘air package holiday’ is defined as including a flight and some ground services (hotel, transfer, trek etc). This is also known as an ‘ATOL-protected holiday’.
Who is covered?
To be covered by ATOL, you must book a flight and some ground services with us and be from the UK. If you are from the UK and only book ground services and no flights, you are not covered by ATOL (see below for more on how non-ATOL clients are covered).
If you are outside the UK and buy flights with us, you will be ATOL protected IF any of the flights booked with Andean Trails touches/stops in the UK at any point during your holiday package booked with us.
If you buy your flights elsewhere, please check with that agent if you are ATOL protected. Be careful with online flight purchases and make sure you know what protection you have, if any, before paying for flights.
Not all holiday or travel services offered and sold by us will be protected by the ATOL scheme. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking.
For land only holidays not involving any air travel, in accordance with “The Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992”, all UK passengers booking with Andean Trails Ltd. are fully protected for the initial deposit and subsequently the balance of all money paid to us, arising from cancellation or curtailment of travel arrangements due to the insolvency of Andean Trails.
I’m not ATOL covered, what protection do I have?
If you are not ATOL covered, any payments you make to us go to a Trust account.
We can only access this money once your tour has been completed, meaning that if anything happens to Andean Trails Limited while you are on holiday, then your money is secure and you can either complete the trip or be able to make it home.
If you pay for your holiday with a credit card, some offer payment protection – please check with your cardholder.
You also should have cancellation protection written into your insurance (which we recommend you have at the time of booking) in case you need to cancel.
The gateway to the Bolivian Amazon lies at the lively town of Rurrenabaque.
Motorised canoes will take you into the rich and verdant realms of the Madidi National Park, a hub of ecotourism in the Bolivian Amazon basin.
On a network of paths and waterways you can immerse yourself in the hot and humid tropical paradise that is the rainforest.
Wildlife such as howler monkeys and pink river dolphins, as well as a colourful indigenous culture, are a magnet for those who like to experience not only the Andean climates of Bolivia but to venture further into the depths of this fascinating country.
The Cordillera Real of Bolivia is a range of awe-inspiring snowy peaks just south of La Paz.
The towering peaks of this mountain range, dominated by Illimani (6,400m/20,997ft), Illampu (6,368m/20,892ft) and Ancohuma (6,427m/21,086ft), form a magnificent barrier which separates the Altiplano from Bolivia’s extensive rainforest.
The range is criss-crossed by ancient pilgrimage and trading routes and gives avid trekkers plenty of options to escape civilisation into the incredibly dramatic high Bolivian altitudes.
In the Condoriri Range you still won’t meet many fellow hikers but will find yourself in the company of majestic peaks, high altitude passes with stunning views, grazing herds of llamas and alpacas and soaring condors.
La Paz is a capital like no other, set in high Andean climates and surrounded by the magnificent Andean Cordillera Real mountains.
Here you can sit at a cafe and watch the local ladies in their bowler hats and colourful traditional costumes. Immerse yourself in the fascinating culture of its indigenous population.
Take a cable car ride on the Teleferico to El Alto, the enormous satellite city spread across the Bolivian Altiplano high above La Paz.
Marvel at the views and its bustling streets.
Visit the craft markets, full of colourful weavings and woolly jumpers, there are souvenirs to suit every taste.
Don’t forget to explore and haggle at the intriguing Witches’ market, home to all sorts of potions.
La Paz really is full of life.
Bolivia’s Lake Titicaca is home to the lively lake side town of Copacabana.
Stay for a few days to explore the lake shore and the islands. Copacabana is likely to be your entry point if coming overland from Puno in Peru and heading for La Paz.
Pass the 12 stations of the Cross as you hike up to the nearby hill for views over the lake to the Islands of the Sun and the Moon with a beautiful mountain backdrop, the high ice-covered peaks of the Cordillera Real shimmering in the distance.
Take a one day or overnight trip by boat to the islands, Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna, where you can learn something of traditional island life as you wander along the ancient networks of paths.
Sajama National park offers fabulous off the beaten track trekking and some easy Andean peaks amid amazing natural beauty.
A few hours from La Paz by four wheel drive brings you to Sajama National Park.
In this beautiful remote high mountain area you have the opportunity to explore a little visited part of southern Bolivia, right on the border with Chile, in the shadow of Bolivia’s highest peak – Nevado Sajama (6,542m/21,463ft).
Snow-capped volcanoes fringe the vast altiplano and lagoons lie only a walk away in the mountains.
Geysers and hot springs await and you can be sure to see a variety of typical Andean wildlife, such as llama, vicuna, alpaca, Andean flamingos and viscachas.
Torotoro National Park is a jewel for those seeking to escape the crowds – offering caves, canyons and fossilised dinosaur footprints.
The stunning Torotoro National Park is still an off the beaten track destination in Bolivia and well worth a visit.
Its highlights include some of the best preserved dinosaur footprints in South America, as well as stunning geological formations from an era long gone.
There are day walks across volcanic landscapes and you’ll pass by remote Andean villages, giving an insight into true Andean culture.
The dazzling, white Salt Flats of Uyuni stretch as far as the eye can see. The salt flat is dotted with small islands where only cacti grow.
The sheer expanse of the flats (nearly 11,000 sq km) will leave your mind boggled, and that’s before you’ve even ventured further into the surrounding high desert of the Bolivian Altiplano.
It is there that you will find desert landscapes that transport you into another world.
The desert is home to beautiful lagoons of many hues, home to flocks of elegant flamingos.
In the world of little water there are hot springs to soak in, weird other worldly stone formations and spouting geysers.
All of this set against a backdrop of snow covered volcanoes and vast open skies.
Select an available date to view pricing and information for that particular trip.
2022 guide price, per person.
Based on two travelling together, shared room basis
Tours start any day.
Shorter/longer stays possible
Single supplement applies
$4,439 / £3,764
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The famous Puerto Madryn penguins, where up to a million Magellanic penguins congregate to breed, are not found in Puerto Madryn. While the town is famous for being one of the best places to see penguins in Argentina, Puerto Madryn penguin tours actually take place in Punta Tombo. However, the tours do start in Puerto Madryn. The colony of penguins at Punto Tombo allows people to get close to these adorably cute creatures. Read the lowdown on how to get there, what to expect, plus fun facts about Magellanic penguins. We’ll also talk about the area, replete with wildlife. Introduction …
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