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For out of this world landscapes, look no further than this corner of the Andean Altiplano. Bolivia's Salar de Uyuni, Chile's Atacama Desert and the red-rock canyons of Northern Argentina offer mind-bending scenery around every corner. See the surreal expanse of blinding-white salt flats, experience dramatic red gorges in the driest place on earth, and don't miss the coloured lagoons where pink flamingo roam.
Explore Tour Leader
11 nights comfortable hotel
1 nights simple hotel
Trip maximum 16 Explore average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive in Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital, located on the southern shores of the Rio de la Plata. Since its founding by Pedro de Mendoza in 1536 the city has thrived on trade and its vibrant streets are filled with an eclectic mix of European architectural styles, with Spanish, French and Italian classicism rubbing shoulders with the remnants of Victorian grandeur.
Our Leader plans to meet us in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting this evening and, for those who wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Buenos Aires at any time. If you would like to receive an airport transfer, you'll need to arrive into either Aeroparque Internacional Jorge Newbery (AEP) or Ezeiza International Airport (EZE), a 30 minute or one hour drive respectively from our hotel. Should you miss the meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
Our flight tomorrow may depart very early in the morning, so additional nights in Buenos Aires are highly recommended if you want to make the most of this lively city. Arty San Telmo, up-scale Palermo or colourful La Boca are just some of the neighbourhoods worth exploring.
Kenton Palace (or similar)
We'll fly this morning to Salta, one of the liveliest cities in the north of Argentina; a blend of colonial architecture, fascinating museums and buzzing nightlife. This was as far south as the Inca civilisation came, and the feel of the city is more akin to Peru or Bolivia in its food, culture and indigenous heritage. We'll tour the main sites, including a cable car ride up San Bernardo Hill for outstanding panoramic views, and a trip to the excellent Museum of High Altitude Archeology (MAAM). MAAM houses a wealth of Inca treasures, including the mummified 'Llullaillaco Children', who were buried as a religious sacrifice 500 years ago, at an astounding altitude of 6,730 metres.
Tonight we'll get a taste of Salta's music scene at a 'pena', a traditional folk music hall where locals come with guitars and take turns in playing and singing. Dinner is included; the menu will vary, but it may include locro (corn) soup, meats cooked local-style over the parrilla (grill), or tasty empanadas. Think delicate flaky pastry wrapped around slow cooked meat or veggies.
Please note that flight schedules in Argentina change regularly. We aim to fly in the morning (this may require leaving in the early hours) to Salta. If we need to fly in the afternoon then we will instead switch the city tour of Salta to a tour of some of the highlights of Buenos Aires in the morning.
Hotel Antiguo Convento (or similar)
It's a long day of driving today, towards the wine region of Cafayate, but the magnificent scenery en route is all part of the adventure. The landscapes around Northern Argentina are vast and breathtaking, with rust-red geological formations carved out of massive gorges, and green pastures giving way to giant, craggy mountains. We travel down Ruta 68, through the 'Quebrada de las Conchas' (Shell Gorge), where water and wind have carved impressive shapes such as The Amphitheatre, the Devil's Throat and the Titanic out of the rock.
Arriving into Cafayate for lunch time, we plan a round of wine tasting in two of the region's rustic wineries, their rows of green vines backed by the spectacular mountains beyond. Argentina's main white wine, Torrontes, is famous in this region, so we'll no doubt try this as well as enjoying a traditional lunch at one of the vineyards. During the day we'll also visit the Wine Museum in Cafayate, which gives an interesting overview of the region's history of wine production.
We make our way back to Salta in the late afternoon. Today's journey will include approximately seven hours of driving.
We continue north this morning with a three-hour drive to Purmamarca. This magical little cactus-strewn village has a striking location underneath a multi-hued mountain call the Seven-Coloured Hill. On arrival, we'll head out on foot for a circular walk on the Paseo de los Colorados, which surrounds the hill itself. This easy dirt path is only about a three-to-four kilometre trail, but we'll be surrounded by an explosion of colour throughout.
In the afternoon we'll drive out to Salinas Grandes. At 4,150 metres of altitude, this will be the highest point of our trip, and the road up, called the Cuesta de Lipan, is a series of meandering switch-backs that is quite the expedition - we'll watch the landscape change quickly as we climb higher. On arrival at the enormous salt flats, we'll see this vivid white expanse stretch out before us, with the ragged edges of salt pools providing a flash of colour. It's impressive, but only a taste of what is to come in Bolivia.
We'll arrive back to Purmamarca in the evening.
Colores de Purmamarca (or similar)
Today we set out to explore the UNESCO Heritage area of the Humahuaca Gorge, a highlight of any trip to the northwest of Argentina. The journey is awash with colour and scenic roadside lookouts; one appropriately-named mountain is The 'Painters Palette'.
Through our exploration today we visit the region's old traditional villages, such as Tilcara, Uquia and Humahuaca - these villages are perfect people-watching opportunities, and it's interesting to see the heritage from the pre-Columbian period which gives this area of northwest Argentina a very distinct sense of cultural identity. This is not only manifested in the woven items that we will have seen in Salta and Purmamarca, but also in the local diet, with northern food including llama stews and corn dishes.
We'll visit the ancient ruins of Pucara, which date back to the 12th Century and were eventually settled by the Incas in the late 15th Century, before the domination by the conquistadores. We'll also visit the small church of San Francisco de Paula in Uquia; this small, dusty, cactus-strewn town is quite unassuming, but well known for the large and unique series of 17th-century paintings found in the church, depicting the 'Angeles Arcabuceros', or armed angels.
We'll return back to Purmamarca this evening; a round-trip drive time of approximately three hours.
We'll retrace some of our steps from yesterday on our three-hour drive up to the Argentina-Bolivia border at La Quiaca. Here, we'll say goodbye to our Argentinian driver and switch into 4WD vehicles, necessary for our journey across the Salar de Uyuni.
We continue by 4WD to Tupiza to check into our hotel, and in the afternoon we'll do a circuit of the surrounding red-rock scenery, cactus scrub and bizarre geological formations. Known as 'Bolivia's Wild West', the area around Tupiza is all dusty canyonlands and striking landscapes. In our vehicles, we'll drive a dust-road loop through the Valle de los Machos, the deep ravine of the 'Canon del Inca', visit the 'Puerta del Diablo' and the Canon del Duende. The sight of deep gorges and high red mountains will accompany us throughout, and we'll stop to stretch our legs at several points.
Hotel Mitru (or similar)
We make our way to Uyuni today, a small, almost non-descript town that survives on salt and lithium production, and tourism. On the town's deserted outskirts, we pass through the train graveyard; a collection of early 20th-century train carriages rusted by the salt and left for dead after a major transportation project failed. The iron carcasses are a ghostly but photogenic sight.
After checking into our hotel we should have a little free time before heading out in the evening for our first glimpse of the Salar de Uyuni. The full expanse of the flats will be appreciated in the daylight tomorrow, but tonight we'll hopefully have a clear sky to gaze up at the stars, together with a hot drink.
The drive to Uyuni will take around three hours today.
Laguna Salada (or similar)
Exploring Bolivia's immense, other-worldly salt flats is an unforgettable and surreal experience. Heading into this natural wonder the sky seems to almost disappear into the land through the reflections of the blinding-white plains. Flamingos inhabit the shoreline of the small lagoons, whilst the snow-capped peak of Volcan Tunupa (5400m) looms far in the distance.
Crossing the salt flats in our 4WD vehicles we head for Incahuasi Island, where we find an expanse of huge cacti occupying an isolated island in the heart of the flats. The cacti have been here for millennia, and the tallest towers 9 metres above the floor of the plains, no mean feat given that it is estimated that they only grow one centimetre a year! We will also have the chance to climb the 'Staircase to Heaven' artwork, installed on the flats by Bolivian artist Gaston Ugalde.
We'll spend most of the day crossing the flats in our 4WD, and making several stops to explore and enjoy the dreamlike landscapes. Our accommodation is in a very remote location at the Laguna Hedionda, where the famous flamingos roam. This evening's simple hotel has limited hot water and electricity, and will be cold in the evening - warm sleepwear is highly recommended. Despite its simplicity, which is all part of the adventure when travelling in Bolivia, the location alone is worth the trip; walk out of the front door to spectacular views of the mountain and the lagoon.
Hotel los Flamencos (or similar)
Today is another long driving day, with around six hours in the vehicle to the border at Hito Cajon, and another hour to San Pedro. However, the continuing dazzling landscapes are well worth the road trip.
We'll make a stop at the 'Sol de Manana' geysers, where the hot steam and bubbling mud pots provide a strange contrast to the serene salt flats. We'll also visit the blood-red Laguna Colorada and the emerald-green Laguna Verde on the way to the Chilean border. Three of the world's six flamingo species can be found here; the Chilean, Andean and James flamingos - with the latter being incredibly rare, and thought to be extinct until the 1950s.
At the Chilean border, we leave our 4WD vehicles behind and switch into a minibus, before continuing to San Pedro de Atacama for the evening.
Diego de Almagro San Pedro (or similar)
The oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama is set high among the spectacular volcanoes of Los Andes Cordillera and is the lively gateway to the dramatic landscapes of the Atacama Desert. After so many days on the move, this morning is at our leisure to enjoy the town. The small high street caters to streams of backpackers looking for excursions, handicrafts or their morning coffee hit, but despite this tourist activity, San Pedro has retained a charm that makes it a great place to just relax and soak in the atmosphere.
This afternoon we will take a walk among the dunes of the nearby Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), a nature reserve to the west of the town, where the surreal landscape has been formed by the erosion of the salt mountains. We intend to watch the setting sun cast its golden glow across the spectacular landscape, with an aperitif in hand.
We'll have an early morning start to drive to the El Tatio Hot Springs, a geothermal field of spouting geysers and steaming fumaroles surrounded by a vista of volcanic mountains. Watching these active geysers erupting in the light of the rising sun is an impressive sight.
We return back to San Pedro, where we are at our leisure to explore the cultural diversity of this town. This evening we have the option to take a stargazing excursion with a local company, with use of telescopes included.
We'll drive to Calama Airport this morning, to catch our flight into Santiago, Chile's majestic capital in the shadow of the Andes.
This afternoon we'll have an orientation tour of the capital by bus. We'll explore the old part of the city, seeing La Moneda (the Government Palace), as well as the Plaza de Armas, surrounded by Santiago's most important historical buildings including the lavish Metropolitan Cathedral. We'll also explore the Santa Lucia Hill, the mount upon which the Spanish founded Santiago in 1541.
Please note that flight schedules change regularly. If we need to fly in the afternoon, then we may not be able to do the planned city tour of Santiago, although we will see what we can.
Novotel Providencia (or similar)
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Santiago.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Santiago at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Santiago International Airport (airport code: SCL), which is approximately a 45 minute drive from our hotel.
Argentina has a climate that ranges from subtropical in the north to cold in the temperate south. The Andes has erratic rainfall and flash floods from December to May. From June to September spring like sunny days temper the cold nights.
3 Pin Flat
Predominantly Roman Catholic.
Spanish is the main language throughout this region, along with a number of indigenous dialects, of
Conditions vary from region to region and with altitude. Bear in mind that at high altitude temperatures can drop dramatically, and conditions can change suddenly. Inland Bolivia is generally hot and humid from October to March (summer); temperatures are milder from April to September (winter). In the highlands there is a rainy season from December to March and it is normally dry for the rest of year which is the best time for mountain travel.
The best time to visit is spring (Sept-Nov) and autumn (March- April). Between June and September the heat in the northern part of the country is less intense. Remember rain can fall at any time of the year and the weather is changeable in the mountains. Easter Island has a tropical climate so is likely to be quite hot and humid. It can also rain there in the evenings and become chilly.
2 Pin Round
Spanish, Aymara, Rapanui.
You may experience a range of temperatures throughout the trip, from temperate Buenos Aires and Santiago to the freezing nights on the Altiplano. A down jacket or very thick outer layer is essential, along with a good waterproof jacket, warm jumper or fleece and hat, scarf and gloves.
Comfortable and sturdy trainers or walking shoes are useful for day to day use. Trainersandals for relaxing in. Warm socks are essential for the cold nights at altitude, and for your night trip onto the salt flats.
One main piece of baggage and daypack. Total allowance for your international flight: 44lb/20kg. Checked luggage limit for domestic flights is 15kg. Remember you are expected to carry your own luggage so don't overload yourself.
Water bottle, insect repellent, sun cream, good quality sunglasses and a lip salve with sun protection. A torch may be useful for the stay at Laguna Hedionda, where electricity is frequently turned off overnight.
4WD, Flight, Minibus
We stay in a range of accommodation during this trip, from 3 or 4-star equivalent hotels in the cities, to remote properties throughout Bolivia and in the Atacama Desert. While clean, comfortable, characterful and even with extra amenities such as swimming pools, you should expect hotels in the remote areas to be erratic in terms of their facilities. Heating, hot water and water pressure may be temperamental due to the nature of the locations. Despite that, the Luna Salada hotel in Uyuni will surely be a highlight. Made entirely from salt, this hotel has a stunning location with views over the Salar, and a cosy sitting room with a log fire to enjoy in winter. The accommodation at the Laguna Hedionda is the most simple of the trip. Hot water and electricity may be turned off at night, and warm sleepwear is recommended. Again, the simplicity is outweighed by the beautiful location next to one of the colourful lagoons on the altiplano.
Can you drink the water?
The water quality is poor and therefore it is recommended to avoid drinking tap water during your trip.
Can you drink the water?
The water quality is poor and therefore it is recommended to avoid drinking tap water during your trip.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
Argentina: Visas are not required for UK, US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand citizens. Please note Australian passport holders will need make a payment called the 'reciprocity fee' in advance of travel to enter Argentina. This currently costs US$ 100. This payment needs to be made online at http://www.migraciones.gov.ar/accesible/templates/reciprocidad/reciprocidad.htm The receipt generated at the time of online payment must be printed and given to local immigration authorities together with your passport. You should confirm all visa related issues with the relevant Embassy prior to departure. USA: If your flights pass through the USA, even if only in transit, you will require either a visa or an ESTA (an e-visa). Please read on for more information. Citizens of the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and passport holders from several EU countries can apply for an ESTA under certain conditions. This applies if you enter the country by sea or by air, and this must be done online via https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov, no later than 72 hours prior to travel. Travellers who have not registered before their trip are likely be refused boarding. You must have a biometric passport to apply for an ESTA. UK passports which are biometric feature a small gold symbol (camera) at the bottom of the front cover. If you have visited Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen since 2011 or are dual nationals of these countries, you cannot travel with an ESTA and instead you will need to apply for a visa from the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. If you are unable to provide a valid visa before boarding flights to the US, or entering via another method, you may not be permitted to travel. You should also be aware that if you have travelled to or have been in Cuba since the 12th of January 2021, you will not be eligible for an ESTA visa waiver and will need to apply for a US visa. You should consult the US State Department website to determine which you will need. Your ESTA application will ask for Point of Contact information. Please note that if you're only transiting through the USA then this is not required. If you're visiting or staying in the USA on an Explore trip, then our USA contact information will be listed on your final documentation which you will receive approximately 3-4 weeks before departure. Entry requirements for the USA can change regularly, therefore, please ensure you have the most up to date information before you travel by checking the US embassy website. Visa applications - http://london.usembassy.gov/niv/apply.html Canada: An electronic travel authorisation (ETA) is required by British citizens transiting via Canada. For more information see the official Canadian government website: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/eta.asp Other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
Much of this trip takes place at altitude. While the highest point of the trip is approximately 4,150 metres, at the Salinas Grandes in Argentina, you will be sleeping at over 3,000 metres for most of the tour, including through Bolivia and in San Pedro de Atacama.
Nothing compulsory, we recommend protection against typhoid, tetanus, polio and hepatitis A. Please consult your travel clinic for the latest advice on Malaria, Dengue and Zika Virus. Please take preventative measures to avoid mosquito bites - these include mosquito repellent as well as long trousers and long sleeve shirts to cover up when necessary. Please note many countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean require a yellow fever vaccination certificates if travelling from infected areas. A detailed list of these countries can be found on the NaTHNaC website - http://travelhealthpro.org.uk/countries. Also on the NaTHNaC site there is a list of Countries (and specific areas within a country) which are at risk of infection and a vaccination is therefore recommended. Yellow fever is only recommended for those travelling to Iguazu falls. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.
A yellow fever certificate is necessary for passengers visiting the lowlands Bolivia (BA trip). We also recommend protection against typhoid, polio, infectious hepatitis and tetanus. Please consult your travel clinic for the latest advice on Malaria, Dengue and Zika Virus. Please take preventative measures to avoid mosquito bites - these include mosquito repellent as well as long trousers and long sleeve shirts to cover up when necessary. Please note many countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean require a yellow fever vaccination certificates if travelling from infected areas. A detailed list of these countries can be found on the NaTHNaC website - http://travelhealthpro.org.uk/countries. Also on the NaTHNaC site there is a list of Countries (and specific areas within a country) which are at risk of infection and a vaccination is therefore recommended. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.
Nothing compulsory, we recommend protection against typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria, polio and hepatitis A. Please consult your travel clinic for the latest advice on Malaria, Dengue Fever and Zika Virus. Please take preventative measures to avoid mosquito bites - these include mosquito repellent as well as long trousers and long sleeve shirts to cover up when necessary. Please note many countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean require a yellow fever vaccination certificates if travelling from infected areas. A detailed list of these countries can be found on the NaTHNaC website - http://travelhealthpro.org.uk/countries. Also on the NaTHNaC site there is a list of Countries (and specific areas within a country) which are at risk of infection and a vaccination is therefore recommended. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.