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The traverse of the Bolivian and Chilean altiplanos to the Uyuni salt flats, the world’s largest and highest, offers a journey of adventure in comfort. Amid the stark landscape of iridescent white earth and boiling geysers, trekkers wander through shepherded villages preserved in the amber of another century.
The first thing travellers will notice about the altiplanos is the elevation - walks typically range from 10,000 to 14,000 feet. The second is the steadfastly sunny weather, which highlights the desert sky’s immensity.
The enormity of the salts flats, fringed by mountains and volcanoes, is best pondered at day’s end, while sitting in a camp chair with a glass of Chilean Carménere. A chef prepares open-air meals with seafood flown in from the coast. Stay overnight in ancient stone-and-straw homes refinished with local textiles and hardwood flooring.
Trip season: April to November.
Arrival at Calama airport and transfer to the Hotel de Larache (Explora Lodge), located in the San Pedro de Atacama desert at 2,500 meters above sea level.
Guests at the Hotel de Larache may choose from a variety of excursions. By foot, by bicycle, or by horseback, for a few hours or a full day, low-key or demanding.
Our excursions allow our guests to adjust to the altitude and prepare themselves for crossing the Bolivian Altiplano, and experience the complete geography of the Atacama, its wildlife and ancient local culture.
At the end of each excursion, our hotel awaits as the place to relax and recharge.
We leave the Hotel de Larache early in the morning. We then cross the Bolivian border at Hito Cajón, in the extreme southeast corner of the country, passing an impressive volcanic mountain range that Volcan Lincancabur is a part of.
We walk through the geothermal area Sol de Mañana at 4,700 meters above sea level, and then continue past a series of salt flats, wetlands and lakes, the highlight being the Colorada Lake, an ideal site to view flamingoes. We will have lunch at a lookout point with spectacular views of the surrounding area, before continuing our travesía.
At midday, we will arrive at our camp, Cañapa, located at 4,300 meters above sea level.
At dawn, we will take a walk around the area before continuing our journey through the Bolivian altiplano, at altitudes that vary between 4,300 and 3,600 meters above sea level. We will pass by old mineral mines and walk for 2 hours around a lake, where we can appreciate the wildlife of the region.
At midday we will arrive at Chituca, our second camp located at 3,750 meters above sea level.
We will begin our walk at dawn, passing through old cultivation areas and a beautiful forest of cactus that flanks our camp. We continue our journey and view strange geologic land formations.
Slowly, we let ourselves discover the Salar de Uyuni. With a surface of more than 10 thousand square kilometers and located at 3,665 meters above sea level, this is the largest and highest salt desert in the world.
Surrounded by absolute silence and solitude, we advance toward this mythical salt lake. We can talk walks on the surface and later climb a hill on the highest island on the Salar, where we will have a panoramic view.
We will then continue our journey until we arrive at Tahua, a small village on the shore of the Salar, where we will find our third camp, close to 3,300 meters above sea level.
We begin our walk early, about 3 to 4 hours toward the base of the Tunupa volcano, at 5,432 meters in altitude. At this point there exists the alternative of visiting numerous sites of interest in the surrounding area, or climbing to the peak of Tunupa to enjoy sweeping views, the latter of which implies extra time.
In the late afternoon, we will visit small villages on the shore of the Salar: Tahua, Coquesa and Jirira. We then return to have dinner and sleep at the same Tahua camp.
We leave early headed toward the Chilean/Bolivian border, passing the town Llica, where we will stop to buy exquisite “salteñas,” a traditional Bolivian empanada. Lunch is at the estancia Irpa, on the shore of the Salar de Coipasa, at 3,600 meters above sea level. We continue toward Pisiga, the Bolivian border, and then to Colchane, on the Chilean side. We border the Isluga River until we reach a wetland that is home to a rich array of wildlife. Later in the afternoon, we will arrive at Aravilla, in Isluga National Park, and our camp, at 4,020 meters above sea level.
Early in the morning, we begin our walk through a wetland, and continue along a hill close to the small village Mauque, where we will find the ruins of ceremonial constructions made of stone. Here we will have a picnic.
Beginning our descent from the altiplano to Iquique, a Chilean port city on the Pacific Ocean, we will travel from 4,000 meters to sea level. You may swim here at Iquique’s beaches if you wish. We will have dinner and spend the night here in Iquique.
We will transfer you to the airport or, if time allows, visit Iquique.