This tour is devoted to explore the natural riches of the coast of world's most arid desert, the Atacama. We will particularly focus on discovering and study the rich array of cacti and wildlflowers occurring along this foggy strip of coast. We will visit three protected areas (Paposo Nature Reserve, Pan de Azucar & Llanos de Challe National Parks) which hold a diversity of more than 200 species of flowering plants, all belonging to the resctricted 'Lomas' vegetation, occurring just along the barren coast of Peru and northern Chile. Interesting birds and mammals will be also part of our observations on this remote region of the country.
5-day trip • Starts/Ends: Santiago, Chile.
Private departures; check out our updated 2015/2016 rates.
Rhodophiala bagnoldi, Llanos de Challe National Park, Atacama © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions
The Atacama Desert is the driest desert on Earth, and in some inland places there is no record of rain or precipitation of any kind in historical times. There is a strip of desert between the Coastal range and the Andean plateau where there is barely, if any life at all.
However, everything changes in the narrow band where the desert meets the Pacific. There is a combination of two main factors that make this a very special habitat; on one hand there is the influence of the cold Humboldt Current that condenses the moisture from the ocean and on the other the topography of the coast, that is formed of very steep cliffs that retain this moisture in the form of a dense mist which crawls inland and makes it possible for the growth of abundant vegetation in the form of many endemic species of cacti and flowering plants. This in turn allows for the presence of insects and other life and of course, birds such as endemic and range-restricted forms of White-throated Tapaculo and Common Diuca Finch, and many other Passerines, raptors and coastal seabirds associated with the Humboldt cold stream like Inca Tern and Humboldt Penguin. Other fauna here includes foxes, Guanaco and Marine Otter.
The weather here is warm and nice, the light is superb for photography and the landscape is of an austere beauty, the perfect framing for your nature trip.
Depending on the fall and winter rains, this strip of coast literaly becomes a garden; the blooming desert is a magnificent nature spectacle occurring normally between late August and early November. Please read our article on previous events.
Itinerary in Brief (5 days / 4 nights)
Day 1 • Flight to Antofagasta – Drive to Taltal (2 nights)
Day 2 • Paposo Nature Reserve
Day 3 • Pan de Azucar National Park – Bahia Inglesa (2 nights)
Day 4 • Llanos de Challe National Park
Day 5 • Surroundings of Bahia Inglesa – Afternoon flight to Santiago – End of the trip
• A thorough exploration of the rarely visited foggy coast of the Atacama Desert.
• A trip devoted to study the wildflowers which characterize this strip of coastal desert.
• Explore a region famous by its richness in cacti species, especially of the endemic genus Copiapoa.
• Visit to three very interesting and seldom visited protected areas: Paposo, Pan de Azucar and Llanos de Challe National Park
• Great opportunities for birding and photography, especially seabirds and wildlife living in the 'fog oasis'
This program is operated as a custom trip (flexible option which runs on a date of your choice giving you more privacy), with a minimum of 2 participants and a maximum group size of 6 guests.
Suggested months: August until November
The Difference of Traveling with Far South Expeditions
• Fully flexible, hotel-based, all-inclusive trip with private transportation and naturalist guide.
• Great hotel and B&B based accommodation, and memorable picnic lunches.
• Spacious private vehicle that ensure a window seat to each trip participant.
• Each vehicle and driver we use has been authorized by the Chilean Transportation Authority.
• The service and expertise of a professional local naturalist leader, who will look after every logistical aspect of your holiday.
Our Coastal Atacama Desert can be combined with one of the following optional extensions:
• Atacama Desert Explorer: 6-day exploring the highlands of the Atacama Desert around San Pedro,
• Birding Northern Chile: 5 & 6 days nature and photo journeys to spectacular Chile's northermost National Parks: Lauca and Las Vicuñas.
• Easter Island: 3 to 5-day options - in-depth exploration to the enigmatic Rapa Nui, the most remote populated island on Earth.
Detailed Itinerary and Activities
Starts/Ends: Santiago de Chile
Lion's Claw, Leontochir ovallei, Llanos de Challe National Park, Atacama, Chile © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions
Day 1 • Flight to Antofagasta – Drive to Taltal – Explore Quebrada San Ramon
We will meet at Santiago airport to catch an early flight (duration: 2 hours) to the city of Antofagasta, located at the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Once we meet our driver, we will head southwards along the national road 5 in direction to the coastal town of Taltal (2-3 hours drive).
At Taltal we will be based in a gorgeous set of cabins located just a few miles north from Taltal. This is the most perfect base to explore the interesting gorges and gullies which are constantly affected by the sea mist. The grounds of this property have a great cactarium and will offer us the chance to study our very first Copiapoa, an interesting, diverse and endemic cacti genus, comprising more than 30 different species, all occurring along the foggy coast of the Atacama Desert.
San Ramon Gorge is quite famous location for botanist and plant enthusiast as holds a few endemic flowering plants. Depending on the fall and winter fall we may have the chance to finds interesting species of Nolana, Cristaria, Loasa and Heliotropium, large bushes of Oxalis gigantea along the scarce Copiapoa krainziana, pretty much only found on this gorge.
Burrowing Owl is an usual sight here besides the variety of seabirds occurring along the Humboldt Current including Peruvian Pelican, Peruvian Booby, Guanay Cormorant and the delightful Inca Tern.
Overnight at Cabañas Caleta Hueso, Taltal (Lunch, Dinner)(Guide)
Copiapoa cinerea ssp. albispina, near Taltal, Chile © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions
Day 2 • Full day exploring Paposo Nature Reserve
We have the whole day to explore the interesting surroundings of the fog oasis of Paposo, located just 30 miles north of Taltal. Along the coast we will be impressed by the rugged cliffs and the pretty obvious effect of the coastal mist on this seemingly barren landscape. Several Copiapoa species and varieties are found along the narrow coastal plain. We will climb by the main road in order to visit the Paposo Nature Reserve. This is a very interesting habitat which is constantly covered by the fog; the mist provides the vital moisture which sustains a large array of plants, all belonging to the 'lomas' vegetation, a plant community only found along the coastal desert of Peru and northern Chile. Large stands of the columnar cacti Eulychnia iquiquensis, plus the bromeliad Deuterocohnia chrysantha and a few species of the cactus Eriosyce provide ample opportunities for the plant enthusiast; we hope to find Alstroemeria violacea, Palaua concinna, Schizanthus laetus, Cleome chilensis among many more species, all very restricted to this fog oasis. The birding is also quite good here and we hope to see White-throated Tapaculo, Rufous-banded Miner, Gray-hooded Sierra Finch and Common Diuca-Finch.
Overnight at Cabañas Caleta Hueso, Taltal (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)(Guide)
Alstroemeria violacea, Paposo, Antofagasta, Chile © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions
Day 3 • Full day exploring Pan de Azucar National Park – Drive to Bahia Inglesa
We will leave Taltal quite early in order to arrive at a good time to another interesting fog oasis, the Pan de Azucar National Park. The setting of this reserve is just superb as is located immediately besides the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. This protected area hold more than 200 flowering plants including a large number of unique cactus species such as Copiapoa cinerea and the striking Copiapoa columna-alba. We will make an interesting hike to the Mirador (viewpoint) studying the interesting cacti and plants in the form of Euphorbia lactiflua, Bahia ambrosoides, Eulychnia saint-pieana, Fagonia chilensis, Mirabilis acutus, Solanum heterantherum among many others. Southern Gray Fox and Guanaco (the wild ancestor of the Llama) are usually seen on the cliffs together a limited number of songbirds as well as American Kestrel, Variable Hawk and Turkey Vulture.
Later in the afternoon we will drive southwards to Bahia Inglesa, a coastal resort, our base for the following two nights.
Overnight at Nautel or similar, Bahia Inglesa (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)(Guide)
Studying the Copiapoa cacti at Pan de Azucar National Park, Atacama, Chile © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions
Day 4 • Full day exploring Llanos de Challe National Park
This morning we will drive south, along the coastal road to the beautiful Llanos de Challe National Park. If the winter rains were enough to trigger the blooming, this park becomes one of the hotspots to see the myriad of Nolana, Cistanthe and many other 'lomas' plants which cover the plains and hillsides providing an unreal and uncomparable scene. One of the highlights of the day will be our quest for one of the most charismatic flowers of the 'blooming desert', the Lion's Claw (Leontochir ovallei) which grows in specific gullies along the coast. We will see large stands of Copiapoa dealbata which grow sometimes in exaggerated and oversized clumps. The sandy terrain sustain many bulbs, perennials and annuals including Rhodophiala bagnoldi, Alstroemeria chrysantha, Argylia radiata, Heliotropium megalanthum, Cruckshanksia montiana and Leucocoryne appendiculata.
We will visit the coastal wetland of Carrizal Bajo and hopefully we can enjoy watching several species of waterfowl including Black-necked and Coscoroba Swan, Chiloe Wigeon, Yellow-billed Pintail, Cinnamon Teal and Red-gartered Coot among several other species.
Overnight at Nautel or similar, Bahia Inglesa (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)(Guide)
Photographing the plains near Llanos de Challe NP during a blooming event © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions
Day 5 • Surroundings of Bahia Inglesa – Flight to Santiago – End of the trip
During the morning we will have time the explore the coast around Bahia Inglesa. There are several interesting species such as Frankenia chilensis, Aristolochia chilensis, Nolana rupicola and Tetragonia pedunculata. We might find the impressive Chilean Iguana which inhabits this rocky coast together several other species of lizard.
We will take a short transfer to Copiapo airport and take our flight back to Santiago de Chile. (Breakfast)
Guanaco, Lama guanicoe, near Llanos de Challe National Park, Atacama, Chile © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions
Rates Season 2015/2016
For Custom Private Departures (you choose the date).
Available year-round. Daily departures from Santiago de Chile.
|Coastal Atacama Desert
||5 days, 4 nights
|No. of guests
|Price per person (USD)
Trip are guaranteed to depart with a minimum of 2 participants.
Do you want us to arrange your flights from Santiago to Calama?
Domestic flights Santiago (SCL) – Antofagasta (ANF) / Copiapo – Santiago de Chile (SCL) from US$ 325 per person.
Duration of the flight: 2 hours (direct).
What the trip includes/excludes
The above price is per person in US$, based in single or double accommodation.
Single supplement will be added if single accommodations are requested.
The trip price includes: All accommodations, meals and guide services as stated in the itinerary, private ground transportation during the tour, and park entrance fees. A daily bottle of mineral water is also included.
The trip price excludes: Domestic flights, tipping, travel insurance, à la carte dishes, snacks, drinks, laundry, telephone calls and anything else of a purely personal nature.
To book this tour, please complete our online registration form. We will process your booking form and will send you (within 24 hours) a note with space confirmation and a deposit invoice with payment instructions. The deposit amount is US$ 500 per person. Full payment of the tour fee is due 90 days prior to tour departure.
NOTE: Inquires received on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays will be replied during the following working day.
Notice of cancellation can only be accepted IN WRITING from the person who signed the booking form and takes effect on the day such noticed is received by us.
Refunds are made according to the following schedule:
If cancellation is made 120 days or more before departure date, the deposit less US$ 200 is refundable.
If cancellation is made between 120 and 60 days before departure, the deposit is not refundable, but any payments covering the balance of the fee will be refunded.
If cancellation is made fewer than 60 days before departure date, no refund is available.
This policy and fee schedule also applies to pre-trip and post trip extensions, as well as any transfers from one tour to another. We strongly recommend the purchase of trip cancellation insurance to protect yourself.
Check out our photo gallery from recent nature trips and photo tours to the Coastal Atacama Desert.
Alstroemeria magnifica, near Huasco, Atacama, Chile © Claudio F. Vidal, Far South Expeditions