Red Hot Chile - Atacama Desert

Trek to the summit of the mysterious Licancabur Volcano (5920m)




From $3,060 Land only

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Holiday Overview


  • Jaw-dropping adventure trekking holiday in Chile and Bolivia
  • The flamingos of Laguna Blanca and the stunning Laguna Verde
  • Unforgettable views as the sun sets over the Valley of the Moon
  • Geysers, hot springs, dramatic river gorges and Incan archaeology

Explore one of the most unusual and surreal environments on the earth, the Atacama Desert, and scale the mysterious Licancabur Volcano (5920m) on this adventure trekking holiday in Chile and Bolivia. The Atacama Desert sits at the northern tip of Chile, sandwiched between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. One of the highest and driest places on earth it is known for its salt lakes, flamingo filled lagoons, sand dunes, bizarre geological formations and mysterious volcanic peaks.  From the pretty laid backed oasis village of San Pedro, we have several days to explore the superb 'Valley of the Moon', trekking through picturesque river gorges to isolated Indian shepherd communities.  Reaching the fringes of the altiplano we make an ascent of Copa Coya (4500m), which stands above the famous hot springs and geysers of Tatio.  Well acclimatised, we then transfer to the stunningly beautiful Laguna Blanca and Laguna Verde, across the Bolivian border, where we can see flamingos feeding on the lake. From a high mountain refuge we make the straightforward ascent of the mysterious Licancabur.  Nestled in the crater of this incredibly beautiful volcano are the ruins of an ancient Inca ceremonial site and the world's highest lake.  The extraordinary beauty of the Atacama and the diversity of its natural and cultural attractions make this holiday a simply unforgettable experience; with its volcanic peaks, mysterious petroglyphs and pre-Columbian ruins.  The Atacama Desert offers a landscapes so endless and rugged that it is known locally as El Norte Grande - The Great North!  If you are looking for an unforgettable trekking holiday that combines San Pedro, one of the friendliest desert villages in the world and some of the world's most spectacular scenery, plus an awesome volcanic summit, then our Red Hot Chile is the only option! 

Is this holiday for you?

This trip offers a truly unique trekking experience in the extraordinary Atacama Desert. There are some long and hot days of trekking (around 20km) and we will have to make numerous river crossings. We spend nights at around 3000 metres and 4000 metres before making an ascent to 5200 metres on Cerro Soquete and this will then provide good acclimatisation for our main objective Licancabur (5920m). Although non technical, the summit day on Licancabur will take around 10 hours and will require an early start and our descent will be on scree. The trip gets its relatively high grade on account of the high elevation and long trekking days. During this trip we will spend 5 nights in a comfortable hotel in San Pedro, 3 nights camping and 2 nights in a basic mountain refuge.

Brief Itinerary

View in full
  • Meet at the group hotel in Calama. A single timed transfer from Calama Airport is included.
  • Walk in the Valle de Marte and along the Corniza Trail. Visit the nesting flamingos on Chaxa Lagoon.
  • Day to explore the surrounding area of San Pedro and walk in the Valley of the Moon.
  • Transfer to Quitor. Trek to the atmospheric mining ghost town of San Bartolo (2700m).
  • Trek through superb desert landscape to the Indian village of Rio Grande (3200m).
  • Trek along the Penaliri River to Machuca offering spectacular views of Licancabur.
  • Transfer to Tatio Geysers (4200m) and trek to the summit of Copa Coya (4500m). Visit to hot springs.
  • Transfer to Laguna Blanca (4350m). Acclimatisation day in and around the local area.
  • Transfer to Laguna Verde and prepare for the ascent of Licancabur. Acclimatisation trek to 5000m
  • Summit day. Early start for the ascent of Licancabur (5920m). Return to San Pedro de Atacama.
  • Departure Day. A single timed transfer to Calama Airport is provided.
Sun 22 Nov - Wed 02 Dec Code CAE /02/15/ Adult$3,060 Status Sold Out Call Us
Sun 13 Mar - Wed 23 Mar Code CAE /01/16/ Adult$3,060 Status Guaranteed Book now
Sun 20 Nov - Wed 30 Nov Code CAE /02/16/ Adult$3,060 Status Guaranteed Book now
The dates shown are for the LAND ONLY itinerary, joining in San Pedro. For clients making their own flight arrangements, El Loa Airport, Calama, is the most convenient for transfers to the group hotel. Please refer to the 'Joining arrangements & transfers', and 'Flights' sections in the trip dossier for further details.

Flights SHOULD NOT be booked until you have received your booking confirmation and the trip is showing 'Guaranteed to Run' or 'Limited'.

BOOK WITH KE CONFIDENCE - No surcharge guarantee*

* Against Land Only services.

Map & Itinerary

The Route

  • airport
  • point
  • peaks
  • trip direction
  • transfer
  • trek

Holiday Itinerary

  • Meet at the group hotel in Calama. A single timed transfer from Calama Airport is included.

    On arrival in Calama there will be a single timed group transfer to the pretty oasis town of San Pedro, which will be our base for the next 3 nights. The drive will take around 1.5hrs. There will be some spectacular views as our route leads us past the impressive rock formations of the Cordillera de la Sal (Salt Mountains). San Pedro is at an altitude of 2450m and sits on the northern edge of the biggest salt deposits in the Atacama. With its characteristic traditional red adobe houses, surprising greenery and distant views of our objective, Licancabur, this is the perfect base for our visit to the desert. The rest of the day is free to relax and explore the town. In the evening we will enjoy a welcome dinner with our guide who will brief us about the exciting days ahead. KE land only services begin with the evening meal.

    • Accommodation Hotel

    • Meals d

  • Walk in the Valle de Marte and along the Corniza Trail. Visit the nesting flamingos on Chaxa Lagoon.

    After breakfast at the hotel we set off for the Valle de Marte (valley of Mars), a drive of about 20mins, and we begin today's walk on the Corniza Trail (2700m), which takes us over the ridge of the sandstone mountains. Our route takes us back down to San Pedro, passed the remarkable fort at Quitor, a 12th Century Indian pukara, which sits nestled on a promontory overlooking the Rio San Pedro; parts of the fort have now been reconstructed by archaeologists. From atop of the fortifications there are stunning views out across the whole of the oasis. After some time to explore we return to San Pedro in time for lunch. In the afternoon we make the 40 minute drive to the great Salar de Atacama, an endless white salt flat. Here we will visit the wonderful Chaxa Lagoon, covered with nesting flamingos, this is an extraordinary sight. We return to spend another night at our comfortable San Pedro hotel.

    • Accommodation Hotel

    • Meals b

    • Time 2 - 3 hrs walking

  • Day to explore the surrounding area of San Pedro and walk in the Valley of the Moon.

    After a relaxed breakfast at the hotel we head to the atmospheric ruined fortress of Pukara de Quitor. This Pukara was built by the atacameno people to defend themselves from other towns that inhabited South America. The ancient indian fortress dates back for more than 700 years. Declared a National Monument in 1982, its construction is pre-Inca from the XII century. After lunch in a local restaurant we will drive into the desert to the west of San Pedro, where walk into the famous Valle de la Luna or Valley of the Moon. We spend the rest of the day exploring its stunning sand dunes, ancient salt mines and extraordinary rock formations. We end our day’s walk in the early evening at the perfect vantage point to witness what must be one of the world’s most beautiful sunsets. We watch as the colours of the valley and the Andean peaks beyond change from deep red, to purple and then pink as the sun slowly sinks in the sky; a truly unforgettable experience. We return to our hotel. There are a choice of restaurants close to the hotel, tonight we have our own choice of where to dine.

    • Accommodation Hotel

    • Meals bl

    • Time 2 hrs walking

  • Transfer to Quitor. Trek to the atmospheric mining ghost town of San Bartolo (2700m).

    After breakfast at the hotel we drive for 40 minutes back towards Quitor, where we will begin our walk. We follow the San Pedro River up stream, the walking is gentle and the scenery is superb. At first the valley floor is broad and well vegetated, but as we progress the valley sides narrow forming a spectacular canyon. Donning our river shoes we cross the river in several places as we head towards our camp for the night at the old Indian mine of San Bartolo (2700m). We will arrive into camp in the mid afternoon and will have some time to look around this atmospheric ghost town, once a busy mining enclave. Tonight we will camp beneath the beautifully clear and starry Atacama sky.

    • Accommodation Camping

    • Meals bld

    • Time 7 hrs walking

  • Trek through superb desert landscape to the Indian village of Rio Grande (3200m).

    Today will be our first challenging day as we climb higher in altitude, leaving the river bed behind us. We make an early start, initially following the river bed and passing the old abandoned mine of San Bartolo before gradually gaining height. Our route today takes us from an altitude of around 2700m to 3500m. We are largely following the bed of the Rio Grande and we cross the river on many occasions. The different crossing points provide us with shallow, easy paddling and some deeper wading. The desert landscape begins to open out in all directions and we start to get an impression of its vastness and of the aridity. There are some areas of the valley that are so dry that scientists have not found any form of life, not even bacteria! In the late afternoon, we arrive at the tiny Indian village of Rio Grande (3200m). This is one of the last remaining indigenous communities of Altiplano people and currently has fewer that 130 inhabitants. We camp at the river’s edge, where there are welcome pools to wash and relax in.

    • Accommodation Camping

    • Meals bld

    • Time 8 hrs walking

  • Trek along the Penaliri River to Machuca offering spectacular views of Licancabur.

    Today will be one of the most physically demanding days of our trek as we follow the Peñaliri River. En route we pass through old and eroded terraces, a testament to the agricultural practices of the ancient Indian peoples. During the afternoon we pass through the 'Cactus Garden' and begin to climb out of the valleys we’ve been walking through for the last 2 days, to reach the village of Machuca. Situated on a high platform, at a height of approximately 4100 metres this area is renowned for its rich vegetation and great variety of wildlife. Formerly a stopping place on an Inca trade route across the Atacama, only a few shepherds and their llama herds now live in Machuca. Tonight we set up camp next to a water meadow, grazed by llamas and with views across to Licancabur and the volcanoes of Bolivia. 6 hours walking.

    • Accommodation Camping

    • Meals bld

    • Time 7 hrs walking

  • Transfer to Tatio Geysers (4200m) and trek to the summit of Copa Coya (4500m). Visit to hot springs.

    We have an early morning transfer (45mins) towards the Tatio Geysers (4200m), where we will have time to stop and observe the activity. As the sun rises, the major thermal activity of the steaming waters takes place. From almost 900m below the earth, boiling steam bursts up to 40m over the surface of these spectacular geysers. From here we trek to the summit of Copa Coya (4500m). From the geysers we begin our walk, lasting approximately 3 hours, towards a high Andean plateau with the same name as the trail - Copa Coya. The puna grasslands played an important historical role centred around the llareta plant which was used traditionally for combustion, although nowadays, its slow growth means it’s not a feasible fuel option. Along the trail we see typical Andean vegetation and maybe viscachas (similar to chinchillas) before stopping to enjoy lunch with a view. At the end of the walk there’s a steep uphill climb leading to a wonderful view of the Alto Loa villages, showing a different view of Atacama than normally experienced. After descending, we drive back to our hotel in San Pedro, stopping en route at the Puritama Hot Springs for a refreshing and relaxing soak in the pristine and crystal waters.

    • Accommodation Hotel

    • Meals bl

    • Time 3 - 4 hrs walking

  • Transfer to Laguna Blanca (4350m). Acclimatisation day in and around the local area.

    After a morning relaxing in San Pedro we set off on our drive towards the Andes and the perfect volcanic peak of Licancabur. We pass the Chilean customs post on the outskirts of San Pedro and 40 minutes later we reach the Bolivian border post at Hito Cajon (4500m). After 1 hour 40 minutes we reach Laguna Blanca (4350m) and the lakeside mountain refuge that will be our base for the next 2 nights. The rest of the day is for acclimatisation and relaxing in this area. There are superb photo opportunities, with the volcanoes Licancabur and Juriques rising majestically above the lagoon. At some seasons there are flamingos to be seen and there are also hot springs nearby.

    • Accommodation Mountain Hut / Refuge

    • Meals bd

  • Transfer to Laguna Verde and prepare for the ascent of Licancabur. Acclimatisation trek to 5000m

    After breakfast at the Refugio, we will be transferred to Laguna Verde, where arsenic and copper deposits give a stunning iridescent colour to the waters, and to the base of Licancabur at 4500m. We complete our preparation for the ascent of Licancabur, with an acclimatisation hike to an altitude of approximately 5000 metres or even higher if time and fitness permits, we will enjoy our packed lunch before descending to the Laguna. Afterwards, we transfer back to the refugio for dinner and an early night in preparation for the following day.

    • Accommodation Mountain Hut / Refuge

    • Meals bld

  • Summit day. Early start for the ascent of Licancabur (5920m). Return to San Pedro de Atacama.

    Today is summit day. We will be woken around 2.30am for an early breakfast before we depart camp (around 4am) and drive up to Camp Inca at approximately 4500m, where we will begin our walk. The ascent is in no way technical and there is usually very little snow on the mountain, but at this altitude it does provide a very challenging ascent. Arriving at the summit after 7 hours or so, we will enjoy spectacular views of nearby peaks and a panorama that extends over Chilean and Bolivian territory to the salt flats of the Atacama. Nestling in the summit crater is a small lake, one of the highest on earth and in several places on the crater rim there are ancient Inca ceremonial ruins. Retracing our steps to Camp Inca in a further 2 to 3 hours, we drive back to San Pedro, arriving in the early evening. Tonight we will enjoy a celebratory dinner.

    • Accommodation Hotel

    • Meals bld

    • Time 10 hrs walking

  • Departure Day. A single timed transfer to Calama Airport is provided.

    After breakfast we check out of our hotel and there will be a single timed transfer back the airport. KE Land Only services end after breakfast.

    • Meals b

Holiday Information

  • An experienced English-speaking local leader
  • Single timed airport transfers
  • All accommodation as described
  • Meals as outlined in the Meal Plan
  • Once on trek a full service including food and all equipment (excluding personal equipment)
  • All land transport involved in the itinerary

  • Travel insurance
  • Tips for trek staff
  • Calama Airport transfers (other than group transfers)
  • Departure tax (if applicable)
  • Some meals as detailed in the Meal Plan
  • Miscellaneous expenses - drinks and souvenirs etc

During this trip the group will spend 5 nights at a pleasant hotel in San Pedro de Atacama, a wonderful laid-back town with a stunning backdrop and relaxed feel. Here we will stay in charming wood and adobe cabin-like rooms with terraces, nestled in a fruit orchard. There are also 3 nights camping and 2 nights spent in a basic mountain refuge on the trip. All accommodation is based on twin sharing (except in the refuge where the rooms may be mixed sex and typically accommodate 4-8 people). If you are travelling by yourself you will be paired up with another single client of the same sex. For the 5 hotel nights, single rooms are available for a supplementary cost. Whilst camping, single tents are available for a supplementary cost. Additional hotel nights in San Pedro de Atacama are also available. For Hotel prices and single supplement costs please refer to the dates and prices page of the trip on our website. Hotels are subject to availability and prices may vary.

View the gallery below for images of the style of accommodation used

All breakfasts, 7 lunches and 7 dinners are included in the holiday price. When staying in San Pedro, with access to a wide choice of dining options and budgets, it makes sense to leave the choice to you. We therefore have not included all meals while staying in San Pedro de Atacama. You should allow approximately $15 - $20 per meal for a total of 3 lunches and 2 dinners.

In San Pedro de Atacama there is a wide range of restaurants and bars serving a mix of local and international cuisine. On trek, varied packed lunches will be supplied. Evening meals will be plentiful and will be a delicious mixture of local and international-style, from ingredients purchased in Chile and cooked for us by professional cooks.

There will be a single timed group transfer from the airport in Calama to the group accommodation in San Pedro. This transfer will normally be in the mid afternoon of Day 1 of the trip itinerary. At the end of the trip there will be a single group transfer from the group hotel to the airport in Calama. This transfer will normally be early morning of Day 11. The KE local guide or a representative of our local agent will assist with the transfers between the airport and group hotel.

Clients booking a Land Only Package MUST provide the KE office with full details of their flights. Hotel contact details and an emergency number will be provided with your booking confirmation.

A typical day starts with an early breakfast, served in the mess tent. Afterwards, we will try to make a reasonably early start. During the day-walks, you are free to walk at your own pace (within reason), enjoying the scenery and stopping to take pictures. We will usually take packed lunches during the day walks. Dinner is served in the mess tent in the early evening and this is a delicious 3-course meal. The cooks never fail to impress! Dinner is a good time to socialise and to talk over the events of the day. We are usually in bed by 10 p.m. which gives us plenty of time to re-charge our batteries before the next day's walk.

The group will be accompanied throughout the holiday by an experienced, English speaking local leader. In addition, while trekking the group will be supported by a full crew of camp staff and drivers. There will also be one or more support vehicles and drivers and a trek crew including a cook, camp staff and either baggage animals or porters.

We estimate that $400 will cover all of your expenditures whilst in Chile, including non included meals, soft drinks, tips for local staff and any airport taxes. If you intend to purchase expensive souvenirs, you should budget accordingly. Credit cards can be useful here. The Chilean unit of currency is the Peso. We recommend that you carry your money in the form of US dollars currency as it will not be possible to exchange traveller's cheques. There a a number of ATMs in San Pedro but we would recommend that you obtain cash using your credit/debit card at the cash machine in the airports at either Santiago or Calama. Visa credit cards are widely accepted in Chile.

Tips are the accepted way of saying ‘thank you’ to your local guides and crew. They do not form part of their wages. KE always pays local crews the best rates of pay, no matter what country they are in and any tips they receive are seen as a personal thank you from group members. For our part, we advise local teams that tips are not a duty or a prerequisite but are a bonus and entirely dependent on the service that was given. For your trek crews we recommend that you give a tip if you feel that their services have met your satisfaction. As a rough guide we suggest you allow a total of $100-$150 for tipping your crew.

You KE trek bag will be carried by the support vehicle. The packed weight of you trek bag during the trip should be no more than 15kg.

All KE clients will receive a FREE KE trek bag.  These have been specially made to stand up to the rigours of adventure travel.  Your KE bag will be posted to you when your trip is guaranteed to run or on receipt of your booking if the trip is already guaranteed.  If you have travelled with us before and already have a KE trek bag you can select an alternative free gift in the booking process.

This holiday involves going to very high altitude. During the course of your trip you will be spending at least one night above 4000 metres and/or trekking to 5000 metres or above. This is not something that you should worry about; the human body is quite capable of adapting to a very wide range of altitudes, but it is important that we follow some simple rules in order to acclimatise successfully. Before coming on this holiday you should read the advice on trekking at high altitude on our website which can be viewed via the link below. Unless you have previous experience of trekking above 4000 metres you should consult one of our trekking experts before embarking on this holiday. On this trip we carry bottled oxygen for use in emergencies.

The following checklist should help you with your packing. As a general rule, you should always try to keep the weight of your equipment to a minimum. The packed weight of your trek bag whilst trekking should be no more than 15 kgs / 33 pounds.

You must bring the following items:

  • Hiking boots
  • Walking sandals (TEVAs) or old trainers/sneakers for use at river crossings
  • Socks
  • Trekking trousers / pants
  • Waterproof overtrousers / rain-pants
  • Underwear
  • Baselayer shirts
  • Shirts or T-shirts
  • Fleece jacket or warm jumper
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Sunhat
  • Warm hat or balaclava
  • Scarf or buff
  • Eyewear – Sunglasses
  • Gloves or mittens
  • 3 season sleeping bag (rated down to –5 degrees)
  • Daypack c. 30 to 40 litres / 1800 to 2500 cu in
  • Headtorch / headlamp with spare bulb and batteries
  • Basic First Aid Kit - refer to trip notes for details
  • Sun protection (including total bloc for lips, nose etc.)
  • Water bottles 1 litre (x2)
  • Washbag and toiletries
  • Antibacterial handwash
  • Small towel
  • Selection of dry bags (to keep trek bag contents dry)
  • Small padlock (to lock your KE trek bag)

The following items are optional:

  • Trekking poles
  • Trainers / sneakers or sandals for camp use
  • Spare laces
  • Long johns / thermal underwear (it can be cold at night)
  • Warm jacket
  • Scarf or neck buff
  • Sleeping bag liner
  • Travel clothes
  • Insect repellant – (DEET)
  • Nailbrush
  • Pocket-knife (note: always pack sharp objects in hold baggage)
  • Repair kit – (eg. needle, thread, duct tape)
  • Camera, film / memory cards, batteries


For each holiday there is a minimum number of participants required to enable it to go ahead. Once the minimum number is reached, the trip status will change from 'Available' to 'Guaranteed to run'. You can check the trip status for each departure in ‘Dates and Prices’ table. Other than in exceptional circumstances, we will not cancel a trip once it has achieved this guaranteed to run status and so you are free to proceed with your international flight booking and other travel arrangements.

A passport with 6 months remaining validity at the end of your stay is generally required. The information that we provide is for UK passport holders. Please check the relevant embassy or consulate for other nationalities. It is your responsibility to ensure that you have the correct travel documents and visas for your holiday. Visa requirements and charges are subject to change without notice. If you are travelling outside the EU you should have at least 2 blank pages in your passport.

Visa Chile

UK and USA passport holders do not require a visa for short stays. USA passport holders will be issued with a tourist card on arrival.

We recommend you check if you require an adaptor for your electrical items at:

It makes a lot of sense to spend some time before coming on a trekking or climbing trip getting some additional exercise. Our treks can be physically demanding, but more as a result of altitude and terrain than distances walked. We would suggest that you adopt a weekly exercise regime. Running and swimming are good for developing aerobic fitness and better stamina. You should gradually increase your exercise leading up to departure, and in the month before setting off, we suggest that you try to fit in a number of long walks in hilly country.

As a reputable tour operator, KE supports the British Foreign & Commonwealth Offices ‘Know before you go’ campaign to enable British citizens to prepare for their journeys overseas, and we recommend that all KE travellers take a look at the FCO Travel Advice for their chosen destination on the official FCO website: North Americans can also check out the U.S. Department of State website: for essential travel advice and tips.

KE treat the safety and security of all clients as the most important aspect of any trip we organise. We would not run any trip that we did not consider reasonably safe.  Should the FCO advise against travel for any reason, we will contact everyone booked to travel to discuss the situation.  We receive regular updates direct from the FCO and are in constant touch with our contacts on the ground.  If you have any questions about government travel advice, please call our office.

The Atacama has a climate characterised by blue skies and mild temperatures throughout the year. At average altitudes of around 2500 metres, temperatures range from 28°C / 82°F during the day to 0°C / 32°F at night. Higher, on the altiplano, at altitudes above 4000 metres, average daytime temperatures range from 10°C / 50°F down to minus 10°C / plus 14°F. We can expect little, if anything, in the way of precipitation.

Chile & Easter Island - Lonely Planet.  The Rough Guide to Chile.  Chile & Easter Island - DK Eyewitness Travel Guide.  Travels in a Thin Country - Sarah Wheeler.  The Motorcycle Diaries - Ernesto "Che" Guevara.  The House of the Spirits - Isabel Allende.

San Pedro de Atacama Region 1:350,000/1:50,000

San Pedro de Atacama Region at 1:350,000/1:50,000 in a series of contoured, GPS compatible trekking and exploration maps at various scales form Trekkingchile. The maps are annotated with tourist information and most titles include a street plan of the region`s main town. Many are illustrated with drawings of local fauna or flora.

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