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Chile - Atacama Desert Ride
Exciting places to explore. There really is nowhere else like it in the world!

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from £1,300 or €1,850

Horse Riding Holidays Chile – Atacama Desert Ride

Atacama Desert Ride has been personally vetted by Zara, Jill or one of the Zara’s Planet team to ensure our clients enjoy a top quality riding holiday experience (as they do on all our Horse Riding Holidays in Chile).

DATES & PRICES top

2016 Rates & Dates

Set departure dates are available throughout the year. They run from the 10th to the 19th of each month. There are no departures in December or January, due to the weather.

  • 9 night trail – £1,300/€1,850/$1,960 per person sharing

All our horse riding holidays hold a price guarantee. We believe in your piece of mind on price when you book one of our horse riding holidays and will refund the difference should you find the same horse riding holiday elsewhere at a lower price.

SUMMARY OF THE TRIP top

The Atacama Desert on first glance may seem rugged and inhospitable, but on closer inspection it is packed full of exciting places to explore. There really is nowhere else like it in the world and some of the vistas you’ll enjoy along the way will be extraordinary. The terrain is lunar-like in places with big salt pans, interrupted with the occasional oasis. It’s often been used as a location in space films and even for testing lunar vehicles because the surface is identical to the moon.

What else will you see? Lots of llamas, wild donkeys, an abundance of cacti, and flocks of flamingos. You’ll follow rivers, bathe in a secret waterfall and ride through small villages and visit Moon and Death Valley. You’ll stumble across ruins and relics of civilisations that once existed here, from the Incas to the Spanish invaders.

San Pedro de Atacama, where you begin and end this challenging riding adventure, is a Chilean town located in the Loa Province region of Chile called Antofagasta. It grew, over centuries, around an oasis in the most arid desert of the world, The Atacama Desert. It is located east of Antofagasta, some 100 km southeast of Calama and the Chuquicamata copper mine, overlooking the Licancabur volcano.

This town is known as the archaeological capital of Chile and is located in between the highlands (Andes Mountain & Altiplano) and the Salt Mountain Range. Situated just on the border with Bolivia, this beautiful town is named after its Patron Saint San Pedro (Saint Peter) and the word Atacama, which, according to the ancestors, comes from “Accatcha” in the Cunza language and means “Head of the Country”.

It was conquered by the Incas in 1450 and then by the Spaniards in 1540, becoming a Chilean government seat in 1555. Downtown San Pedro still preserves the structure and construction of the Spanish colonial influence, with antique adobe houses with interior yards and roofs made of clay and hay.

San Pedro’s church is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful churches of the north of Chile. In 1951 it was declared a National Monument.

The Atacama Desert is a rainless plateau extending 966 km between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. It was created by the rain shadow of the Andes east of the Desert. Its area is of 181,300 square km in northern Chile. It is made up of salt basins (Salares), sand, lava flows, and is more than 20 million years old. It is 50 times more arid than California’s Death Valley.

In this desert, rain is almost unknown and in some places, it has never rained at all. However, an oasis may be formed thanks to the waters that flow down from the Andes Mountain Range, either through rivers or underground waters and creates life. In the oases located in the basin of the Salar de Atacama, there have been human settlements since time immemorial, which in time, have originated the Atacamenian culture or Lican-Antay: “people of the Oasis”.

It has been estimated that the first indigenous people who journeyed through these lands more then 10,000 years ago were hunters and food gatherers. In this era, the desert offered a different landscape with more vegetation and a greater number of animals and birds.

In this high altitude habitat of salt deposits and wetlands, you will encounter a great variety of Flamingos. The most outstanding animals found are: Flamingos, Vicuñas, Guanacos, Lamas, Foxes, Vizcachas and wild donkeys.

The most abundant plants found in its flora are: Llareta (Yareta), Chañar, Algarrobo, Rica-rica, Pingo-Pingo, Fox tails, Cactu.

Comments by Jill Dolan after a visit in November 2015

“What a ride. It was spectacular and challenging! I had expected lots of sand dunes, but how wrong was I? Each day the terrain varied, with salt encrusted sand flats, a salt lagoon we swam in, a green bush camp, huge canyons to traverse with the most outstanding views, vast open highland plateaus lined by mountains, and a bubbling volcano! It delivered on all fronts, including great horses that marched on day in and day out and loved to gallop! I’d recommend a visit to anyone who wants a challenging ride that offers good terrain, culture and adventure!”

THE RIDING top

Horses – A great mix of horses to suit different riders, including Pure Bred Criolla, Criolla cross Thoroughbred, Criolla cross Quarter Horse and Hunter Types. 14.2hh to 16.2hh.

Level of Riding & Pace – Intermediate plus. Due to the long hours and temperatures by day, there is a good amount of fast-paced walking interspersed with fast, long gallops.

Tack – Western Style with a mix of Chilean, Western and English style saddles.

Weight Restriction – 13 ½ stones / 189 lb / 85 kg. If you are over this weight, please check before booking.

Group Size Minimum 4 riders, maximum 10 riders.

ACCOMMODATION top

There are two nights at the beginning and end of the ride that are spent in San Pedro at a friendly hostel. It’s right in the heart of the town, and is basic, clean and rustic. The other seven nights are spent wild camping in two-person dome tents. They are all erected for you on arrival in camp and mats are provided.

The food is delicious, home cooked and varied. On the first and last night, it’s a traditional asado at the ranch. Breakfast includes hot rolls, cheese, hams, honey, jam, yoghurt, fruit juices, tea & coffee. Lunches are packed daily in the saddlebags and change each day, sometimes filled rolls or pastas with vegetables, along with trail mixes, fruit and juice. After each long day’s ride, there are snacks and refreshments, beer, juice, salsa, bread, crisps and trail mix.

Dinner is three courses, of homemade soups, pastas, meat, with potatoes or rice, followed by desserts like banana and honey & sweet pancakes. Great tasting Chilean wines accompany dinner.

The Atacama Desert ride is part of the Zara’s Planet collection of adventure riding holidays in Chile.

We have travelled the world testing a huge variety of horse riding holidays and adventures to make sure we offer you, our client, the best horse riding holidays possible.

Our horse riding holidays are thoroughly researched – we consider all the elements that go towards making our horse riding holiday collection the best in the world. We check the quality of the horses, if they are fit for the job, well produced and looked after. We make sure the riding terrain is good going and the countryside is interesting . We are truthful about the accommodation, telling you if it’s a five star hotel, a farmhouse or camping making sure above all it is clean and comfortable and offers a great night’s sleep. The food is all important too – we take the time to make sure we tell you if it’s cordon bleu, home cooked, or regional and locally sourced – above all it has to be delicious, plentiful and nourishing. Last but not least, our hosts – they can make or break a holiday as far as we are concerned and ours deliver, showing themselves to be friendly, caring, warm and welcoming.

It’s only when all these elements come together that we add that destination into our hand-picked collection of horse riding holidays.

Included – All riding, activities, guides, accommodation, meals, drinks including alcohol and Calama airport transfers.

Excluded – Flights, some park entrance fees and tips.

Please Ask About
There are lots of other things to see and do while you are in San Pedro and on the door step of the Atacama Desert. It may be a good idea to arrive a day or two earlier, as this can also help you acclimatise you to the higher altitude and the dry atmosphere. You may also want to leave a couple of days later and experience things like sand boarding, visit the Geysir del Tatio or go on a stargazing tour, as the night sky there is one of the clearest in the world.

SAMPLE ITINERARY top

DAY 1 - Arrival & Transfer from Calama to San Pedro

You will be met at Calama Airport and transferred to San Pedro de Atacama. After settling into your guesthouse accommodation in the middle of town, you will head over to the ranch for your first dinner together and meet your hosts and fellow riders. You’ll enjoy the first of many Pisco Sours and have the opportunity to chat in more details about the trail.

DAY 2 - Cejas Lagoon

After a hearty breakfast, you leave San Pedro and ride south towards the Salar de Atacama, a huge salt depression of 320,000 hectares. This Salar is the biggest in Chile and 4,000 years ago it was a gigantic lake. Nowadays it has an underground network of water, which forms a beautiful landscape of turquoise blue lagoons, where a great variety of flamingos, birds and ducks live. The first night of camping you will stay in the heart of the Atacama Salar, on the edge of the Cejas Lagoons, where the scene of the turquoise water against the white crust of salt is reminiscent of an expressionist painting. You will be able to swim in the lagoons, which have a salt concentration equal to that of the Dead Sea (40%). In the evening you will watch the wonderful sunset on the Licancabur Vulcano (5,916m), located just on the border with Bolivia. This volcano will be your landmark all along the trail. Approx. 6 hours riding.

DAY 3 - Beter Ruins & Tulor Ruins

Ride towards the ruins of Beter, where the Spanish built their first colonial village and see some of it, which is mostly buried under the sand dunes. The first inhabitants settled here 11,000 years ago. Their remains are fantastic relics of the archaeological past of this area. The trail continues towards the Ruins of Tulor, a 3,000 year old settlement, established by the Lickanantay culture (native people of the area). It is still possible to see ruins of their houses, which are preserved by the sand dune that covered them but also contributed to their destruction. This real open-sky museum is made up of 22 circular houses and where the culture of San Pedro extended itself with its ceramics, basketwork, metallurgies, ritual customs, legends, myths and religious ceremonies. Tonight you will spend the night at the oasis of Tulor, where you can swim in the oasis of irrigation canals. Approx. 6 hours riding

DAY 4 - Moon Valley & Death Valley

Today you will ride across the mysterious Moon Valley. As its name suggests, its geological formations and colours curiously reminds us of the Moon. You’ll canter across its sand dunes, passing through tunnels, natural caves and holes in the rock face. If you listen carefully you might hear the rumble of the rocks that creak as if they are trying to whisper! Leaving Moon Valley behind us, you reach the ledge of the Salt Cordillera. It is a pre-cordillera, created by the erosion that further East turns into the majestic Andean Cordillera. The wind blows in strong gusts here, building new natural sculptures all the time. From its edge, you can see the whole of Death Valley and its huge sand dunes, where people practice Sandboard. Also well-known as Mars Valley, this enigmatic place will impress you. This nights camping is at the petroglyphs next to 'La Piedra de la Coca', a gigantic stone, where former ‘atacameños’ spat coca for a good journey. It’s still possible today to see the chewed coca leafs but also the petroglyphs and rock drawings that represent hunting scenes. These archaeological remains are the proof that Caravans used the same route years before we ever came here. Approx. 7 to 8 hours riding.

DAY 5 - Rio Salado, Cerro Curon

Passing through lovely landscapes, you will cross the Rio Salado (Salt River) and again find ancient petroglyphs, representing lamas, foxes, caravans and shamans. Some of these petroglyphs have been here for more than 2,000 years. We follow their route riding across amazing landscapes and after climbing up a steep, rocky slope we arrive at Cerro Curon. Tonight you will camp at an altitude of 3,700m. This area is the favourite place of Viscachas, a strange Andean rodent that looks something like a cross between a rabbit and a squirrel. Approx. 7 – 8 hours riding.

DAY 6 - Rio Grande, Village of Machuca

Río Grande will appear eastwards. It is an Atacameñan village, from where we start to climb into the Andean highlands. The town of Rio Grande is characterised by its houses built entirely with volcanic stones, a thatched roof and cactus wood. You will love its charming little church. You will ride slowly upwards along the small path used many years ago by the caravans and still used today by the highland travellers for cattle drives towards the lowlands. Our path leading to Machuca will follow a winding little river, slowly the scenery changes, and we start to see terrace cultivation. The river opens and we find 'Bofedal' (llama habitat) of Machuca, a small village located at an altitude of 4,015m and where people make their living entirely from llama breeding. This quaint little village has just one single street and a stunning little church. Tonight you will camp beside a shallow lagoon next to the village. Approx. 6 hours riding.

DAY 7 - Oasis of Guatin

You will begin to hit high altitude, so we will continue a bit slower southeast towards the Turipiti ravine. You will start to see the wide landscapes and grasslands of the Andean Highlands and a great view of San Pedro and further south over the famous Atacama Salar, from where you started the ride. The aim of that day’s ride is Guatin, a river oasis situated at 3,200m. It’s a beautiful spot, which mixes both desert and flora so well and is such contrast. There are some natural waterfalls where we can take a refreshing shower, with sand iner foot. The gorge is also known as Cactus valley, because of the hundreds of cactus it contains, which can easily reach heights of 8 meters. Camp tonight is by a river bank. Approx. 6 hours riding.

DAY 8 - The Devil’s Ravine, Catarpe Valley

Leaving the oasis of Guatin, you will follow a quiet road with great views of the whole of Andean depression, from San Pedro over to the Salar de Atacama. Here you will be able to see clearly how far we have ridden over the past week, it’s incredible and you will feel amazing at your achievement! Early afternoon we reach 'La Quebrada del Diablo' (The Devil’s Ravine), a narrow ravine located inside the Salt Mountain Range. This natural labyrinth is like something out of a Western movie. Later you reach River San Pedro, which feeds the lush green vegetation of the Catarpe valley, creating a surprising contrast against the dryness of the desert. In this area you’ll see shepherds at work, leading their animals to pasture (sheeps, goats, cows, llamas). This is our last camp of the trip, along the San Pedro River. Time to enjoy a dip in the river and have a wash! Approx. 5 hours.

DAY 9 - Riding back to San Pedro

Our last day riding and you will follow the River San Pedro for a while until you the second part of The Devil's Ravine, which is spectacular. After you reach the Catarpe valley, you will ride to San Pedro and back to the ranch. Not quite finished, you’ll make a trip through the town of Quitor, to visit an ancient stronghold (Pukara de Quitor) of the 12th century. The fortress is in a strategic place; located on the top of a hill, it dominates the whole area as far as the river San Pedro. These incredible constructions were built 700 years ago and were used as a defence by the natives against the Incas and later on against the Spanish, who invaded in 1540. Nowadays it’s a national monument, housing archaeological remains of the pre-Inca architecture. Free afternoon - San Pedro has an interesting archaeological museum, where you can see an important collection of pre-Hispanic objects, discovered in the region (ceramics, textile, metal). There’s also some great shopping, ponchos, hats and lively places to eat and drink with very warm welcomes. Or you may just want to shower and have a nap! In the evening, you will all head back to the ranch for a farewell barbecue to talk about the experience, take in your achievements and say your sad goodbyes. The last night accommodation is at the local guesthouse located in the centre of San Pedro. Approx. 5 hours riding

DAY 10 - Goodbye and Transfer to Calama

You will be taken back to the Airport for our flight home.

DESTINATION MAP top

Getting There
International flights to Calama, via Santiago, Chile

Transfer
The transfer is included on arrival and departure days. It’s a 1 ½ hour trip to San Pedro.

Zara’s Planet Horse Riding Holidays Guarantee:

All our horse riding holidays hold a price guarantee. We believe in your piece of mind on price when you book one of our horse riding holidays and will refund the difference should you find the same horse riding holiday elsewhere at a lower price.

If you are having trouble finding exactly the right horse riding holiday for you from our horse riding holidays collection, please contact us directly using the form below and tell us in your own words what you would like to do and we will use our extensive knowledge to make sure we find that perfect horse riding holiday.

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Chile Holidays Testimonials

Amy Maloney on Patagonia Trail Rides, Chile

From start to finish, our trip truly felt blessed. We saw condors on the way to the penguin colony. Not just high in the sky. These condors swooped down and were surfing the wind right in front and to the side of our van, as if welcoming us and leading the way. Later in the

Amy Maloney