MOST POPULAR DESTINATIONS

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

BOOK HOLIDAYS

We GUARANTEE you won't find the same horse riding holiday at a lower price through any other source... and if you do, we promise to refund the difference!

from £1,235 or €1,440

Horse Riding Holidays Chile – Atacama Desert Ride

PRICES & DATES top

Atacama Desert Ride: Prices 2023

GBP, £ EUR, € USD, $
Choose your currency

  • 10 day trail – To be confirmed
  • Ranch stay – 7 nights/5 days riding – $1,533
    • GBP: 1,235
    • EUR: 1,408
    per person sharing

Atacama Desert Ride: Dates 2023

Dates are available throughout the year, with a minimum of 2 riders.

The 10 day trail is perfect for those of you looking for a full ride through the desert.

Alternatively, you can stay on the ranch near San Pedro and have daily rides into the Atacama desert. Perfect if you are travelling in South America and Chile and have limited time, we can organise shorter trail rides from 3 nights onwards. Available all year and no minimum riders.

Note: Rates are subject to daily exchange rate fluctuations, please refer to our ‘Terms & Conditions’ for full details.

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

Excluded – Drinks, flights and tips.

Getting There
International flights to Calama, via Santiago, Chile

Transfer
The transfer is included on arrival and departure days.

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

WARNING: This ride is ONLY for adventurous riders, who can adapt easily to a harsh environment. There is no room on these rides for anyone that require a huge amount of support physically and mentally. You need to be fit and independently minded and be able to work as a team, with the needs of the horses and the team to be considered at all times before your own.

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 2 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.

For the ranch stay, the accommodation is very comfortable, the ranch which lies just a 10 minute walk from
the centre of the bustling town of San Pedro. Plus they have bikes, if you fancy cycling! All the rooms are tastefully decorated in a local style, with luxury washrooms and a terrace looking out to nature.

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.

Please Ask About
There are lots of other things to see and do while you are in San Pedro and on the doorstep 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

Atacama Desert Trail

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.

SAMPLE ITINERARY top

Atacama Desert Ranch Stay

There are a variety of trail rides each day to follow which will be discussed and decided when
you arrive. Please see below for a list of the daily trail rides.

Cejas Lagoon
After a hearty breakfast, we shall leave San Pedro and ride south towards the Salar de
Atacama, a huge salt depression of 320000 ha. 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.
You will be able to swim and float in the lagoons, which have a salt concentration equal to
that of the Dead Sea (40%).
Riding Time: 8 hours

Beter Ruins & Tulor Ruins
This archaeological ride, will lead you to the ruins of Beter, where the Spaniard established
their first colonial village. From there you will have a wonderful view on this ancient village,
which is nowadays partially covered by the sand. It has been preserved thanks to the sand
dunes, which have also contributed to its destruction. It is still possible to find some antique
ceramics, buried under the sand.
We follow our ride to the ruins of Túlor, sculpted by the sand and the wind. This ancient
atacameñean village date from more than 3 000 years and was inhabited in its time by about
200 inhabitants. Today thanks to an investigation project that enabled to take off 10% of the
sand present on the site, it is possible to visit this former village as a real museum. Original
habitations have been recreated and rebuilt with the same materials used centuries earlier
(with cob for walls and wood for the roofs). You will also appreciate the watchtower and the
small museum located in Túlor.The mind full of beautiful pictures and antique stories, which
will take us back to ancestral era, we will ride back to the ranch.
Riding Time: 5 hours

Catarpe Valley & Death Valley
This is one of the most incredible ride you can do in the area. You will discover an amazing
amount of different landscapes. We will cross rivers, see green vegetation and ride along
huge sand dunes.
Additionally you will get a fantastic view on the whole valley of San Pedro (an Andean
depression) and its surroundings. After riding through the Catarpe valley we will climb to the Toro way up to the cliff, the highest part of the salt cordillera, where we will have a little
break to enjoy the beauty of this place. On the way back we ride through the death valley
with its big dunes.
Riding Time: 5 hours

Moon Valley
The moon-valley with its strange rock and salt formations lies 15 km southwest of San Pedro
hidden within the Salt Mountain Range. We leave the ranch riding through a nice part of the
Atacama Desert in direction to this Salt Mountain Range.
After climbing a big sand dune we continue on a small way, which is only accessible by
horse or by foot. In a quiet pace – or a little faster if you wish it – we will ride through the
amazing nature, formed by the erosion of the wind and water. You will feel like on another
planet: The Moon. Reaching the heart of the valley we will have a little break to enjoy the
place and take some beautiful pictures. On the way back we will go through a stunning
canyon.

Catarpe Valley & Devil’s Canyon
Following the Catarpe Valley in the north of San Pedro we will find the river San Pedro,
which enables vegetation to grow. The contrast of colors between the desert´s color and the
green of the valley is simply incredible.
On the way back we will ride through the Devil’s ravine (Quebrada del diablo), which is
made of spectacular rock formations. This narrow ravine located inside the Salt Mountain
Range is a real natural labyrinth, that offers landscapes worthy of the North American
westerns.
Riding Time: 5 hours

DESTINATION MAP top

 

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.

CHECK AVAILABILITY top

Please use the message box below to provide additional and any other relevant information like your riding experience and for how many people.

Also, if the above Holiday describes few different options for your Horse Riding Holiday in the area - please add a note on which choice you are referring to. Thank you.


Current Weather Around Chile
17°
clear sky
humidity: 42%
wind: 10m/s W
H 16 • L 13
13°
Mon
12°
Tue
12°
Wed
17°
Thu
Weather from OpenWeatherMap

Chile Holidays Testimonials

Katharine Taylor on Glacier View Trail, Chile

Safe home and functioning more hopefully than less. Fabulous holiday. Liver needs to go onto detox, dancing skills improved, riding and kayaking needless to say great!

Katharine Taylor from Scotland