Are you travelling from Santiago to Calama & the Atacama Desert? Whether you fly, take the bus, or drive yourself, these are the best options for you!
One of the questions I always get asked is “how to get from Santiago to the Atacama Desert in Chile?” Well, first of all you need to get to Calama in northern Chile.
Travelling from Santiago to Calama is a fairly straight forward journey, but there are a few ways of doing it. That’s why I wanted to go through the different options, to help those of you who don’t which one is the best option. Sometimes we all need a little push in the right direction!
The journey to Calama and San Pedro de Atacama (the major tourist town for northern Chile and the one everyone bases themselves for the Atacama Desert) is either long and arduous or quick and easy. It all depends on what type of traveller you are and whether you want to splash out on a flight or not.
The bus from Santiago to Calama takes approximately 22 hours and will set you back $40,000 (US$60). Compare that to a 1.5 hour flight for approximately $90,000 (US$134) and it’s a pretty simple decision, at least for me anyway.
Also, with flying, you’ll get some of the best views of the mountains and desert which you just wouldn’t get from a bus window. Win win.
Anyway, I’ll talk about the bus first. Obviously the decision is yours at the end of the day!
Taking the bus from Santiago to Calama
A number of buses (Turbus, Pullman and Condor) leave from Terminal Alameda in Santiago. Usually these buses leave in the morning, and as I said, they take a day to get to Calama.
Also, if you’re heading to the Atacama Desert, you can catch the Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama bus. If you can, make sure you get this one so you don’t have to get a taxi once you get to Calama. This will save you time and money at the end of a long journey.
San Pedro de Atacama is a tiny little town, so it doesn’t matter which bus station you get dropped off at, you’ll be able to walk to wherever you’re staying at within five minutes.
Now, sitting on a bus for 25 hours might not sound like the most fun, but all buses in South America are classy and comfortable, so sleeping isn’t really a problem; it’s just the rest of the time you need to fill!
Cost – If you book in advanced, you can get a return ticket for as cheap as $38,000 (US$56) for a semi-cama (a reclinable seat). However, during high season the price increases dramatically up to $72,000 (US$107), so make sure you research it beforehand and book your tickets online.
Flights from Santiago to Calama
If you’re flying from Santiago to Calama then LATAM is the main airline to fly with.
The airport you fly into is the mining town of Calama, 90 kms from San Pedro de Atacama, and it is a further hour and a half to get to the tourist town by taxi (this will set you back $10,000 one-way, $20,000 return, which seems quite steep but there’s not a lot you can do about it).
There are some cheaper buses from the airport to San Pedro de Atacama, but these are quite infrequent and didn’t work with our early flight times.
If you’re booking in advanced you can actually pick up some really really cheap return tickets (I just looked on Sky Airlines and found a return for as cheap at US$80!), but you do need to book about two months in advanced to get the best promotions.
On the flip side, if you book last minute, tickets can sky rocket up to approximately $200,000 (US$296) a ticket so if you’re heading to the Atacama Desert it really is worthwhile thinking about how you’re going to get there way beforehand.
It goes without saying, but I really enjoyed the Santiago to Calama flight. It was quick, easy, and the views were amazing too. It’s such a good way of seeing Chile.
Cost – Anywhere between US$80 to US$300. This is by far the quickest option of travelling from Santiago to Atacama Desert. You can check out some of the best northern Chile flights below:
Other options of getting from Santiago to Atacama Desert
Obviously you can drive from Santiago to Calama, but this isn’t that much quicker than the bus, and Google Maps puts it down to approximately 17.5 hours to drive to San Pedro de Atacama.
Another option would be to hitchhike and break up the journey with a couple of overnights staying in places such as La Serana and Copiapo. Please note: hitchhiking is legal in Chile but always consider your safety at all times.
Summary of travelling between Santiago and Calama
Being a backpacker myself, I always try and keep the cost of travel down as much as possible, especially on things like transport, but in this case I would always recommend flying.
For a round trip you save yourself 41 hours (and that’s in journey time alone), and personally I think that’s worth spending a little extra money on. Also, if you’re organised and book everything in advanced flying isn’t actually that much more expensive!
Travelling from Santiago to the Atacama Desert is a very long journey, but I promise you it is worth it. The Atacama Desert is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to.
As I said, it’s all down to what type of traveller you are, but hopefully that’s cleared up how you get from Santiago to Calama!
Have you ever made the journey from Santiago to Calama in Chile? If so, how did you do it? Let everyone else know what you think the best option is below!
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