The Wicked Experience: 12 Day Itinerary from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama
Hiring a Wicked Camper from Wicked South America has always been on our bucket list, so it was inevitable we were going to tick it off at some point during our year in South America. After researching all the incredible destinations in Northern Argentina and San Pedro de Atacama, we knew we needed our own camper to explore what we wanted, when we wanted and how we wanted, without having to pay for tours.
This road trip has been filled with the most magnificent views we have ever seen, lots of laughter, lot’s of kilometres and lots of excitement! Do yourself a favour, hire your own funky Wicked Camper and go to each and every one of these places and experience what this incredible part of the world has to offer! You won’t regret it.
If you can’t be bothered reading our itinerary, at least watch the below video for our highlights!
Day 1-2: Santiago – Mendoza
After picking up the car from Wicked South America, off we went straight to Mendoza – known for the best Malbec and olive oil in Argentina. We arrived at night-time and set up camp in a carpark we found just outside of town that was next to a tomato field. Naturally, we cooked tomatoes for breakfast the next morning and then went straight to Maipu Bikes to hire bicycles and ride around to the different wineries. For $300 Argentinian pesos for a full day and the promise of free happy hour and food from 5pm-6pm, we thought this was quite reasonable! Maipu Bikes gave us a full rundown of the best and cheapest wineries to visit and we were on our way! It was such an amazing day tasting wine and exploring this region of Argentina.
Day 3: Mendoza – Barreal
The drive from Mendoza to Barreal was the beginning of the incredible scenic drive through to Northern Argentina. We made plenty of stops along the way at lakes, lookouts and small towns. We drove through the town Barreal and had a stroll around before continuing on to see Cerro Alcazar that is approximately 20km outside of the town. We found ourselves surrounded by gloriously large rock formations that we could climb up and see the view over mountains and paddocks in the distance. We drove a bit further out of town that afternoon, to a wild campsite we found on the trusty iOverlander app. In our opinion, it was the most beautiful campsite we stayed at on the entire trip! It was located down a winding dirt track and nestled at the foot of the Andes Mountains in a valley. We had a gushing river flowing past us, which was the perfect way to cool down, relax and wash some clothes.
Day 4: Barreal – Talampaya National Park - Belen
This was by far our longest day of driving and also one of our most exciting! Driving along the Andes Mountains was an experience in itself. We came across an abundance of wildlife including llamas, donkeys, horses and cows. We stopped A LOT, getting some exciting footage of the animals and scenes surrounding us.
We were one our way to visit and camp at Talampaya National Park so we could set off early the next morning and explore the gorges, 143m high rock formations and learn about the dinosaur history. However, what we didn’t realise was that we needed to do a tour in order to go exploring! Unfortunately, we totally converted the price of the tours wrong and decided to keep on driving (biggest. regret. EVER!), so make sure you get yourself on a tour to explore this beautiful park and learn about the history behind it.
We cooked dinner in the carpark outside the camping section and decided to continue on driving in order to get closer to Cafayate, so the next days drive would be shorter. We set up camp in a town called Belen late at night next to a river and left early the next morning to continue on our journey!
Day 5: Belen – Cafayate
With just a 3.5 hour drive ahead of us, we woke up early in order to arrive in Cafayate before lunchtime. We set up camp at the peaceful campsite called Camping Luz y Fuerza which had nice, hot showers and was a perfect walking distance to the main town square. We walked into town for lunch and shared a bottle of Cafayates famous Torrontes wine and tasted their Malbec and Torrontes flavoured ice creams! By this time, we were ready to hit a vineyard! We drove around and found an amazing bodega (winery) called Bodega Piatelli. With vast vineyards, a beautiful view of the mountains and a serene outdoor dining area, we knew we were set for the afternoon.
Day 6: Cafayate – Salta
Known as the most beautiful drive in Argentina, Cafayate to Salta. This drive winds passed the country’s most impressive rock formations; Quebradas de las Conchas. The unusual shapes of these rocks have been formed by wind, rain and cold, harsh weather conditions. Make sure you leave early from Cafayate as you’ll be making a lot of stops along the way to take photos and enjoy the views.
When we arrived in Salta at approximately 4pm, we decided to go straight to the Museum of High Altitude (MAAM), which is close to the town square. This museum was definitely a highlight for us, we learnt all about the Incan culture and saw one of the three mummified Incan children that were found in the 90’s. The museum rotates the display of these children; you can read more about the museum and which of the three children are currently displayed here.
Salta is renowned for its folklore culture and peñas. Peñas in Argentina revolve around lots of food, music, drinking and dancing, so we knew we had to experience one of these gatherings! We ventured to an authentic peña restaurant called La Casona del Molino (The Mill House). We arrived as the doors opened at 9pm and got a table and enjoyed the good wine, atmosphere and authentic music.
Fun fact: Empanadas are thought to have originated from Salta! So, naturally we went out and ordered all the empanadas from an awesome restaurant called Doña Empanada that is in the main town centre.
Day 7: Salta – Humahuaca
Another short driving day of 3.5 hours! We had a quiet morning in a coffee shop planning the next section of our roadtrip. The drive to Humahuaca was a beautiful one. You will pass the Seven Coloured Mountains in Purmamarca (which we were doubling back to on day 9) and drive along some extremely windy and fun roads! Humahuaca is home to the lesser known but more beautiful attraction, the Fourteen Coloured Mountains. We camped at a lovely little site called El Rincon, which was close to the road which leads directly up to the Fourteen Coloured Mountains.
Day 8: Humahuaca - Tilcara
Unfortunately for us, it was a rainy day, which meant we couldn’t make it up to see the Fourteen Coloured Mountains. Instead we found a small coffee shop in town to spend the rainy morning and then decided to drive back south to the small pre-hispanic archaeological town of Tilcara. The town was quaint and beautiful to explore. We had lunch at a trendy little restaurant and enjoyed our downtime out of the rain.
By later in the afternoon the sun was starting to show, the rain had stopped and we had the ambition to tackle the road up to the Fourteen Coloured Mountains! Off we went back to Humahuaca and started the drive up. It was muddy. We got about a quarter of the way before we had to surrender to the muddy track and retreat back to our campsite. We were determined to try again in the morning once the track had time to dry out.
Day 9: Humahuaca - Fourteen Coloured Mountains - Purmamarca
It was sunny!! Off we went early in the morning to start the drive up to see the Fourteen Coloured Mountains. It was a beautiful drive up around the mountain and the track was finally dry enough to drive up without any issues whatsoever.
We arrived at the entrance of the lookout and for a small A$50 fee (US$1), we entered to see the most outstanding view of our lives. It was such an overwhelming experience to witness what was in front of us. We parked the car and ran down the hill to get a closer look from the mirador point. We sat there in awe just looking at the postcard view in front of us and took in every moment.
From Humahuaca we ventured back to Purmamarca, the home of the more popular Seven Coloured Mountains. These mountains surround the town giving it a beautifully picturesque, scenic view. We parked up, strolled through the town square and browsed all the markets filled with alpaca wool clothing and toys. It was really a gorgeous spot to be in! We found a wonderful campsite just outside of town called Luna Garcia. Our campsite had a pathway out the back that lead us passed the Seven Coloured Mountains and up to the lookout point. We took a picnic blanket, some snacks and a bottle of wine up to the hill and watched the sun set over the multi-coloured mountains.
When we returned, we befriended one of the owners of the campsite and he walked us to town and took us out for dinner at a local restaurant where his friends were playing music and we enjoyed a beautiful night of broken Spanish, local beer and authentic food (Trent tried the local llama dish!).
Day 10 - Purmamarca - San Pedro de Atacama
Still on a high after the amazing views over the last few days we were eager to see what amazing beauties the Atacama Desert had install for us. We left Purmamarca around 10am, but we didn’t get far before pulling over to take some snaps of the seemingly impossible steep and windy road that hugged the mountain that our car only just managed to climb.
After crossing the border from Argentina into Chile we immediately began to realise just how beautiful the next few days of our trip were going to be. Within a few minutes we passed huge salt planes at the foot of a spectacular coloured mountain and could not help but stop and capture its beauty. This set the scene for the rest of the days driving; over the top of every hill came a new and incredible landscape.
After what should have been a 6 hour drive we arrived at 7.30pm (9.5 hours later, oops!). We grabbed some supplies from the supermarket in town and headed to our campsite at Andes Nomads Desert Camp. Although it was a bit more expensive than we were used to paying, this was a great little spot just south of town with views of the surrounding mountains, volcanoes and a killer stargazing spot!
Day 11 - Laguna Miscanti, Miñiques and Chaxa
We had an early start for what we predicted to be another huge day of driving and site seeing. Soon after sunrise we took off for Laguna Miscanti and Miñiques. The early morning light made for some more incredible views through the desert as we passed red rock canyons, volcanos and salt flats.
Upon arriving at Laguna Miscanti and Miñiques our eyes were instantly drawn to the contrasting colours of the turquoise water sitting at the foot of the picturesque snow-capped mountains. Together, with the llamas and abundance of rare birds this made for an unforgettable memory and postcard worthy photos.
Our next stop was Laguna Chaxa, this lagoon is settled in amongst a huge salt flat and is the feeding grounds to hundreds of flamingoes. Every afternoon around sunset, the flamingoes flock together to perform their ritual of feeding in one lake. It really is a beautiful sight to see.
Although we thought this day was going to be a long one, we managed to tick off all of our intended stops soon after lunch. We headed back to camp for a well-deserved lazy afternoon accompanied by a few local beers.
Day 12- High Altitude Geysers, Rainbow Valley, Coyote Lookout, Moon Valley and Stargazing
After realising yesterday that we were able to accomplish more in one day then we originally thought, we decided to try and fit our next two days into one! Challenge accepted!
Waking up at 4.30am we packed up camp and set upon our drive to the High Altitude Geysers, nestled high in a volcanic crater 2 hours north of the town of San Pedro de Atacama. We were told that they are the most active early in the morning and would be the most spectacular time to view them. And spectacular it was! Arriving at the geysers 30 minutes before the sun rose over the mountains it was a sight that seemed out of this world. Boiling water bubbling and shooting out of the ground from beneath our feet was such a surreal sight. The thick white steam filled the sky surrounding us whilst the backdrop was of spectacular snow-capped mountains. Not a bad way to start a Tuesday morning in our opinion!
After a few hours of driving (and stopping to take photos of all the llamas along the way) we arrived at Rainbow Valley. A quiet destination in a canyon filled with unique rock formations, tinted with amazing contrasting colours. We pulled into a spot at the end of the canyon and had lunch in one of the most beautiful places we have ever sat to have a meal, but not for to long as we still had plenty of places to visit before the day was done!
“WOW!” These were the first words to escape our huge smiles as we walked to the humongous cliff edge that was Coyote lookout. We both started to feel breathless as our eyes adjusted to the remarkable scenery!
The landscapes looked like it belonged to a foreign planet and standing at the edge of this canyon left a lasting impression, let us tell you!
Thinking that we had seen the best of it by now was our first mistake, loosing the bottle opener to the bottle of red we intended on drinking during our next stop was our second mistake, BUT there was no mistaking how incredibly beautiful the sunsets at Moon Valley are!
We sat on the top of the rocky peak and watched the colourful setting sky fade to darkness and reveal a milky sky full of thousands of stars. Admiring these starts sparked the idea to do a star gazing tour. We quickly raced into town to see if there were any tours still available for the night and sure enough we got the last two spots! We spent the next two hours learning about the star signs and looking at distant stars and galaxies through huge telescopes while sipping on hot chocolate.
After what seemed to be a never-ending day, we finally set up camp at 11pm and slept like babies!
If we haven’t yet convinced you to get a wicked camper and go, then our semi-nude expeditions surely will:
Of course, the last 12 days weren’t ALL perfect!
Here are some things that didn’t quite make it into our final video edits from above.
We got totally bogged in mud at 1am whilst trying to find somewhere to camp. Two men came out of their cosy homes to help push the car while I navigated the car in reverse!
The longest we had to go without showers was SIX whole days #STANKY
After waiting 3 months to get our drone back from repair, ONE OF US (it was Trent) flew the new drone into a giant cactus (DM us on Instagram to receive for the now-hilarious picture of our drone stuck in a 5m tall cactus!)
We ran out of fuel and had to fabricate a funnel out of a milk carton in order to fill the tank with the jerry can, it was more difficult than it sounds!
We forgot about the law “all vehicles must have their headlights on at all times”. We got pulled over by the police for AGES and potentially have a $450 fine on the way...we couldn’t understand if they said they were actually going to mail it or not.
We didn’t check the weather forecast and went camping in high altitude when there was snow forecast. We had so many layers on we couldn’t move and we STILL felt like we were freezing to death.
We got stuck on one of the steepest roads in South America whilst trying to find a spot to camp and DAMN it was scary! It felt like our car was on a 65-degree angle and our tires were spinning trying to get us to the top. We couldn’t make it up and had to reverse all the way down...we were afraid the car would roll if we tried to do a 3-point turn to turn around!
Believe it or not, the list goes on...
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