Hiring a Car in the Atacama – Off the Beaten Track

All prices are correct as of 1st July 2015
(If you can update these prices then please get in touch)

£1 = $1.56 and $1008 Chilean Pesos when published

What follows is not a poetic account of how beautiful and stunning the Atacama is (even though it CERTAINLY was), but a practical list of all the steps we took, places we visited, and costs for as much as I can remember to plan and organise the trip ourselves by 4×4.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t MEANT to be the cheaper option (though it would be with enough people), but it IS a more creative way to see some of the highlights. I did some maths before and afterwards, and it turns out that doing it independently cost us a bit more than if we had taken the standard tours, but it was SO worth it.


Hotel Candelaria

This was a fairly budget option (San Pedro De Atacama is pricey) and was a very clean, pleasant double room with hot water, wi-fi, and a fantastic breakfast. It was outside the main gringo area of town which was great. You are going to be up early, and all that blaring hostel-music is pretty annoying. The cost was CLP24,000 / £24.00 per night.

Note: This place was okay, but nothing special, so I would just see what booking.com has to offer when you’re heading this way.


Car Hire (Europcar)

This was the only car hire agency in San Pedro and was super professional the entire time. They gave us a spiffing 4×4 which seemed very sturdy and we had no problems with.

We had the car for 1 night (we collected at 5pm, then dropped back 24 hours later) and also paid for the optional excess cover. Basically, we paid a touch more so that in the event of a breakdown or accident, ANY damage was covered and lowering the excess.

The total cost was 130,000 / £130 – if you were braver and could be sure you wouldn’t crash you could have it for around 90,000 / £90

Fuel Budget

In total for our entire day of driving and touring around, we spent CLP 50,000 / £50.00.

This may seem high but I cannot STRESS just how much we drove with that money. We covered  500  kilometres to see all the sights we did, and as the Atacama is ENORMOUS, it took plenty of time to get from A to B therefore, only £50.00 is actually really good value.

Note: The petrol station is really hard to find so ask before you leave the rental place.


Sights and Getting Around


The staff at Europcar gave us an incredibly useful free map which made driving to each place super easy. We were all ready to screen-grab google maps on our phones; but no need, the road map had all the destinations, KM markers, highway numbers etc. The roads were really well constructed and easily sign posted. It was one of the easiest drives imaginable as, the Atacama is made up of these wild landscapes dotted with seemingly endless straight roads; perfect!


It's worth noting that all of these sights were spectacular in their own way, but what was TRULY special was that we timed our arrival either before or after all the numerous tour companies were there. In almost all cases we had the scenery totally to ourselves. In particular, since NO tours visit the Altiplano lakes at dawn, we decided to make them our first stop. We set off at 5am from our hotel and got the privilege of seeing the sun rise over the mighty mountains and lakes with nobody around. We were the only humans for miles around an it was the single most memorable and romantic scene of our lives so far.

Various costs incurred                     

Of course, since everybody has a different budget and different standards, there are MANY options for eating/drinking in and around San Pedro De Atacama. As a general rule, the town is set up for tour groups and eating out proved far too costly for us. As a result, we bought supplies and cooked at our hotel; this was the best way to stay on budget and also, eat our own meals under the magnificent Atacama Desert sky. Cheap AND stunning win win.

  • Breakfast for two at a roadside eatery: CLP 8,000 (£8.00)
  • Coffee and snacks for two people from a highway garage: CLP 5,000 (£5.00)
  • A 500ML soft drink bottle: CLP 1,000 (£1.00)
  • 1.5 Litre bottle of water: CLP 1,600 (£1.60)
  • Raw vegetables and pasta for two: CLP 2,500 (£2.50)
  • Café con leche in a restaurant: CLP 2,000 (£2.00)
  • entrance fee: CHP 5,000 each (£5.00)

General hints and tips

  • There is only ONE working ATM in town and most places don’t accept cards; bring PLENTY of Pesos with you and split the money over all of your bags for safety.
  • Its deliciously sunny and hot during the day, so wear sun screen….bring this with you as, it’s expensive in San Pedro De Atacama.
  • There are a MILLION tour agencies in town including lots that offer stargazing; we went with Atacama Desert Stargazing, who were based on the main plaza. It was only CHP 20,000 (£20.00) each and was a nice activity. There was an unlimited hot chocolate supply and big telescopes to squint into J
  • It is COLD in the desert at night and first thing in the morning. If you think you have the right amount of layers on, add one more layer. It’s THAT cold.

If you have been here and the prices have changed then please let me know. Or if you have any questions then either leave a comment below, social media or use the contact page.

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