We’ll call January 2024 “the month we spent driving around the driest desert in the world”. We rang in the new year in Argentina then crossed into Chile on the first day of 2024 where we spent most of January 2024 sweating our way across various parts of the Atacama Desert which is officially the driest place on earth (there are areas of this vast desert that have never registered any rainfall). In total, we drove 1,250 miles (2,012 km) during January 2024. Here are highlights from our January 2024 road trip in Chile and Argentina including a route map, drive-lapse video, and photos.

paso san francisco January 2024 road trip

Crossing from Argentina back into Chile on New Year’s Day via the Paso San Francisco border crossing at 15,505 feet (4,726 meters).

January 2024 road trip in Argentina & Chile

After ringing in the new year with the lovely owners of El Zorro Gris guesthouse and cabins in Tinogasta, Argentina, we woke up on New Year’s Day and headed back over the Andes to cross into Chile using the  Paso San Francisco border crossing, at a lofty 15,505 feet (4,726 meters), for the first time on our journey.

laguna verde January 2024 road trip

Laguna Verde, just below the Paso San Francisco border crossing on the Chile side, may look tropical. However, at an elevation of 14,200 feet (4,328 meters), we can assure you that this high-altitude Andean lake is the opposite of tropical and that white stuff around it is salt, not powdery sand.

This route took us along Argentina’s Ruta Nacional 60 from Tinogasta to Paso San Francisco. On the Chile side, we continued on Ruta 36 which is also known as La Ruta Seismiles (The Route of the 6,000s) because the road passes more than 20 peaks that are higher than 19,685 feet (6,000 meters). This is the largest collection of 6,000-meter-plus mountains outside of the Himalayas. Some of the giants that can be seen are Pissis, Incahuasi, and Ojos del Salado, which, at 22,615 feet (6,893 meters), is the highest volcano in the world and the second-highest mountain in the Americas after Aconcagua. We checked out of Argentina at the bottom of the pass, crossed Paso San Francisco, and drove right past Ojos del Salado and a shockingly green lake on our way to flamingo-filled Laguna Santa Rosa in Nevado de Tres Cruces National Park where we spent the night in one of the most remote spots with a bed to sleep in.

bahia inglesa beach chile

Karen enjoying a bit of beach life in Bahia Inglesa, Chile.

Once we crossed into Chile, we were officially in the Atacama region and we remained in this vast area for the rest of the month, though the Atacama region doesn’t always look like a classic desert. For example, after leaving Laguna Santa Rosa, which sits at 13,678 feet (4,169 meters), we descended 140 miles (225 km), passing Copiapó which is the capital of the Atacama region, to reach Bahía Inglesa which is in the Atacama region but also on the ocean. We spent a relaxing nine days on the beach with our friend Brandi and her dog Charlie. We didn’t do much more than work, relax on the beach, and eat the sweetest scallops on the half-shell we’ve ever had. Oh, and Eric broke his foot getting into the shower which kept him lying on the couch with his foot wrapped in ice for most of the week. We did manage to visit the Mina San Jose located about 30 minutes from Bahía Inglesa. This is the mine that collapsed in 2010, trapping 33 miners 2,000 feet (609 meters) underground for more than seven weeks.

mano del desierto

Karen, Eric, Brandi, and Charlie at the Mano del Desierto sculpture.

We finally left the beach and headed north across the Atacama with Brandi and Charlie to reach the tourist town of San Pedro de Atacama which is located on the Salar de Atacama and serves as a gateway to the Atacama Desert. We covered a single-day distance of 475 miles (763 km) which is a very big day and only possible because Ruta 5 across the Atacama in Chile is a big modern highway. Along the way, we stopped (again) at the famous Mano del Desierto sculpture which we visited for the first time in early 2017 when we explored the San Pedro de Atacama are extensively. During this visit, we explored the Lagunas Altiplanicos (Lagunas Miscanti, Miñiques, Tayajto, and Piedras Rojas) and returned to Valle de Luna. We also dog-sat Charlie for a few days while Brandi hopped the border into Bolivia to visit the Salar de Uyuni.

Valle de luna dunes

Brandi, Eric, and Karen sunset hiking in the Valle de Luna area.

We had only intended to spend a few more days in San Pedro de Atacama before crossing back into Argentina when…that broken foot evolved into something more concerning. After a week of being mostly sedentary with a badly bruised and broken foot, followed by a 10+ hour drive to San Pedro, which sits at 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), followed by a few more mostly inactive days, followed by an evening hike in Valle de Luna, Eric awoke the next day with a severe charleyhorse in his calf. After two days of this unusually sharp pain, a quick Google search revealed this was likely a Deep Vein Thrombosis. Realizing this was serious, Eric went to the nearest hospital (60 miles/100 km away in the city of Calama), where the blood clot was confirmed and he was admitted for three days the put on blood thinners for three months. That was our first (and hopefully last) hospitalization during our nearly 17 years on the road.

Our complete January 2024 road trip driving route in Argentina and Chile can be seen in the map below:

See what we saw out there on the road in Argentina and Chile during our January 2024 road trip in our dashcam drive-lapse video, below. It was, as always, shot by our Brinno camera which is attached to our dashboard at all times.

 

Here’s more about travel in Argentina

Here’s more about travel in Chile

 

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