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Getting There

By Plane -- Calama's Aeropuerto El Loa (CJC; tel. 55/361956) is served by LANExpress (tel. 600/526-2000; www.lan.com), Sky Airline (tel. 600/600282), and Aerolíneas del Sur (tel. 800/710-3000). LAN has up to five daily flights from Santiago weekdays and three on weekends; Sky has two daily flights, and Aerolíneas del Sur has one Sunday through Friday. A taxi to Calama costs $7.60 (£5.10). To get to San Pedro de Atacama, Transfer Licancabur (tel. 55/334194) offers transfer services from 7am to 7:30pm for $12 (£8) and, for a minimum of four people, for $20 (£13) after 7:30pm. Services are scheduled to coincide with each plane's arrival from Santiago, so you shouldn't have to wait long to be on your way. You will also be dropped off at your hotel, making a taxi ride an unnecessary expenditure; a taxi will cost about $70 (£47) -- be sure to fix a price before leaving the airport. Note: The airport doesn't have an ATM.

By Bus -- Unless you are time rich and money poor, the 21-hour bus journey from Santiago to Calama, plus another hour to get to San Pedro, is a torturously long ride that is best avoided. True enough, buses cost about half the cheapest plane fare, but even a salón cama, with reclining seats, hardly mitigates this painstaking journey. Tur Bus (tel. 600/660-6600) has service to Calama that carries on to San Pedro, leaving from Santiago's Terminal Alameda; Pullman (tel. 600/320-3200; www.pullman.cl) leaves from Terminal San Borja but does not go on to San Pedro, so you'll need to transfer in Calama. Buses to Calama leave about eight times per day. Prices for a salón cama are $60 (£40) one-way on Pullman and $65 (£43) on Tur Bus to San Pedro.

By Car -- It takes more than 20 hours to drive to Calama from Santiago. The final 12 hours of the journey beget a mind-altering landscape of surreal, barren landscapes. If you do choose to rent, rental cars are available at the Calama airport and in town. Roadside service is available from rental agencies, but without any services or phones on most roads, you will have to flag someone down for help -- if someone comes along, that is. If you stay on main routes, you should have no problem, but outside of that, be prepared for the worst, and bring extra water and food and warm clothes in case you must spend the night on the road. A 4*4 is unnecessary, unless you plan an expedition along poorly maintained roads.

The airport has rental kiosks for Avis (tel. 600/601-9966 or 55/363325; www.avischile.cl), Budget (tel. 2/362-3200; www.budget.cl), and Hertz (tel. 2/420-5222 or 55/341380; www.hertz.cl). Rates include insurance. Alamo (tel. 2/225-3061; www.alamochile.com) is the cheapest, but you may want to check with a local agency when you arrive at the airport for deals. Tip: Fill your gas tank in Calama. The sole pump in San Pedro charges at least 30% more.

By Train -- One of Latin America's great remaining railway journeys links Calama with Uyuni in Bolivia. It's a rustic, fascinating trip along beautiful salt lakes and smoking volcanoes, but it's also grueling, and officially scheduled to take some 23 hours, with frequent delays. Trains leave Calama Wednesdays at 10pm, in theory reaching the border village of Ollagüe at 6:50am. The station is at Balmaceda 1777 (tel. 55/348900).

Bolivian Visas & Emergencies

If you need a visa for Bolivia, the Bolivian consulate is on Pedro León Gallo 1985, a few blocks south of the main square. It's open Monday through Friday from 9am to 4pm (tel. 55/341976).

The main hospital "Dr. Carlos Cisternas" is on the street of the same name (tel. 55/655700; 55/655810 for emergencies).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.