its desert along the coast from ica
peru south. what the maps call the atacama, appears to be in chile.
antofagasta chile might be a good base hub for you david. its easier to
find good accomodations and transport connections in the larger cities.
however, if you can talk and bargain, the better deals are in the small towns
near the sites. hotels and hostels might give you leads.
leave pictures of your driver, and
his vehicle with plate, at your hotel desk, with your itinerary, and expected
return time. this may keep him honest, and you wont end up looking like
the guy pictured below.
try getting a rate for a full day, or
the entire trek duration. often this saves money. at xian china, i
was able to hire a taxi for $20/day, morning until night.