A TRIP TO THE ATACAMA DESERT
Some travelers rank the world’s driest desert as one of the most interesting extreme places to visit. Read our guide about this sandy spot in Chile
Words: Emily Georgieva
Photography: Keith Hardy
05 August 2019
A gift from nature, the Atacama Desert should be your next travel destination. Being there feels as if you’ve been transported to a place out of this world. On a clear night, you can see the sky from a god-like perspective because of the low pollution levels. Constellation lovers can enjoy nights under the star-filled sky that seemingly allows travellers to gaze into the cosmos almost as far as the Milky Way goes.
The desert texture feels alienated as well, and we mean this in the best way possible. The way nature has shaped the sand dunes of the Atacama Desert makes the landscape appear almost Moon-like. This sense of belonging to the universe is best experienced at The Valle de La Luna, otherwise known as the Valley of the Moon. We recommend that you plan an early trip to the rocky valley. Not only will you avoid the crowds of tourists, but will also witness a majestic view of the game of colours taking place on the desert horizon. The early birds should get ready to welcome the rising sun as the dunes will transform under the soft embrace of the daylight.
As any other typical desert, the Atacama Desert is hot and sticky during the day, while heavy darkness and coldness rule the area at nightfall. However, the minimal light pollution we mentioned earlier, guarantees stunning view of the night sky, while enhancing the darkness simultaneously. The lovers of the great outdoors will particularly enjoy the Atacama trip. The desert terrain is great for hiking, which is an irresistible opportunity to see of Chile’s solace caves, the salt flats and you could even encounter pink Andean flamingos in their natural habitat.
If you want to experience the desert to the fullest, know that you are in for an adventure. The Atacama is one of the few locations on Earth that hosts exceptional sunsets and sunrises, illuminating the landscape in soft, warm colours. Whatever you put in your travel itinerary, make sure that you are prepared – carry enough food with you, apply sunscreen regularly and sip on water often. The Atacama is proclaimed as the world’s driest desert because of the minimal rainfalls in the area. The nature of the place is naturally drier so consider this before starting your journey.
As you enter the desert, you will quite possibly stumble across a few tiny villages. Locals have previously given tourists some advice not to go searching for food and travel supplies in the smaller populated areas of those villages because it won’t be much useful. Part of getting to know the Atacama is being prepared to play by its rules.
The heat, the sand and the dust – those are the challenges that will complicate your journey. The altitude and the dusty roads have a distinctive influence over many tourists, but those are also part of the unique experience of visiting the desert. The Atacama indulges pastel colours not only through sunlight, but also with the water tones of the pools in the area. If you make your way to Laguna Tebinquinche, you will be able to enjoy the incredibly reflective surface of the lake that mirrors its surroundings in complete harmony. Near the Atacama salt flats lie the Cejars de Ojos. Both round pools seem to be identical in their proportional shape, making them a satisfying nature form to admire. The water pools are a great addition to the desert, making this Chile destination highly irresistible.
To best experience the culture of the Atacama’s indigenous people, you must plan a visit to the El Tatio geysers. Known to be sacred, they stun visitors with their natural beauty and the way they behave. The warmer the weather, the more inactive the geysers become so you need to plan your visit in advance.
The local culture follows the history and traditions of the Atacama’s indigenous people since around 12 000 years. Generations of locals have been inhabiting the Andes mountains, worshipping the nature’s forms. The Spanish Conquerors may have given the name ‘Atacama’ to the area, but the indigenous people defined the desert. Although living in very challenging conditions, the locals have managed to preserve their ancestral culture. The Lickan-Antay Culture started coming into shape in 300 and 900 A.D., some time before the Spanish arrived at the Atacama. This was when communities were formed for the first time, rules were established, and craftsmanship started defining the place.
Today people roam all the way to the Atacama Desert to get in touch with the cultural values of Chile and to see what nature is capable of at its widest. Hiking dusty trails, passing by geysers, solace caves and salt flats will pile up to an unforgettable journey through the untamed area. Equally Earth-and-Moon-like, the Atacama Desert is pure representation of the way humanity, nature and space come together as one whole.