Chile is definitely one of my favorite countries as it’s very unique and its length carries a great range of differences: desert in the north, icebergs in the south and islands on the side. Because it’s so far away, there were many firsts for me to experience and I enjoyed it a lot. All of my trips to Chile together summed out a total of 14 months in the country and hopefully more to come. Also, Chileans are lovely and they have amazing food.
Throughout the length of the country, one of the most impressive place is San Pedro de Atacama. This desert is out of the world and it even has the moon-like surface. There are too many things to see despite being a desert.
Atacama Desert is located in Antofagasta region of Chile. As if being a general desert is not cool enough, it’s also the driest non-polar desert on Earth. However, with these characters, there are 2 important things to keep in mind before planning your excursions.
- Altitude sickness
- Extreme temperature
Firstly, altiplano is translated as “high plateau” and the average height of this place is about 2,400 metres above sea level. This number is enough to cause altitude sickness to some people. Unfortunately, I’m one of those people. I still remember the awful illness and my trip to a small isolated clinic in the middle of the desert, in the middle of a breezy night. Altitude sickness can be prevented and one tip given to me by local people was to drink Mate de Coca. It’s basically coca tea. It’s legal and you can get it from local street vendors around the area, but be careful not to bring any home as it contain illegal contents for many nations’ law.
Second thing to keep in mind is the temperature. The mixture of high altitude, location on the globe, clear sky and some other too scientific things causes extreme temperature. It’s really cold without the sun and the temperature can drop to below zero. But, it can be quite warm during the day.
Places to visit
- Chruch of San Pedro
- Plaza de Armas
- Casa Incaica
- European Southern Observatories
- Chuquicamata ghost town and copper mine
- Remains of the Tulor Settlement
- El Tatio geyser field
- Altiplanic lagoons
- Atacama salt flat
- Chaxas Lagoon
- Los Flamencos National Reserve
- Licancabur volcano
- Crater lake
- Flora and fauna
- Cejar lagoon
- Death valley
- Moon valley
At the town centre, near Plaza de Armas, there is the Church of San Pedro. It’s where you can observe Atacameños’ rituals and lifestyle. Not too far from the church, there is the town’s oldest building, which is called “Casa Incaica.”
With such altitude, dryness, cloudless sky and the lack of light pollution, Atacama is the perfect place for stargazing. The sky is so clear that there are two Europeans Southern Observatories in the area.
Chile is known for its copper and Atacama houses the world’s largest open-pit copper mine. It is located in an abandoned mining town called Chuquicamata.
Out in the desert, there are Remains of the Tulor Settlement. It looks like something that used to be a small village. The circular holes on the ground makes it a fabulous place for pictures. Those holes are circular walls that go deep into the Earth and these holes were the hope for the people with their search for water. Apart from these walls, there are human remains, bones and ceramics waiting to be spotted.
Further into this not-just-a-regular desert, El Tatio is a place that you can’t miss. Up on a 2,300 metres high field, there’s the third largest geyser field in the world. It has more than 80 active geysers.
There are also few lagunas or lagoons in this desert. These lagoons located at 4,200 metres height are called “Altiplanic lagoons.” Laguna Miscanti and Laguna Meñique attract many thirsty animals so there are chances to see some wild pals.
Salar de Atacama or Atacama salt flat is another place you can’t miss. Again, it’s the third largest salt flat in the world and it’s 2,300 metres above sea level. It’s massive, elevated, salty, sandy, dry and it also has white snowed mountains as the background. It houses Laguna Chaxas, which is part of the Los Flamencos National Reserve. There are loads of pink flamingos, drinking water and waiting to be photographed with a beautiful scenery.
Still within Atacama, between Chile and Bolivia, lies the Licancabur volcano and crater lake. Because of the very low temperature, the surface of the lake is covered with ice most time of the year. It could be the result of the lake being one of the highest lake in the world. Here, different types of flora and fauna can be seen despite the temperature that can be as low as -30 degree celsius.
If you are fine with dipping into chilly water, you might want to be floating at the Cejar salt lagoon, watching clear sky and mountain peaks. It’s worth checking out as it’s a really nice place to relax in the middle of the sun.
If you are up for some Adrenalin rush, you should try sand boarding down a 100-metres-high dunes at the Valle de la Muerte or Death Valley.
Finally, one of the main attraction, the star, and the reason you go to Atacama, Valle de la Luna is amazing. The Moon Valley is what impressed me the most and I believe it won’t fail anyone. The color of this valley is so vibrant and fresh. The amazing formation of stones and sand created textures that resembled the surface of the moon, given in the name. It surrounded by different colors of peaks, snowed white, grey salty white and bright red. It’s too beautiful. It’s definitely the best valley to watch the sunset.
If you are looking for some luxurious place to stay and relax in the middle of this desert. You should check out Explora Atacama. Staying in a lodge that opens to the space of the desert is just perfect. However, the hotel is under renovation at this moment but will be available again in January 2017.
One of the best part of this hotel at more than 3,400 metres above sea level is the Puritama Hot Spring (Temas de Puritama.) It’s managed by the hotel but anyone can enjoy this oasis. The fee is 15,ooo Chilean pesos and there are clean facilities provided, such as changing room. At Puritama, there are outdoor pools and waterfall for you to wash away any saltiness and cold.