The Atacama Desert in Chile has one of the most unique and spectacular landscapes in the world. From sand dunes that rise as high as skyscrapers to incredible Mars-like landscapes, this is one of the most special and must-see destinations in South America.
However, San Pedro de Atacama is so much more than just a desert and is full of unbelievable landscapes and scenery which will leave you glued to the spot in awe.
As the day progresses and the shadows dance across the barren desert, the Atacama comes to life with every photo you take. Here are just some of the not to be missed highlights of the Atacama which makes it one of the most unique destinations to explore.
Float in Salar de Atacama
The Salar de Atacama is Chile’s largest salt flat and is the third largest in the world covering an impressive 1,200 sq. miles! Surrounded by mountains and large volcanoes, most notably the Láscar which is the most active, makes for an interesting landscape. Although the salt flats are not a dazzling white as in Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni or Argentina’s Salinas Grandes, the ground makes a satisfying crunch similar to when walking across your garden after the first fall of snow. One of the main highlights apart from the incredible vistas is visiting the Los Flamencos National Reserve where you can watch the elegant flamingos mirrored by salt lagoons such as Chaxa Lagoon.
In a moon-like landscape, it wouldn’t be right if you couldn’t feel weightless and without the effects of gravity.
Heading to the salty waters of Laguna Cejar, this emerald green lake has a higher salt concentration than the Dead Sea! Lay back and feel your body rise to the surface giving you nature’s version of a water mattress and allowing you to relax in the desert lagoon whilst keeping your hands dry to read a book or newspaper.
Watch your step at the El Tatio Geysers
Ringed by volcanoes and fed by over 80 gurgling geysers and hundreds of gas releasing fumaroles, you better watch your step when exploring the Atacama’s El Tatio Geysers. This is perhaps the most impressive and magnificent geyser field in the world due to its setting in the middle of the desert and the large natural spring which you can use to get rid of your chills on a cold morning in the desert.
At 14,170ft. El Tatio is among one of the highest geyser fields in the world, its geysers erupt around you with the highest eruption seen reaching around 19ft!
The best time to visit is in the morning as due to the cold desert air, you will be able to see plumes of steam which disappear as the sun warms up the desert landscape. As well as the billowing columns of smoke, you will be able to admire the vicuñas grazing in this area with their fine wool keeping the chilly morning desert air away. Although you will need to wake up early to see their steaming spectacle at sunrise, the El Tatio Geysers are certainly worth getting up to go and see!
A spacewalk at Valle de la Luna
Ever wondered what it would be like to walk across a lunar or Mars-like landscape? The Valle de la Luna provides you with the best opportunity to have such an experience. Sunrise and sunset in the Valley of the Moon is by far one of the most spectacular and beautiful in the world! One by one, the large barren ridges, soaring cliffs, pointed peaks and pale valleys are transformed into a painter’s canvas as a mixture of reds, oranges, pinks and yellows are thrown across the landscape.
Standing atop of one of the giant sand dunes you can soak up the incredible views across this out of this world landscape with its strange landforms eroded by years of strong desert winds.
However, this unique valley provides a further spectacle once the sun goes down and as its name suggests, it comes to life under the moonlight. Watch as the sky springs to life as if the most mind-boggling and stunning star-cloth has been rolled out above you. The night sky in the Atacama’s Moon Valley is one of the most spectacular and clear in the world meaning you can see shooting stars, galaxies and dreamy constellations. One of the best experiences is going stargazing with a professional guide so that you can really appreciate the desert’s nighttime spectacle!