The Atacama Desert covers approximately 1,000km of land and it’s the driest desert in the world (up to 4 years registered with no rain). Temperatures are extreme.
To give you an example during the day I could be on my bikini with 20-30°C and at night the temperatures would fall to -10°C. At night, prepare yourself for spectacular shows from the stars and the moon! They are possible to see on the naked eye due to the clear sky, high altitude and low levels of pollution.
- The oldest artificially mummified human, the Cinchorro Mummies remains have been found in the Atacama Desert dated around 7020 BC;
- NASA uses this Desert to test instruments for missions in Mars because the soil is similar;
- Was used to film scenes from series Space Odyssey and Voyage to the Planets;
- The soil is rich in copper and other minerals and it’s famous for having the largest supply of sodium nitrate in the world.
SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA
This town in the past was just a small mining town and it’s now one of the favourites for backpackers who are just very curious about the Atacama Desert like me. Located at about 2,400 meters of elevation it was populated by the Atacameña people before the Spanish arrived. Because of all the culture importance it’s considered the Archaeological Capital of Chile.
To get there we got a plane from Santiago de Chile airport to Calama and then a 2h bus.
In this town I found all kind of people from all over the world! The town has a very chilled out vibe about it and is quite empty during the day as everyone is on one tour or another. In the evening the town comes alive a bit more with the bars and restaurants filled with people comparing their Atacama experiences.
There a lot of colours and smells from the amazing Chilean food and the happiness it’s a constant even with the extreme cold outside! I felt very blessed to get to know such a place untouched by the mass tourism.
For the tours we decided to choose Turismo Mitampi, mostly because it was a bit cheaper than the others and offered all the activities we wanted to do. There was no English guide available but that was fine as I was able to put in practice a bit of Spanish and would translate everything I could for my English speaking husband.
In total I stayed 4 days in San Pedro de Atacama in Takha Takha hotel, which was just the right amount of time that we calculated to see what was out there! The location of the hotel was also very central and made it easy to sneak for amazing meals and come back quick rushing out of the cold!
So, there at least 5 places you have to see on your visit to the Atacama Desert because they are just incredible!
1. The stunning Geyser El Tatio
This natural geyser lies within El Tatio geothermic basin and is located 90km north of San Pedro de Atacama, approximately 4,320meters above the sea level – this is the highest geyser in the world. The great fumaroles come up to the surface through fissures, reaching temperatures of 85°C and up to 10 meters of height.
Because the best time to see it it’s between 6 and 7am, the tour to this started about 4am with temperatures of -17°C. I was freezing cold outside watching the geyser but it’s worth it because the scenery is just spectacular and when you are in front of the fumaroles you are speechless (a part from when I could not feel my toes that part I was moaning and it’s on video)!
2. Puritama Hot Springs
A freezing morning was followed by a very hot afternoon with a swim in the Puritama Hot Springs. This was optional but of course I had to go!! It’s about 3,500 meters and the thermal water is between 33°C-34°C and full of all kinds of materials said to be amazing for your skin…hope so!
3. Moon Valley and Death Valley
The tour for this trip starts at about 4pm in order to catch the sunset at the end of it. The first was at Cordillera de Sal and the landscape is breath taking…I loved it! In there you can basically shout out loud…you feel invincible and very small at the same time when confronted with the immensity of the big salt rock formations.
Then, located at about 10km from San Pedro, it was our next stop, the Moon Valley. We started by explore a Salt Cave formed by pre-historic river with some bizarre carved shapes in the walls. Some of the places inside are so low that I had to crawl my way out of it! I have used the light on my phone to illuminate some parts of the way but if you can take a flash light, much easier. Outside you climb up the rock formations and the soil just looks like the moon soil, hence the name. It’s a never ending scenario for pictures.
On the way to Death Valley there are some interesting statues of salt called Las Tres Marias. Well, only 2 now since one was destroyed by a tourist in the past…shame!
After this little adventure off to watch the sunset in Death Valley. This valley is best known by the red/orange hills and the very famous Coyote Stone were of course I had a picture taken!
The sunset in there was beautiful because of the way that colours change as the sun goes down…once in a lifetime special.
4. Piedras Rojas
To see the Red Rocks or Piedras Rojas it’s another early start and again be ready for the freezing cold! These red rocks are a dramatic scenario like I have never seen in my life with red rocks created from the volcanic lava over a bright green/blue lagoon. It’s so beautiful!
After this lunch was done in the little town of Socaire and it was emotional as there was this little orphan boy that was basically adopted by everyone in the village. Life it’s pretty simple out there, people eat what they plant and the animals they create, so, things like yoghurts were a treat, hence our tour guide bringing this little boy yoghurts all the time!
5. Altiplano Lagoons
The Altiplano lagoons have stunning colours and crystalline waters making it the perfect scenario to enjoy the views from all the surrounding volcanoes and the Andes Mountains. The area is protected by the Flamingos National Reserve and the entrance requires a symbolic fee.
Miscanti Lagoon – 4,200 meters
6. The white scenario of Atacama Salt Flat
The Atacama Salt Flat or Salar de Atacama, its Chile’s largest salt flat. In there you can basically walk on salt with miles and miles of small roads in between the rocks covered with salt.
I have also enjoyed seeing the pink Flamingos in Chaxa Lagoon.
To finish up this post, I had to share a food experience while in the Atacama Desert: eating llama. In one of the tours we stopped to have some barbecue llama. I must say it was a bit weird in my head the idea of eating llama but then again when you have to try you have to try…and it’s actually quite tasty!