In the Atacama Desert, it’s not hard to imagine that you’re on another planet. With the flat, crystal whiteness of the salt flats stretching into the distance, and bizarre, rocky outcrops towering overhead, this is Planet Earth like you’ve never seen it before.
But what is there to do in this other-worldly landscape? Here are our top 5 activities in the Atacama Desert…
Few of us have seen a night sky untouched by light pollution, and yet in the Atacama Desert in Chile, it’s as simple as stepping outside and looking up. A deep, velvety blackness stretches and rolls around you, heavy on the horizon but lifting into miles of brilliant, bright shards. The stars here aren’t just dim lights, but stud out shapes and constellations for you to admire.
We recommend taking a night-time walk when the moon is full, to enjoy ghostly views of the incredible landscape all around you, and many of the hotels in the area have their observatories where you may even spot the Milky Way. Speak to our Travel Specialists to find out more.
Venturing out into the Atacama Desert is an experience like no other. The salt flats, or Salar de Atacama, are a particularly iconic attraction. Be amazed by the forces which created such a unique landscape, feel the sharp salt crunching beneath your boots, and with nothing more than a camera and a couple of props, take your turn at playing with perspective.
Out of all the amazing views on offer, though, sunset at the Valley of the Moon is perhaps the most exceptional. The bleak emptiness of the mountains reflects the changing colours of the sky, and everything around you glows orange and then pink. An awe-inspiring moment.
As its the driest desert on earth, you might not expect to find much life here. But, due to the varied habitat on offer, there are some wonderful animals that call this place home.
An almost iconic sight in this part of the world is that of colourful pink flamingos. There are no fewer than three species of flamingo that spend time in the Atacama, either in the salt flats or at the dedicated Los Flamencos Nature Reserve at San Pedro de Atacama. Watch as they pick their way through the water, lifting their long legs with delicate precision. With the mountains as their backdrop, these elegant creatures make for some incredible photos.
You also might spot vicuña, a cousin of the llama, although smaller. Interestingly, the vicuña has adapted to drink the extremely salty water of the salt lakes!
The Atacama Desert has been inhabited by humans for thousands of years and you can discover some elements of pre-Hispanic life here by getting up close to ancient rock paintings or exploring the site of historical villages but for a truly unique experience, we recommend visiting Chacabuco, an abandoned nitrate town.
During the nitrate mining boom of the 1920s, many towns popped up alongside nitrate mines in the Atacama Desert. Chacabuco is just one of the many now abandoned towns. Visiting this relic is like stepping into a ghost town, the remnants of buildings such as schools and houses still standing. A perfect scene for the aspiring photographer.
One of the most impressive sights in the Atacama Desert has to be the El Tatio Geysers. The largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere, and the third-largest in the entire world, El Tatio runs along the Central Volcanic Zone, along the border of Chile and Bolivia.
Take in the breathtaking scenery, walk among the geysers and enjoy a dip in the nearby thermal pool. We recommend a visit during the very, early morning!
When visiting the Atacama Desert it’s impossible not to be swept away by the mesmerising combination of culture, nature and celestial wonder that it has to offer.