The Atacama Desert of Northern Chile is notably the driest non-polar place on Earth. As such, it is home to a distinct myriad of otherworldly landscapes – often compared by even NASA scientists and researchers to the appearance of Mars. The desert is filled with evolving textures and gradients that extend throughout over 100,000 square kilometers of terrain, at an elevation of 4,000 meters above sea level.
While its dry properties and size are definitely alluring, what is even more incredible about the Atacama are its various natural wonders, ranging from the sculpted valleys to the third largest geyser field in the world, the Atacama has it all!
Check out the top dynamic breathtaking sites you MUST see on your trip to the Atacama Desert:
1) Laguna Miscanti y Miñiques/ Miscanti and Miñiques lakes
At the south of an area marked as the altiplano or “high plain” region of South America, lies an impressive field encompassed by two vast lakes and overpowered by the backdrop of Miñiques volcano and Miscanti mountain. With the bluest waters and the brightest yellow flora, this location is truly breathtaking, and an absolute must-see!
2) Laguna de Chaxa at Los Flamencos National Reserve/ The Flamingos National Reserve
A 740 square kilometer reserve home to the beautiful flamingos of the Antofagasta region of Chile. Throughout the day, the flamingos bathe, eat crustaceans & algae (rich in beta carotene which gives them their bright pink color!), and settle themselves in colonies across the expansive lakes in the reserve. Their beautiful figures reflect endlessly in the water with help from the bright desert sun!
3) El Pukará de Quitor/ Pukara Fortress
A 12th century archeological site, marked by the ruins of an impressive stone fortress. The fortress was built by the ancient Atacacameñan residents of the region in self-defense against colonial invasion. The site impressively and strategically extends over the course of the Río San Pedro (San Pedro River). With only a short hike up to its peak, this fortress is a great intersection of historical landmarks and impressive views to check out.
4) The vicuña pack dwelling across from the Piedras Rojas/Red Rocks
The Piedras Rojas site is marked by a vast extension of vibrant rocks, colored red by the oxidation of iron they contain. The vicuña pack is a close relative of the llama family, who notoriously occupy the high alpine areas of the Andes and can be found dwelling all around the natural backdrop of the desert plain. They usually travel in herds and you very well might just unexpectedly run into them if you’re out and about by the red rocks and the yellow fields of the Atacama.
5) El Tatio Geyser field
At 4,320 meters above sea level, it is the third largest geyser field in the world (and the largest in the Southern hemisphere). With over 80 active geysers spewing boiling liquid hot steam, it is truly astonishing to see this natural and extraordinary thermal wonder in progress!
6) Valle de la Luna / Valley of the Moon
A giant valley terrain that is strikingly comparable to the weathered surface of the moon. With various stone and sand formations carved by the wind over time, and extensive sand dunes, caves, and mountains, you could explore this site forever! My best suggestion would be to rent a bicycle at the nearby town of San Pedro and ride the 16 km over there at your own pace. Once you arrive to the valley, the visitor’s center will provide you with a detailed map of all the intricate and unique sites in the valley.
7) San Pedro de Atacama
A Chilean town and commune, situated on an arid high plateau, where views of the surrounding Atacama desert are plenty, and as the sun sets, the gradients of the painted sky sit across a backdrop of mountainous and volcanic structures. This town is a wonderful place to settle yourself in the Atacama region, and intuitively experience the desert lifestyle, while having access to so many natural wonders close by.
8) Night Sky
And at night, once the sun sets across the desert and the darkness takes over, you can look up at the clearest night sky there ever was. The Atacama is renowned as one of the best stargazing sites on Earth. Its high altitude, uninhibited by pollution of light or dust, makes for the perfect spot to observe the Southern Hemisphere sky. When you look up, there are only bright stars, even more stars than sky – and you can profoundly see the entire Milky Way in full force.
So, what are you waiting for?!
The Atacama Desert of Northern Chile is always a perfect place to visit, as its atmosphere keeps the weather hot during the day, and tops each night off with a chilly breeze year-round. Just go and see for yourself! And along the way, make sure to visit these sites and experience their beauty firsthand!
All photos by Shayanne Gal
This is a guest post by Shayanne Gal.
Shayanne Gal is a passionate globe wanderer driven by a love for communications, cultural exchange, and making the world a smaller, more connected space through collective visual and written experiences. She is a photographer at Shayanneigans.com, a founder of Voices of Refugees, and a contributing writer at The Huffington Post.Tweet