According to NASA, the Atacama Desert is the driest desert in the world. The region located close to the borders with Argentina and more immediately Bolivia, is mostly composed of salt and sand. Dwarfed by a bracelet of active and non-active volcanoes, it is renowned for its clear night skies, which offer world-class stargazing opportunities.
Flying to Calama Airport
I arrived at Calama airport on a warm summer’s morning, to be greeted by azure skies and a temperature demanding short sleeves and sun hats. A far cry from the rain and gloom of winter in London. I made the one and half hour scenic journey to the oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama, a place that I had previously visited as a travelling vagabond at the age of 23. The town has changed since I was there in 2006: top end hotels have been built on the edge of the town to cater for the more discerning traveller. On my first visit I stayed in what could best be described as a barn with a bed. On this trip, I stayed at the impressive Tierra Atacama hotel, which offers all guests huge rooms with views over the iconic Lincancabur volcano. As well as excellent communal areas, including an UMA spa and infinity pool with unrivalled views.
Valle de la Luna
What fascinates me most about the Atacama Desert is how much there is to do in an area that looks so sparse. My favourite excursions from my first visit were repeated on this trip. A drive and a short walk through the Cordillera de la Sal (Salt Mountains) to the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) learning about the geological makeup of the region and the importance of the crystallised salt in the rocks. The Valley of the Moon has an iconic sand dune from where great pictures can be taken of the surrounding desert. Probably the most impressive panorama in the region is the view at Valle de la Muerte (Valley of Death). Geologists would be in heaven and those who simply appreciate great scenery will love the distant views to the Andean volcanic chain.
Areas to visit in Atacama
Other areas of interest in the region include the small town of Toconao, to the south of San Pedro, with its interesting water irrigation system and quaint Andean village feel. The tranquil salt flats at the Salar de Atacama, or to the north of San Pedro, Puritama hot springs and Tatio geysers afford the chance to be at one with nature. The Atacama Desert is the perfect place to relax at the end of a trip to Chile or surrounding countries. The combination of guaranteed good weather and laid back atmosphere make for a perfect trip for people of all ages and tastes.
I’ve been to the Atacama Desert twice now and I’m already looking forward to going back again.
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