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The Llama Travel Blog

Exploring Chile’s Atacama Desert

Written by  Tsehai

Exploring Chile’s Atacama Desert

When you begin planning a trip to Chile, Patagonia may be the destination that springs to mind first, however heading to the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile offers equally picturesque but somewhat contrasting landscapes from the southern experience. Explore expansive desert landscapes, active geysers, diverse wildlife and unique rock formations here in the highest and driest desert on earth.

Despite Atacama Desert’s dry, dramatic and seemingly uninhabitable climate, the area is brimming with life. A rich variety or fauna and flora can be found in the area including animals such as foxes, flamingos and vicuñas, and over 500 species of vegetation that has adapted to the extreme climate.

Culpeo Atacama Desert ChileA culpeo amongst the desert. These foxes are native to South America and can be found throughout the Andes.

Sitting at 2,400 metres above sea level, San Pedro de Atacama is a small, pretty town set amongst the Atacama Desert serving as a centre for tourism in the area. While the town itself consists predominantly of hotels, restaurants and tour operators, the narrow streets lined by adobe housing are enjoyable to roam during your free time. In addition to the plethora of activities on offer during the day, Northern Chile is one of the best places in the world for star gazing due to the climatic conditions in the area. The Atacama Desert is cloudless almost all of the year, sits at a high altitude and lacks light pollution which can interfere with astronomical observations. There are many amateur astronomy tours in the desert around San Pedro that can be booked locally.

Valle de la Luna Atacama ChileThe moon-like landscape of Valle de la Luna

Aptly named Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) is located just outside of San Pedro de Atacama, offering a dramatic lunar landscape of barren hills and formations of stone and sand appearing similar to that of the surface of the moon. The valley is a popular spot to watch the sun set, with uninterrupted views as the colours change across the sky as the sun sets behind the mountains.

Sunset at Valle de la Luna Atacama ChileSunset over Valle de la Luna

Journey two hours south of San Pedro de Atacama to reach the altiplano lagoons of Miscanti and Miñiques, sitting at an elevation of 4,000 metres. The landscape is breathtaking, with dreamy colours set against a clear blue sky.  The drive itself is an attraction with stark desert landscape, indigenous villages, lush lagoons and an array of fauna to spot along the way.

Altiplano lagoons Atacama Desert ChileThe Altiplano lagoons of Miscanti and Miñiques

A popular excursion from San Pedro is a visit to the impressive El Tatio geysers. At 4,300 metres above sea level, this is the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere and amongst some of the highest in the world. The geysers are best viewed in early morning light, when the water and steam jets create an incredible sight. While the journey by road to the geysers is a bumpy one, the destination and the sights along the drive itself makes the journey worth it.

Tropic of Capricorn Atacama Desert ChileThe Tropic of Capricorn marker in the Atacama Desert

The diversity of the Atacama Desert landscape makes this a unique, exciting and unforgettable destination to visit.

Get in touch to discuss including the Atacama Desert in your next holiday with us.