Mars on earth: chile’s atacama desert

One of the driest places in the world, Chile’s northern Atacama Desert is a high Andean plateau with lunar-like geology that can only be described as otherworldly with its rock and salt formations, palate of colors, visibility for miles, and clear night skies. An epic destination for travelers in Chile.

Ruta 23 Ch
The first glimpse you take at the Valle de la Luna (translated: “Moon Valley”) will make you feel like you’re visiting another planet. The deep red rocks, the massive sand dunes, and the speckling of salt across the surface is like nothing else I have seen on Earth. Peer closely at many of the rocks and you will see deep veins of salt. Stand close (and be quiet) and you can hear the rhythmic crackling of the salt as a result of the pressure in the rocks. The valley itself is 22 million years old, and scientists believe the salt was left behind from when an ocean covered this part of Chile. Located just a few miles outside of San Pedro de Atacama, the Valle de la Luna is an incredible place to hike, bike, and take in a spectacular sunset.
Caracoles 362, San Pedro de Atacama, Antofagasta, Chile
The Iglesia de San Pedro de Atacama is a beautiful, whitewashed adobe church located in the center of town. The parish dates back to the 1600s, although the current building was constructed in 1745 and is now considered a national monument. On any given day, you will find individuals stopping for a moment to pray inside.The inside is currently in need of some repairs, as some floorboards are missing and giving way to the dirt floor underneath. As a result, if you have change to spare, the church is collecting donations for repairs.
The confluence of two rivers takes place in Guatín where one hails from the warm thermal springs of Puritama, and the other is the Purifica River, whose waters are from the Andes Mountains. This unique mix of warm thermal spring water and cold clear mountain snowmelt gives rise to the new river which supports the unique ecosystem of the Guatin Canyon. One of the most fun hikes in San Pedro is to trek alongside waterfalls, switching back and forth over large rocks. The canyon is also covered in different cacti like the amazing Candelaria cactus that can grow to be several meters tall. Photo: Francisco Ramirez (Eat Wine Blog)
San Pedro de Atacama, Antofagasta Region, Chile
A short drive outside the town of San Pedro de Atacama, Tierra Atacama has wonderful views of fields and Volvano Licancabur. The hotel is part of the Tierra hotel group owned by the Chilean-American Purcell family (who also own Tierra Patagonia, Tierra Chiloé, and Ski Portillo). The property originally served as a cattle corral, but Chilean landscape artist Teresa Moller has transformed the grounds, preserving the ancient algarrobo and chañar trees and restoring the adobe walls.

The bedrooms are decorated in natural colors, with local touches like ceramics marching along the sills of the extra-large windows. Animal-skin rugs and alpaca throws provide a touch of warmth for the cool desert nights. You can see the incredible silhouette of Volcano Licancabur from all the rooms, but the Poniente rooms are slightly larger and have better views. There is a friendly communal vibe at the hotel, and upon arrival guests meet with the head guide in the main lounge to choose from the range of group activities on offer each day.
Tocopilla 4, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Step inside from the dusty street into this walled oasis in the town of San Pedro. With only eight unique cottages and plenty of sun-drenched terrace space, this exquisite hotel (a Relais & Chateaux property) has sofas strewn with local textiles in vivid colors. Awasi is all about privacy and getting away from the crowds, so meet with your private guide to custom-design the excursions to your interests and activity level (after acclimating to San Pedro’s 8,000-feet altitude). Visit far-flung altiplanic villages, enjoy dawn with just you and the flamingos. Back on the homestead after a day, the chef woos guests with refined creations, local ingredients, and a great wine list. After dinner, linger by the mammoth fire pit to sip the rest of your Chilean cabernet under the stars.
Ruta 27
A full day of driving and exploration in a 4x4 from San Pedro de Atacama in the Altiplano near the border with Bolivia and Argentina are the highland lagoons of Miscanti and Miñiques, at an altitude of 13,860 feet. The scenery here is awe-inspiring with a palate of extraordinary colors that seem to be painted like a dreamscape encasing the Andes and volcanoes. Also worth exploration is is the remote Salar de Tara, close to Paso Jama and the Argentine border, with its marvelous rock “statues” (shown in the picture). Of the most famous is the “nuns” of Tara. Pack a picnic and take time to relish the scenery there with views of the Licancabur volcano, bird life, and salt lakes. You cannot help but feel inspired.
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Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
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