12 Reasons Why You Should Visit Chile's Atacama Desert

Atacama | © Danielle Pereira/Flickr
Atacama | © Danielle Pereira/Flickr
Photo of Harry Stewart
17 August 2017

Beautiful, barren and hauntingly surreal, the otherworldly landscapes of Chile’s Atacama desert are difficult to put into words. This strange yet stunning part of the world feels more alien than familiar, chock full of lagoons, volcanoes and geysers that are far from the norm. Let’s take a look at 12 reasons why a visit to the Atacama is totally worthwhile.

Enjoy the nothingness

The Atacama desert is the driest non polar region on earth, with some sections known to have gone decades without a single drop of rain. As a result, few species can survive in much of these sparse, barren lands.

Atacama desert | © Dan JV/Flickr

Swim in a lagoon

But not all the desert is devoid of water. A series of picturesque lagoons are scattered around the higher regions, some so salty that it’s possible to float without effort.

Lagoon | ©European Southern Observatory/Flickr

Spot some pink flamingos

And with water comes life, most notably a flamboyance of colorful pink flamingos who thrive off the mineral rich algae of the lagoons.

Flamingos | © Ulrich Peters/Flicker

Say hello to a vicuña

Then there is the Vicuña, a nomadic beast who must spend its life scrounging for what little food it can find.

Vicuña | © Alessandro Caproni/Flickr

Visit the Valley de la Luna at sunset

But it’s the scenery of the Atacama that really draws a crowd. The most notable spot is the Moon Valley, whose endless surreal rock formations make it worthy of its namesake.

Valley de la Luna | © Jonathan Hood/Flickr

Admire towering volcanoes

Snow-capped volcanoes appear seemingly at every turn, creating a breathtaking natural border between Chile and neighboring Bolivia.

Volcano | © Ulrich Peters/Flickr

Look up to the stars

NASA and other astronomical organizations are based in the region due to its famously clear skies. Nowhere on earth offers clearer stargazing than here. Better yet, tourists are welcome to get involved.

Milky Way Shines over Snowy La Silla | © European Southern Observatory/Flickr

Marvel at bubbling hot geysers

At El Tatio, underground thermal activity spews piping out steam high up into the air, creating an incredible spectacle that is best viewed at the break of dawn.

El Tatio | © Nico Kaiser/Flickr

Explore a salty desert

Uyuni in Bolivia might get the most attention, though Chile has its own salt flats too. The blindingly white expanse of Salar de Atacama is ripe for exploration.

Salar de Atacama | © Miguel Vera León/Flickr

Go for a ride

A number of San Pedro de Atacama’s attractions can be explored by bike, a cheap and tranquil way to discover this incredible region.

On our bike | © Ana Raquel S. Hernandes/Flickr

Check out some villages

San Pedro de Atacama itself might be rather touristy, but some of the surrounding villages are as authentic as they come. Take a moment to wonder around these adobe huts to get a feel for high altitude rural life.

Village near San Pedro de Atacama | © FLASHPACKER TRAVELGUIDE/Flickr

Now head off to Bolivia

Many travelers start a tour in San Pedro de Atacama heading towards Uyuni and the sights of south west Bolivia, a captivating region that is not to be missed.

Salar de Uyuni | © Danielle Pereira/Flickr

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