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.
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.
And with water comes life, most notably a flamboyance of colorful pink flamingos who thrive off the mineral rich algae of the lagoons.
Then there is the Vicuña, a nomadic beast who must spend its life scrounging for what little food it can find.
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.
Snow-capped volcanoes appear seemingly at every turn, creating a breathtaking natural border between Chile and neighboring Bolivia.
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.
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.
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.
A number of San Pedro de Atacama’s attractions can be explored by bike, a cheap and tranquil way to discover this incredible region.
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.
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.