Chile’s Atacama Desert sits in the northern part of the country; it’s one of Chile’s three main tourist regions – the others being Patagonia and Easter Island.
The Atacama Desert is desolate, dry, forbidding, inhospitable and at first glance you’re going to wonder how you’re going to find comfort in these surroundings.
But the Atacama Desert surprises too.
What can you do in the Atacama Desert
There is a minimum of a week’s worth of activities to keep you busy in the Atacama Desert and even more if you want to climb a volcano or two. The Atacama Desert has: the world’s third largest salt flat with enough water and food to support flocks of flamingos, a huge number of volcanoes – some of which are technically easy to hike but demanding because altitudes are in excess of 5500 metres (18,044 feet), great hikes up narrow river valleys loaded with interesting vegetation, some of which has medicinal uses, thermal pools, geysers, interesting bird and animal life, fascinating geology, old mines and the engaging and lively town of San Pedro de Atacama.
Unfortunately we only had time for about five activities.
We started with the geologically and visually interesting Moon Valley.
The Moon Valley or Valle de la Luna as it is called in Spanish conjures up images of the moon. In fact the rocky terrain served as a good testing ground for NASA’s Lunar Rover. In the Moon Valley there are many stops with panoramic views as well as a number of short walks. You can see large sand dunes, interesting rock formations, including one adjacent to the highway that looks like a dinosaur skeleton and the workings of old salt mines.
Lamborghini has reportedly used the highway below the following picture as a test course.
Salt crystals are everywhere – some large, some clean, some covered in dirt from sand blown in by the wind. There is evidence of salt mining which looks like tough, hot, dirty work.
You need a half day to properly explore the Moon Valley. It’s only 15-30 minutes from San Pedro de Atacama, depending on what entrance you use. Lots of tours are offered through operators in town. Otherwise you’ll need a car though you could explore some of the area by bike too…but lock it and hide it.