An Eco Bonanza in Chile´s Awe-inspiring Atacama Desert

01/07/2024

Located in the far north of this long, narrow country (and reachable by air in about seven hours via the city of Antofagasta), the Atacama is one of the world´s most fascinating and unique destinations in the world. With an area of some 105,000 square kilometres (40,540 sq. miles), the officially certified driest place on earth – with some areas recording no rain at all in decades and in some cases even centuries, nonetheless harbours a surprising diversity of landscapes and experiences for visitors, from vast salt flats and majestic volcanoes to impressive dunes and colourful valleys.

The Atacama´s Top 3 Musts

The Valley of the Moon 

One of the Atacama´s most iconic places, just a ten-minute drive from the region´s main town San Pedro de Atacama, la Valle de la Luna presents a phantasmagoric, totally otherworldly landscape thanks to its wind-sculpted rock formations. It´s most impressive at dusk, when the light is less glaring and transforms the landscape into an astonishing visual spectacle. Keep in mind though, that access to this delicate area is controlled, and you´ll have to book your visit in advance.

Atacama Salt Flats

A bit farther from San Pedro (55 kilometres/34 miles), the Salar de Atacama is Chile´s largest salt flats (as well as one of the world´s largest),
100km (62 mi.) long and 80km (50 mi.) wide. Its crisp, sometimes blindingly white plains, contrasted with turquoise lagoons that are home to flamingos, make for some truly stunning sights, and the Los Flamencos National Reserve is an ideal place to observe these birds and enjoy the tranquility of the environment.

The Geysers of El Tatio

A similar distance from San Pedro, and located more than 4,300 metres (14,108 feet) above sea level, this field of fumaroles is another unmissable natural spectacle, and early morning is the best time to visit, when columns of vapour rise into the cold air creating a mystical and ethereal landscape. You might also spot local wildlife such as vicuñas, and have the chance at a relaxing soak in hot geothermal hot springs.

Unparalleled Stargazing

This desert is also renowned as one of the world´s top destinations for “dark-skies tourism” (aka astrotourism) thanks to its altitude, extreme lack of humidity, and lack of light pollution. There are a number of observatories and astronomical tours which will blow your mind with the star-spangled views you´ll experience.

Local Culture & Tradition

The human presence here dates as far back as the Chinchorro culture of 7000 BCE, and today the Atacama is home to some 319,000 people, and their culture and traditions can be experiences in towns like San Pedro de Atacama (pop. around 5,000), amid whose unpaved streets and adobe buildings visitors can sample local cuisine (llama brochettes, anyone?); browse traditional handicrafts such as colorful garments made from alpaca or sheep wool; and stay the night.

Sound intriguing? It could be the adventure of a lifetime in one of our planet´s most extraordinary destinations, so book your flight with Iberia soon!

 

Photos| lovelypeace; Peter Orsel ; Sergio Mendes

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