My very first weekend in Chile was spent exploring the wonders of the Atacama Desert! Before I went, I thought to myself “It’s a desert? What’s the big deal?” But after experiencing it for myself, it is a very, very big deal!
San Pedro de Atacama
The most popular tourist town in the desert is San Pedro, and it is easy to see why! The charming town is made up of dirt roads and adobe walls and buildings, making you feel at home in the desert. Although the town has a rustic feel, it has a variety of upscale restaurants and shops. This came in handy when I needed to buy a windbreaker from the North Face store! But off of the main street is where you can find the artisanal market, filled with copper jewelry and llama figurines. San Pedro is a cozy town with a lot to offer, but there is so much more beyond the walls of the village.
El Valle de la Luna
One of the very first areas we saw after arriving was El Valle de la Luna, or the Valley of the Moon! The tour of the protected area began with walking through salt caverns! Yes. Salt caverns. While it was all above ground it was still an incredible area to walk through, especially getting to see and touch all the salt still in the earth. And at the end of the walk we ended up on top of a hill! The hill gave us spectacular views of the red rocks covered in gypsum, making it look like it had just snowed. Afterwards we had the chance to see the Ampitheater and the Three Marys, both of which were extremely beautiful. But my favorite part wasn’t necessarily in the park…
Closer to sunset the tour took us out of the park and up to a large cliff. From the we could see the entire park and the Andes and watch them change colors during sunset! It was magnificent! El Valle de la Luna turned bright orange and gold, and eventually the Andes turned a rosie pink. It was the perfect way to end the day.
Las Piedras Rojas y Salar de Atacama
Saturday morning we woke up bright and early to go see Las Piedras Rojas! While it was too cold and windy to take a picture of the red rocks on top of the mountain, there were plenty of photo ops on the way to the top! We passed by the Tropic of Capricon going south from San Pedro to the mountains and got to watch the sun rise over the mountains. But my personal favorite photo from the drive was of the vicuña! Vicuñas are relatives of the llama and a camelid, meaning they can store water! They are also small in size and very fluffy, so they are now one of my favorite animals! Haha!
After seeing Las Piedras Rojas we went all the way back down the mountain to Salar de Atacama! Salar de Atacama is the largest salt flat in Chile and also has a salt lake. Due to the salt and other elements the area has a rugged landscape, which has a very different look and feel compared to the mountains. And there aren’t any vicuñas near the salt flat, but flamingos instead! Many flamingos come to the salt flat during migration and we were lucky enough to see a few flamingos even though they were very far away. All in all, it was a fantastic day seeing the natural landscape and wildlife. Lucky for me, the weekend wasn’t over yet!
Our last adventure in the desert was spectacular! We woke up before sunrise and went back up the mountains, but this time to see the geysers! Chile has the third largest geyser field in the world, and in order to get the best view of the steam without the crowds we arrived at the crack of dawn. As the sun rised we had the chance to walk around geysers and admire the moutains. One of the mountains overlooking the geysers is called El Tatio, which means the crying grandfather. The indigenous people called the mountain that since a stream flowed down the mountain, making it look like the mountain was crying. The geysers were absolutely beautiful, and are protected by the local communities. To me it was very meaningful that the community cares for such a fragile and wonderful area.
We also got to see some amazing things on the way down the mountain! We were able to see a wetland area, a small town and church, and try llama meat! (Which came from a farm, not from the wild.)
All in all the desert was more than I ever thought I would be! I discovered so much natural beauty there and I will never forget it. Has this post inspired you to come to Chile? Have you ever been on a trip that was more fun then expected? Join me and let’s explore our world of travel!