Barren and beautiful Atacama Desert in Chile’s far north may be remote but it’s full of possibilities. One of the driest places on earth its crystalline skies and burning red canyons are its signature landscape, but you’ll also find milky lagoons, steaming geysers, smoking volcanoes and turquoise thermal lakes. There are many ways to explore the desert, from cycling along the salt flats, to trekking up geothermal fields or riding on horseback along ochre-coloured sand dunes. Atacama must-dos include: the Atacama Salt Flat and the Chaxa Lagoon, home to flamingoes and numerous other birds, the spurting geysers at El Tatio and the strange rock formations and dunes of Moon Valley.
Base yourself in San Pedro de Atacama, the desert’s main town, which has plenty of appeal of its own. Visit the stark white San Pedro church, Gustavo Le Paige Archaeological Museum (which details local culture) and the main street of Caracoles for a beer or a bite to eat. You should also schedule in some time to stare at the stars. The crystal clear skies and high altitude mean ideal viewing conditions and have seen several of the world’s leading telescopes built in the Atacama. The ALMA observatory offers unbeatable views, although a guided night-time hike into the desert to stare at far off solar systems is unforgettable.
Dust off the desert sand with a soak in the hot pools at the oasis-like Puritama Hot Springs or at the geothermal pool at El Tatio Geysers.
A local Atacameñan twist
Luxurious hotel Tierra Atacama is a wonderful retreat from an active day on the dunes with its tranquil gardens, soothing spa and fabulous restaurant that dishes up Chilean specialties with a local Atacameñan twist.