North and Atacama Desert holidays

San Pedro de Atacama
© Turismo Chile

Chile’s northern most territories sustain environments and landscapes quite unlike those of anywhere else on Earth. Majestic salt flats, bubbling geyser fields, sensational beaches, moonlike valleys and piercingly blue lagoons are just some of the features that make the region a must see for anyone planning a Chilean adventure.

Geothermal wonders

El Tatio, located approximately 2 hours drive north of the small town of San Pedro de Atacama, is one of the highest geyser fields in the world. With over 60 active spouts, the most notable of which can reach up to 6 metres tall, it is also one of the largest and most dynamic. Best enjoyed at dawn, (geyser activity tends to end at around 9am), this volatile venue is also home to more soothing scenes, as tourists strip down to their swimwear and enjoy the relaxing warmth of a number of healing hot springs.

Salt flats, flamingos and lagoons

Not far south from the town of San Pedro de Atacama, lie the world’s third largest salt flats. This craggy white oasis, rich in lithium deposits, home to multiple flamingo species and scene of ‘Dead Sea’ like lagoons - in which visitors can float effortlessly on the mineral dense water - is a photographer’s dream.

Otherworldly valleys

Just west of San Pedro de Atacama exist two valleys that have been carved and sculpted by the elements over many thousands of years. Their names, “Valle de la Luna” (Valley of the Moon) and “Valle de la Muerte” (Valley of Death) give unsubtle clues to their alien appearance. So dry and foreboding is the terrain here, that both lunar landings and Mars Rover missions have been rehearsed in these very locations. The quick changing colours and shades of the chiselled foreign features, caused by the sun’s arced trajectory across the sky, are one of the most captivating sights you will ever see.

Fascinating history

The petroglyphs (rock carvings) of Yerbas Buenas – an hour’s drive west of San Pedro de Atacama – are some of the most mesmerizing cultural relics in Latin America. The images, which number well over a thousand, feature depictions of an ancient civilisation along with a wide selection of the sites and animals they lived along side. Academics have struggled to agree on when the markings are most likely to have been created, but studies have suggested they could be as much as 10,000 years old –the lack of precipitation and wind creating an environment in which they could survive relatively unspoilt since the day they were fashioned.

Sensational star gazing

A unique combination of geographical characteristics mean the high altitude plains of the Atacama are home to the world’s clearest skies. As the sun slips below the horizon and darkness falls over the desert, the sky fills with an incredible array of astronomical entities. A number of internationally funded observatories have been attracted to the region and it is possible to visit many of these to learn about the stars, planets and galaxies that twinkle above, as well as the state of the art equipment that is used to study them.

Breathtaking beaches

If you are interested in taking a little time out for some rest and recuperation, then the year round coastal resorts of Arica and Iquique may be what you are looking for. With their great weather, high standard of accommodation and large selection of optional activities, both areas offer the perfect setting to recharge your batteries. Arica in particular also possesses areas of great historical interest and its ‘San Miguel de Azapa’ Archaeological Museum houses the oldest artificially mummified human remains ever discovered – it is estimated that they date from as long ago as 5050 BCE.

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North and Atacama Desert holidays

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