Chile ~ Atacama

30 November 2022


Joining Brazilians touring Rainbow Valley (Valle del Arcoiris) in Chile's Atacama Desert. 
At the far north of Chile lies the Atacama desert, one of the driest places on earth and home to some dramatic landscapes. The photo above shows me, along with Brazilians who adopted me that day, in Rainbow Valley, famous for its rugged terrain with red and orange cliffs, silver or taupe hills, and yellow-green ridges. Shades change throughout the day.

Although the November daytime temperature looked OK in theory, the combination of high altitude (often well above 8,000 feet or 2,400 meters), cloudless sun, and extreme dryness left you parched and scorched, liters of water and sunscreen notwithstanding.

Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna) has great jagged rock formations. Moreover, it is so dry that it resembles arid conditions other planets. NASA has tested its Mars Rover and other devices here.

Moon Valley has enormous sand dunes too.

The Salar de Atacama is Chile's largest salt flat. Despite lacking rain, Laguna Cejar and other natural saltwater lagoons dot the area.

Among the many Yerbas Buenas petroglyphs dating back over 1,000 years or more, these three llamas were my favorites.

The rustic town of San Pedro de Atacama is the base for all Atacama tourism. This is the main pedestrian cobblestone street lined with restaurants, shops, and excursion vendors.

I confess I skipped the many hours in a bumpy bus going to and from the Geysers del Tatio. I'd seen geothermal fields (mostly steam coming out of slowing bubbling mud) in Kamchatka and Iceland. Instead, I spent my last day relaxing, exploring the town, surveying art and sculpture galleries, talking with two Venezuelan refugees who found jobs here, having drinks with the Brazilians I met on the first day, and having dinner with an American couple at my hotel.

I am glad I finally visited the Atacama desert. Candidly, it would not be among my priority South American recommendations. However, if you have been to the top tier already — Machu Picchu, Iguazu, Galapagos, Rio, Patagonia, Rapa Nui, Cartagena, Buenos Aires, the Amazon, and so forth  — then I think the Atacama deserved a place in the queue, especially if you are going to visit Chile.