Chile’s Atacama Desert: A place on Earth that’s some-more like being on a moon

April 14, 2017 - Supermoon

The feet of Volcan Licancabur in a Atacama Desert, northern Chile, during sunset.

The feet of Volcan Licancabur in a Atacama Desert, northern Chile, during sunset.

Here on a corner of Death Valley in Chile’s Atacama Desert, with zero yet a heat of a full moon to light my way, we am about to step off into a abyss.

A good tie of silt dune flaps down from my feet like a only shaken-out quilt. Where it ends could be anyone’s guess.

“Don’t consider too much, only breathe, afterwards take a chance,” my beam Rayen, a 20-something Chilean with a pixie haircut and tattooed neck, whispers to me.

The Atacama Desert is a plateau in South America, covering a 1000-kilometre frame of land on a Pacific coast.

The Atacama Desert is a plateau in South America, covering a 1000-kilometre frame of land on a Pacific coast.

There’s unequivocally no other approach down so we lift my left foot, breathe deeply, and go. Down, down, down we go, legs scissoring extravagantly as my feet shake a silt into confetti all around me. we run with an augmenting detriment of control, yet we don’t caring given my swell is flip-flopping with excitement.

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Halfway down, we lift my chin to a sky and scream during a moon. we still don’t know what hexed me. But afterwards that’s a thing about this 1000-kilometre-long badge of extinction in northern Chile. It creates we do bizarre things.

Cactus Valley (Los Cardones Ravine) in a Atacama Desert.

Cactus Valley (Los Cardones Ravine) in a Atacama Desert.

I arrived in a Atacama Desert a prior afternoon, carrying taken a late morning moody from Chile’s buzzing collateral Santiago, and was delivered directly to my lush dried launch pad, Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa.

Its hunker terracotta-coloured adobe buildings seamlessly blended into a surrounding mill walls, that encased 6 small pools, immeasurable unfeeling gardens, roaming llamas, and internal cactus and transparent gardens in that guest could lay and anticipate a universe.

But we had not a impulse to rubbish on contemplation; not with all that swimming and sunbathing to attend to. Activities that managed to evaporate my whole initial afternoon in a desert. B

Capur Salt Flats in Chile's Atacama Desert.

Capur Salt Flats in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

efore we knew it a stars had popped out and there we was, sitting during an uncovered cooking list being served some glorious Chilean carmenere and creatively grilled salmon, earnest myself that tomorrow, a explorations would begin.

My initial sequence of business today, then, is assembly with Rayen to tract my itinerary. Having only finished a high-altitude trek in beside Peru, I’ve already acclimatised to a altitude, so shirk a cycling tours, prohibited open plunges and 30-odd other activities in foster of a high-altitude salt prosaic adventure.

I mount into a four-wheel-drive, accompanied by Rayen and a ridicule English integrate in their mid-60s, and start a two-hour expostulate to a Tara salt flats. We stop en track to admire a stately Licancabur and Juriques volcanoes, and llama-pocked fields of tufty yellow puna grasses. But they’re zero compared to a salt flats. So white they glisten and stretching off into a horizon, they’re smattered with pinkish flamingos wading by a sea H2O in hunt of a small shrimp that Rayen tells us give them their decorated colour. The object is splendid and a sky is transparent but, being some-more than 4000 metres above sea level, there’s also an icy breeze that army us to do many of a flamingo perving from a regard of a vehicle.

When we arrive during a Pacana Monks, though, we’re compelled to burst behind out. Poking out of a immeasurable silt plateau, Rayen tells us these huge mill pillars were thrown out from volcanoes millions of years ago, trenchant a belligerent like harpoons. We mount before them in wordless awe; a atmosphere is bone dry and there isn’t a singular sound or visibly alive creature. It’s like you’d suppose it would feel station during a finish of a world, and it puts me on a bit of a high. When we tell Rayen as much, she smiles.

“Some people contend it’s a high levels of minerals – copper, quartz, sodium – that creates people feel so good when they come to a Atacama,” she says. “Others contend that given it’s a top and driest place in a world, it gets we really transparent on who we are and what we want.” The law behind these musings could be anyone’s guess. All we know, as we demeanour out over a lunar-like landscape, is that there’s something strangely desirable about this place.

The betrayal continues after that night, as we try Death Valley underneath a light of a “supermoon”. It’s a biggest, brightest moon of a year, and a closest and moon has been to a earth given 1948. Because of a Atacama’s high altitude, scarcely self-existent cloud cover and miss of light pollution, it’s one of a best places in a universe for examination astronomical phenomena like this. A happy fluke that we should have arrived only in time to knowledge it, we think, as we scream like a wolf and decrease down into a void.

The following morning, in a glacial pre-dawn, we drag myself out of bed and swaddle myself in each covering of wardrobe we have for a outing to a place of Atacama legend. The expostulate to a El Tatio Geysers is prolonged and quiet, notwithstanding a fact that a 4WD is full. We arrive during this margin filled with 80-odd belching steam columns only as a sun’s initial rays look over a surrounding volcanoes, branch a billowing fume splendid white. we can hear a effervescent waters of a hot geysers, as we watch a murky total of associate travellers seem and disappear in a steam.

I can’t start to suppose anything some-more dreamy. But then, a afternoon arrives and we find myself traversing a dark ravine filled with monolithic cacti. Our beam tells us these cacti grow only one centimetres a year and that some of them, soaring several times above a tallness of my possess body, are adult to 900 years old. we glance adult during these enormous, hairy fingers indicating into a pointy blue sky, feeling really Alice in Wonderland carrying only downed a Drink Me potion.

By a time we arrive behind during a board a rose shade of eve is settling onto a desert. Call it a mineral-surge, call it insanity, yet for some reason I’m still full of appetite and take one of Alto’s pushbikes 20 mins along a mud highway into a categorical town, San Pedro de Atacama. Only about 6 blocks in size, it’s like something out of an out-of-date wild-west film, with a hunker dusky pink- and white-coloured adobe shopfronts, rammed-earth streets and lifelike 16th century adobe church. we ramble by town, poking my conduct into petite bars and eateries, holding a breather in a charming, tree-lined categorical square, and negotiate for textiles in a internal qualification market. On my float behind to a lodge, we find myself fantasising about renting a residence in San Pedro and job it home for a while. When we strike into Rayen in a run on my approach to cooking and tell her so, she laughs.

“Ahh yes,” she says. “Us locals nickname it San Pedro de Atrapame [atrapame means “to catch” in Spanish], given it grabs we and keeps we here. It captures a partial of your soul.” Rayen knows a few people, she says, who have come intending to stay only a few days, and have finished adult staying a few years.

The following morning, my final in a desert, is spent in a uncovered Andean baths of Alto Atacama’s Puri Spa. There, in a vegetable salt bath unaware a immeasurable ochre-coloured plains and mill walls, I’m given a cranial massage while vouchsafing a desert’s ostensible good-mood minerals soak into my skin.

Later, I’m driven out to a Los Flamencos National Reserve for my final Atacama journey to Moon Valley. When my beam tells me it has been used by NASA to exam instruments for destiny Mars missions, we immediately know why. Much of a rust-red sandstone has been dusted in white salt, with dome-like mill formations popping adult from a aspect like hulk sweetened biscuits. As we walk, a belligerent underneath a feet glitters with petrified salt crystals. We try some of a deserted salt mines sparse via a valley, afterwards expostulate past rust-coloured angled mill formations, made by a desert’s rushing winds over centuries.

Our day ends on a mouth of a valley, tucked inside a outpost divided from a cold whip of a wind, sipping internal syrah, roaming cheese and examination a yellow object tumble next a black horizon. For a impulse there, I’m certain we feel a small square of my essence fist out of my belly, trip out a outpost window, and get carried off by a breeze to find a home somewhere in this illusory place.



LATAM flies daily from Sydney and Melbourne to Santiago. From there it’s a two-hour joining moody to Calama. See


Rooms during Alto Atacama Desert Lodge Spa start from $AUD847 per night, with all dishes and excursions included. See


Latin America dilettante Chimu Adventures emanate tailor-made Chile itineraries including flights, accommodation, transfers and tours. Phone 1300 873 981; see

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