18 | 10 | 2019

The Atacama desert, the # 1 driest places in the world

Before starting to tell about my great experience in the Atacama desert in Chile. I must say, that this place has an incalculable beauty and that what is said about it is really true. Definitely, it is from another world and not only because of its similarity with the moonand the planet Mars. But also, for the great beauty of its landscapes that are indescribable and unimaginable.

Atacama Desert tourism

Before doing any tourism activity in the Atacama Desert, you should know that solar radiation is very strong. Even in those days where the weather is not so hot. For instance,in spring season, between the months of October and December. Therefore, you need to wear a good sunscreen, a cap and hot-weather outfits. Furthermore, you need to drink a lot of water to be enough hydrated. So, drink a lot of water.

In contrast, there are some places at high altitude where it is quite cold, so you need to be wrapped up.Its temperature is so variable, you must prepare clothes for heat and cold weather.

Altiplano lagoons, red rocks and Atacama salt flat

We started the tour of these beautiful places so early in the morning. Before arriving at the lagoons and during the whole tour we made many stops. The guide explained us that stops were necessary for adapting gradually the body to the height. Since we were going to be in very high altitudes, approximately 4,200 meters above sea level. The first stop we made was in the town of Socaire. There, we walked through the streets, contemplating the small houses of the place. Also, we were at the church and small local markets buying some woolen fabrics, which are typical of this town.

Atacama Salt Flat

It is the largest salt flat in Chile and the third largest salt flat in the world(Uyuni Salt-flat in Bolivia is the biggest in the world). There is the Chaxa lagoon, where you can see a variety of bird species. Among the most outstanding are the flamingos, who come and go all over the place, becoming a visual attraction for all the spectators.

In addition, at this lagoon there is a mirror effect. Property to reflect the entire landscape on the clarity of the water. Therefore, this lagoon is one of the most visited. In addition, you can observe an extraordinary sunset. Due to the sunset, people can see the reflection of reddish tones on the volcanoes. This effect makes seeing an impressive multicolored landscape.

Because of the high altitude of the Atacama desert, your body can be affected. For me it was not the exception. I began to feel some effects due to the height. I felt that I was a little dizzy having shortness of breath and headache. The guide who accompanied us told me that it was normal, so I was nothing to worry about. Then, the guide gave me a headache pill and a chocolate, helping me to calm the dizziness. Also, I had to sit a little and hydrate with enough water to be able to breathe. Fortunately, little by little I got well being able to continue enjoying the beautiful salt flat and the Chaxa lagoon.

The Valley of the Moon

This one is my favorite destination in the whole tour, because of its magnificent lanscapes. Their desert soils are so aridand with a huge number of colors and tones. Which definitely seem unreal – from the other world. I never imagined that a landscapelike this could exist on earth. You just have to visit it to be enchanted with the greatness of nature. In addition, it has some sunsets with orange tones that make the place look more beautiful. The sunsets can be observed from the coyote viewpoint next to the Great Dune.

Another of the great attractions of the place is a cave, which is opened to the public. The guide provided us with flashlights, since it is quite dark. Sincerely,I was a little afraid of its tiny size and the darkness – I suffer from claustrophobia. Despite this, it was a great experience.

Also, you can visit eroded stone formations, called Las Tres Marías. These are vertical sculptures in stone and clay, formed thousands of years ago by changes in the earth’s crust. Our guide told us that one of the sculptures was broken by a tourist when taking a photo on top of her.

The Valley of the Moon is a place close to San Pedro de Atacama. Therefore, you can go by bicycle from the town, no need to hire any bus to arrive to this place. However, as I mentioned, I hire a bus of an agency that took me to the Valley of the Moon.

Valley of Death or Valley of Mars

It is 2 km from San Pedro de Atacama, you can go by bicycle from the town. When arriving at this place, you can reach the viewpoint climbing some rocks to glimpse the whole valley and its volcanoes. This trekking is quite hard, you must rest several times and take a lot of water.

This area has large sand dunes and rock formations creating natural sculptures. It is a rather arid place, in which no type of vegetation is observed. I really liked colors and shadows that are formed during the day.

Another activity that can be done in the Valley of Death is to practice sandboarding. This is an extreme sport that consists on descending dunes or sand hills with special boards. Of course, this sport is for adrenaline lovers. Personally, it does not catch my attention, because it makes me feel in a high risk.

Astronomical tourism in the Atacama desert

The Atacama Desertis ideal for astronomical observation because of the low cloudiness, thelocation and the height with respect to sea level. The sky is impressive to naked eye and is the cleanest on the planet. Therefore, several astronomical observatories are located in the Atacama desert, including ALMA. It is the largest astronomical observatory in the world.

In San Pedro, tourism agencies have a guided astronomical tour, or you can also rent a telescope in the center if you want to observe the stars. Astronomical observation is not recommended on full moon nights, as it cannot be clearly observed. The Atacama Desert in Chile has an average of 300 clear nights per year.

Our tour started at 8:30 p.m., lasted approximately 3 hours. We went to a plain, outside of San Pedro de Atacama. Upon arriving at the place we had an introduction talk about the sky and its constellations.

Then we begin to observe the sky with the naked eye. The most exciting thing was when we started observing with telescopes and binoculars. We could observe many stars, galaxies and the craters of the moon. Definitely, it is wonderful to see the magnificence of the universe in all its dimension. Personally I felt a strange sensation, because I rarely contemplated the sky and it was a new experience to me. I recommend wear warm clothes because the temperatures are very low at night.

ALMA astronomical observatory

It is the largest astronomical observatory in the world. It is located 50 km southeast of San Pedro de Atacama and5,000 meters above sea level. It has 66 antennas or high precision radio telescopes, located in the plain of Chajnantor.

You can visit the facilities of ALMA for free, on Saturdays and Sundays in the morning. You can only visit the place with a prior registration on this website: welcu.com/alma/visit-2019. Remember to have your identity document.

We visited the astronomical observatory on Saturday. A bus directly from ALMApicked us up in San Pedro at 9:00 AM. At the Atacama desert observatory we visited: the leaning and operations offices, the staff camp, the control room, laboratories, an antenna in maintenance and an antenna transporter. I highly recommend this place, because you learn about the process to obtain information in astronomical observation.

At Chajnantor plain, there are many antennas, but the entrance is not allowed neither at night nor on the day. People cannot visit this place for security reasons and the high altitude. For the return at home the same bus took us to San Pedro at 01:00 PM.