Chile’s Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on earth. Yet it is teeming with beauty and plenty of surprises. Our Discovery Tours small group takes you to its fascinating heart, where you’ll gain remarkable insight into its wildness, its history, and its culture. Here’s what we find most fascinating about this mysterious place. We look forward to sharing it with you during our new Natural Wonders of Bolivia & Chile small group tour.
- This vast desertscape stretches for some 49,000 square miles between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean.
- Scientists believe the Atacama saw no significant rainfall from 1570 to 1971. Further, they call it the oldest desert on earth—at least three million years old!
- The landscape has been compared to that found on Mars, so much so that movie crews have used it to stand in for the Red Planet and NASA has tested out some of their Mars rovers on its terrain.
- The metallic-blue lakes of Miñiques and Miscanti were once one large lake, until lava flow from an eruption of the Miñiques volcano separated the two. Today, they occupy a starkly beautiful landscape that is home to flora and fauna found nowhere else.
- Remarkably, about a million people call the Atacama Desert home. The vast majority of them live along the coast. But inland, people still eke out a living in tiny villages such as Socaire, Machuca, and Toconao. The latter boasts a welcoming market of textiles made from alpaca and other handicrafts, as well as a striking bell tower that is pure Atacama in its architectural style.
- With its clear skies, high elevation, and freedom from light pollution, the Atacama is one of the world’s best spots for stargazing. As conditions permit, you’ll visit an observatory and turn your gaze skyward with an astronomer.
- At the desert’s edge, a 12th-century pre-Inca fortress provides remarkable insight into an ancient civilization while the site of Tulor, with its circular dwellings, lets you imagine life here as long as 2,000 years ago.
- Geysers, hot springs, mud pools, and fumaroles steam and bubble and burst forth from the earth at the Atacama’s El Tatio geyser field, the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and the third largest in the world.
- Wind and time have sculpted the jagged contours of Moon Valley and Death Valley, a pair of geological wonders rich in vast breathtaking landscapes and colors.