Adobe stone, natural salt and flat sand make up northern Chile’s desert oasis. With beautiful landscapes that many only dream about, San Pedro de Atacama has become a popular Chilean destination for people from all over the world.
As our group of over thirty students from the University of Delaware stepped off of the plane at the Calama airport, they immediately felt the rush of the desert heat.
On our way to San Pedro de Atacama we took a quick lunch break in Valle Arcoiris, which translates as rainbow valley. Ironically enough, as we were driving through it, we saw a breathtaking halo-rainbow appear over our heads, circling the sun.
This optical phenomenon is produced by light interacting with ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere.
Just a 45-minute drive from San Pedro de Atacama, Valle Arcoiris is home to many prehistoric rock carvings, also known as petroglyphs. Left behind by the Atacameño people, these cave paintings are dated almost 10,000 years old.
As you walk down a narrow trail emphasized by different sized stones, you can see these petroglyphs engraved in the multicolored stone walls. Carvings of llamas, people, and foxes are just some of the many artistic expressions left behind by the Atacameños.
The Altiplánico lagoons, located about 90 kilometers from San Pedro de Atacama are quite easily one of the most beautiful views some of the students had ever seen.
Situated 13,500 feet above sea level, these deep-blue salt lagoons stand out even more as they contrast with the yellow tussock grass that surrounds them.
The snow-capped mountains in the horizon reflect upon the water of these lagoons, leaving visitors with stunning views. This area is also home to a wide range of wild life animals, such as flamingos, foxes, llamas, and many other desert creatures.
The Salar de Atacama, Chile’s largest salt flat, is another desert charm located in the Atacama valley. As a part of Los Flamencos National Reserve, you can also see several pink flamingos grazing the land, feeding on insects and algae.
As if endless salt flats, mesmerizing altiplánico lagoons, and ancient petroglyphs weren’t enough beauty for one desert, the Tatio geysers continue to offer more stunning views to visitors.
Waking up at 4 a.m. was well worth it because these geothermal fields located high in the Andes Mountains are quite a sight. In fact, in order to experience these geysers to their full potential you must go early, since the morning temperatures produce more steam and movement.
Although the water is way too hot for human touch, there are also thermal pools in the area that are perfect for an early morning swim. The drastic difference between the chilly morning air and the warm thermal pool makes for an ideal dip.
Believe it or not the desert beauty continues. Valle de la Luna, or Moon Valley, offers spectacular stone and sand formations that are carved by wind and water. The different colors and textures that cover the mountains make Valle de la Luna appear like the surface of the moon.
According to Ethan Whit, this was one of the best experiences in the whole trip to Chile: “The driest place on Earth, the Atacama desert looks like it is on the Moon, hence “the Valley of the Moon.” Having traveled very little before that trip, I had never seen anything like that desert before in my life.”
We were lucky enough to be in Moon Valley to watch the sun set beyond the horizon of the moon-like mountains. As the sun slipped away behind the orange mountains, the sky changed colors, from blue to purple, then pink, leaving us with a beautiful last night in San Pedro de Atacama.
This weekend trip left us all with amazing memories that we will remember forever.