Chile Travel Discover The Desert Splendor of Atacama

The main attractions in San Pedro de Atacama are its natural and historic wonders. This beautiful desert oasis town is situated within the basin formed by mountain ranges to the east, west, and south. Rainfall descends from the High Plateau (or Altiplano) and pools within the watershed to form the Salar de Atacama, Chile’s largest salt flat which encompasses 3,100 square miles (8,000 square kilometers) and contains 27{ed23bdc34f62f55b428e9c9e667cd0bfdea5ba33b660acb5e787e44d5ac92ba3} of the world’s lithium reserves. These two features, mountains and flats, together provide countless opportunities for action, exploration, and adventure in the north of Chile.

San Pedro de Atacama’s climate is dry, but mild. Average temperatures range between 77 to 86??F (25 to 30??C) in the summer and 64 to 77??F (18 to 25??C) in the winter. Nighttime temperatures, however, regularly dip below zero, and visitors should prepare accordingly.

Altitude is also a consideration and some travelers may experience mild altitude sickness. San Pedro itself has an average elevation of 7,900 feet (2,407 meters) and from there, altitude falls and rises-sometimes drastically-with the geography.

At the eastern edge of the Salar de Atacama, the Licancabur volcano ascends to 17,717 feet (5,400 meters) and dominates the region’s landscape. Several other surrounding volcanoes (including Lascar, the most active in Chile) are the source of the Tatio geothermal fields in which over 70 geysers erupt with hot steam and water. Travelers have the option to bathe in the boiling hot springs which dot the area.

Los Flamencos National Reserve is also located within the Salar de Atacama and here travelers can appreciate the unique fauna and flora that survive in this harsh desert environment. Pink flamingos reside in the blue-green water lagoons that spot the salt flats.

Closer to town, travelers can visit the Valley of the Moon, so-named because of the similarity of its sand and stone formations to our lunar landscape. Active travelers have the option to rent sandboarding equipment and book tours to surf the valley’s sand dunes. At night, astronomy enthusiasts can visit the Llano de Chajnantor Observatory, which due to the dry climate and altitude (over 5,000 feet) provides ideal conditions for short-wavelength radio star-gazing.

Within town, the R. P. Gustavo Le Paige Museum houses artifacts from the Pre-Columbian Atacameno culture. The museum’s namesake, Gustavo Le Paige, was a Jesuit priest from Belgium who, upon his transfer to the parish of San Pedro de Atacama in the 1950s, began to study the ethnological and archaeological remains of the region’s first inhabitants. Visitors may pair a visit to the museum with tours to the actual archaeological sites.