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Atacama Desert

Why visit Atacama?

This vast, high altitude region, the driest non-Polar area on Earth, is an extraordinary place to visit. NASA says the desert landscape closely resembles Mars – and tested the Mars Rover here – and the landscape is simply amazing. At over 2,300m above sea level, it is set amongst the Andes, with a backdrop of even higher peaks. Active volcanoes tower over salt flats and sandy plains, and geysers send tall columns of steam skywards. By day you can explore traditional villages and towns, visit lakes of the deepest blue and ancient archaeological sites and geoglyphs or drive out onto immense, white salt flats. And at night, relish being in one of the world’s greatest stargazing centres, where the views above you are every bit as astonishing as those around you.

Read Paul's blog about his experience of stargaving in Atacama after his recent trip to Chile.

Reasons to visit Atacama include:

  • Salar de Atacama – the incredible wild beauty of this salt flat covers some 300,000 hectares. Its crisp, white surface, formed into hexagons, stretches endlessly into the distance. 
  • Surire Salt Lake – surrounded by snowy peaked mountains, the salt lake’s 17,500 hectares are home to suri (Ostrich-like) birds, llama, flamingos and vicuna. 
  • El Tatio Geysers – see huge columns of steam erupting from this high altitude geothermal field. 
  • Geoglyphs – there are more than 5,000 geoglyphs in the Atacama Desert, the largest being the 119m-tall Atacama Giant. 
  • Parque Nacional Volcán Isluga – this remote park is studded with snow-topped volcanoes and semi-abandoned villages. 
  • Puritama Hot Springs – warm-water waterfalls cascade between seven thermal pools down a mountain ravine. Swim and relax in the warm water as you look up at the mountains. 
  • Caspana and Chiu Chiu – traditional mountain villages with pretty churches and stone buildings with mud roofs. 
  • Moon Valley – walk through the rock formations and sand dunes of the Valley’s stunning landscape with its astonishing Andes mountain views. 
  • San Pedro de Atacama – this picturesque, traditional town, with its unpaved streets, is the main tourist centre of the Atacama Desert. The Inca influence can be seen especially in the Padre Le Paige Archaeological Museum.

When to go to Atacama

This is a year-round destination, at its warmest in December and January and its coolest in July. To get the best stargazing, try to avoid travelling during full moon.

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Atacama Desert accommodation

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facts and information

Time: GMT -4 hours

Flight time:

There are direct flights from London Heathrow to Santiago, which operate 4 times a week and take 14 hours 40 minutes. The Chilean airline, LATAM, flies via Madrid.

Language: The official language is Spanish. but other local languages are also spoken. English is spoken quite widely.

Visas:

Visas are not currently required for British passport holders staying for up to 90 days, who are issued with a ‘Tarjeta de Turismo-Tourist Card’ on arrival. You must retain this and present it to immigration on departure.

Health:

Generally none is compulsory but we recommend the following: hepatitis A and B, typhoid, diphtheria, meningitis, tetanus, rabies and polio. There is no malaria in Chile. A yellow fever certificate is required if you are coming from an infected area.

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