Click for Day 1 and Day 2 if you missed the beginning of my Chile adventure!
The more I travel, the more I come to realize that I am a sucker for natural wonders.
I am astounded, excited, and sometimes perturbed by what nature has created without the help of man.
While man-made structures like the Eiffel Tower impress me, it is the sometimes bizarre, sometimes unimaginable natural structures that really get me.
This is why I enjoyed Chile’s Atacama Desert, and do not hesitate to say that it has the most interesting physical geography of any place that I have ever visited.
My first day in the desert, I arrived in San Pedro de Atacama and embarked on a tour of two valleys: Moon Valley and Mars/Death Valley. The eerie landscapes, which resembled something out of the Mad Max movies, destabilized me with their sheer size and barren-ness.
My second day in the desert, however, involved a day-long tour of the Salar de Atacama and a few surrounding lagunas.
The Salar de Atacama roughly translates to the Atacama Salt Flat and is, in fact, the largest salt flat in Chile. Pictures I had checked online revealed that I would be in store for something very different looking from the previous day’s jaunt around Moon and Death Valleys.
The previous day’s brown, hot, and dusty landscape had made way for the very white and cold landscape you see above. Though it resembled ice, we were told that what we were walking on was indeed salt, hardened and accumulated over time. While I was astounded by my surroundings, the climate was equally boggling to me. Just yesterday I was sweating away and peeling off layers of clothing, while here I shivered and actually felt inadequately dressed! My thin gloves and fleece barely shielded me from the cold and I was thankful that I had thought to bring my scarf. Funnily enough, that very scarf, which had protected me from blowing sand the day before, was now serving to keep my ears and head warm! We were about 7000 feet above sea level, which would explain the drastic downward drop in temperature.
The tour, comprised of nine other tourists and myself, navigated the craggy, salty terrain and tried to distract ourselves from the cold that bit at our exposed pieces of flesh. Our very knowledgeable guide, the very charming Marcel, explained the physical and chemical composition of the salt flat, but since I don’t understand Chilean Spanish, I caught very little of what he said. Rats.
No worries because in the distance there was the Laguna de Chaxa, where we saw pretty flamingos preening themselves in the chilly water. Apparently, these are a special breed known as the Andean flamingo, which have, through evolution, adapted to the high altitude and chilly temperatures in this hostile, near-barren environment.
After visited a few of the surrounding areas, we ended up at the noteworthy Laguna Atiplanica. I think my description will end here. I simply don’t have the words, and while these pictures barely do the place justice, they provide a slightly better representation of how gorgeous this place is- better than anything I could tell you verbally. Keep in mind that I have not altered or edited these pictures in any way.
If you don’t find this place stunning, I’d have to wager that you don’t have a pulse. Or a heart. Seriously.
Bowled over by beauty, and out of breath from the high elevation and lack of oxygen, the tour neared its end and we started our descent. As we went down in altitude, the temperature went up, and we found ourselves peeling off all the layers of clothing we had so diligently put on before. I stripped down to my little tank top (“singlet” for you Brits), and marvelled at just how quickly I went from cold to hot. A brief bathroom stop in Toconao, a little town known for its pretty church, netted not only the place of worship, but two pleasant surprises:
This adorable cactus,
And these even more adorable llamas(!) in the backyard of the artisan shop that graciously let us use their toilet.
Because, if the landscapes don’t call your name and beckon you to see Chile’s Atacama Desert, cute cactuses (cacti?) and llamas surely will. Right?
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