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Magical San Pedro de Atacama desert

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Atacama moon valley, Chile

Discovering Atacama desert

This week Andean Trails’ Alan Lyall talks about Atacama and thinks back to Chile, where he lived for more than a decade.

He recalls one of his favourite parts of the country, where he has seen space shuttles, 3km-long poems and spouting geysers: This is Atacama.

 

Alan writes: 

“San Pedro and the Atacama desert are magical and thought provoking; somewhere to visit and be inspired by.

Just ask Chilean poet Raul Zurita. He etched a short, one line poem into the desert that is more than three kilometres in length and can only be read from the sky.

The word desert tends to conjure up visions of sand and more sand.  Not the Atacama.

The sky is one of Atacama’s best assets. Stargazers will literally be in heaven – I have spotted the space shuttle in the night skies as well as satellites and shooting stars.

 

San Pedro de Atacama

The mineral rich rocks colour and decorate the valleys and plains alongside the road from the airport to San Pedro.

An oasis situated in the middle of the driest desert in the world at 2,400 metres above sea level, San Pedro is the ideal base from where to explore the wonders of the Atacama.

The town itself, with only 2,500 inhabitants, offers a great variety of accommodation from super luxury to backpacker, good restaurants and a market.

The Father Le Paige Archaeological Museum houses what the locals cheekily refer to as the original “Miss Chile” – a mummy who still has her real hair at the age of 2,500.

 

Wildlife and wild sights

There is something for everyone. Wildlife enthusiasts can visit Laguna Chaxa with its flamingo population or archaeological enthusiasts the 3000-year-old ruins at Tulor.

There are day trips to the Tatio geyser fields, natural hot springs, sunset on the Valley of the Moon, the altiplanic lakes of Meñique and Miscanti and the Atacama salt flat.

For something more strenuous there are day treks, mountain biking as well as longer treks too.

So when I think of San Pedro de Atacama I see hues of red, yellow, brown and purple bringing to life the capricious terrain; skies that are brilliant blue during the day and star packed at night.

I see volcanoes and geysers, millenary ruins and mummies, flamingos and llamas.

“I see one of my favourite places in Chile.”

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