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  • Gemma Fottles

Why everyone should visit the Atacama Desert in Chile

Travelling in the Atacama Desert was the highlight of my 3-months backpacking adventure in South America. Famous for its crystal clear skies, the Atacama Desert is one of the best places to catch a glimpse of the universe outside. It should be as high on the list as Macchu Picchu or the Salt Flats of Bolivia or Igazu Falls. The Atacama Desert is the most beautiful place in Chile.

South America highlight

While touring South America a couple of years ago, I escaped the catastrophe of an on-the-road break-up and ran away to the Atacama for a couple of weeks. It was my favourite experience in the whole of my Latin America journey. It's not hard to see why. The Atacama Desert is one of the most ethereal, beautiful, raw places in the world.

Valle de la Luna – or Moon Valley – is found in the north of this ancient desert and is one of the driest places on Earth. It’s very touristy, and yes, you kind of have to join in on the bus or group cycle tours if you want to explore these isolated lands, but it’s got to be done. By day you tramp around Mars-like landscapes, but the cherry on the top of a perfect day in the Atacama is a – truly – spectacular sunset display, just before darkness blankets the endless, endless desolate planes.

The sky is c-r-y-s-t-a-l clear at nighttime, and the Atacama is world-famous for starry views and astrological displays. There are plenty of tours to book once you arrive but if you're looking for an off the beaten track secret - seek out the crazy but brilliant Belgian astrologist who lives in his hand-built home on the outskirts of the town of San Pedro. (He organises incredible star-gazing evenings that are definitely, definitely worth it! Ask around - you'll find him :)).

Getting to the Atacama Desert

I travelled by local bus from Iquique in the North of Chile to San Pedro in the Atacama Desert, but many others travelled by coach and others still drove themselves. Some travelled by car and others were in clapped-out campers that had traversed the unforgiving roads of South America.

Once there, either stroll from hostel to hostel to find a spare bed, or if you're looking for a little more comfort on your trip to the Atacama, book a comfortable hotel room in advance. Remember to bring warm clothing for the nights - as soon as the sun drops down below the horizon, the air is bitingly chilly.

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