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Atacama Desert Photos: 10 Incredible Landscapes To Blow Your Mind

February 23, 2017
Atacama Desert Photos - Ten Incredible Landscapes from the Atacama Desert in Chile including Salar de Talar

Ten mind-blowing Atacama Desert photos.  Chile’s Atacama boasts ethereal landscapes, vast sceneries and the chance to get up-close-and personal with more than a a few volcanos. Find out why the Atacama Desert should be at the very top of your travel list. 

The Atacama Desert in Chile should be at the top of your travel bucket list. Flamingos, stars, coloured lakes and skies. Click for photos and inspiration from the world's driest desert
The Atacama Desert in Chile is one of the most mind-blowing destinations you can travel to. Stargazing, flamingos, lakes and giant cacti. Here's why you need to go.

1. Laguna Tebinquinche

Laguna Tebinquinche, Perfect Reflections in the Salar de Atacama

Set in the midst of the Salar de Atacama, a ring of volcanos surround the large Laguna Tebinquinche. The perfectly reflective surface means it should be top of your list when it comes to taking in the top views on a visit to the Atacama Desert. The vast lake reflects the colours, hues and shapes of the surrounding skies and volcanoes. Check it out at sunset for extra wow factor.

2. Sunrise over Lascar Volcano

Sunrise over Volcano Lascar, Atacama Desert

The sun peeks over a row of volcanos, rising at the centre of Lascar Volcano. Sunrise in the Atacama Desert is always a spectacular sight, but the perfect silhouette of the volcanos and the bright sunlight really made this one for me. Get to your viewing point early – in February, sunrise starts around 6.30am. Watching the crazy colours and changing hues makes it worth every lost minute of sleep though. Really, trust me on this.

Travelling to Chile? Here’s why you should go Hiking in the Torres del Paine too!

3. A Lone Flamingo at Laguna Chaxa

Flamingo at Laguna Chaxa, Atacama Desert Photos

Flamingos abound at many of the Atacama Desert’s lakes, none more so than in Laguna Chaxa. The pastel colours of Laguna Chaxa provides the perfect backdrop to the flamingos that flock to the lake during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer. Laguna Chaxa is home to three kinds of flamingos: the James Flamingo, the Andean Flamingo and the Chilean Flamingo. They’re drawn to the microorganisms and algae that live in the lake and on which they feed. Abundant as the flamingos were, this lonely little fella totally captured my heart. Plus, look at the colours of that lake. Love.

Love flamingos? Hop over the border and spy even more flamingos at the Laguna Colorada in Bolivia.

4. Salar de Talar and Aguas Calientes

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Speaking of crazy colours, the Salar de Talar may have just won the prize for the most incredible landscape so far. The waters range from pastel pink and light stone through to bright teal. The salt flats might not have the crazy crusts of it’s Bolivian cousin, the Salar de Uyuni, but I think it wins in the out-and-out breathtaking landscape competition.

If you’re feeling active, you can hike along the Piedras Rojas: it’s a beautiful hike but the altitude means that you’ll be walking slower than you ever thought possible and still get out of breath when you have to climb a big rock (or maybe that’s just me).

5. Valle de La Luna (The Valley of the Moon)

Valley de la Luna, Atacama Desert

No need to ask why this valley is called the valley of the moon: the eerie rock formations and salt crusts make you think you are walking through some kind of lunar landscape. Thousands and thousands of years of strong winds carved a landscape that is unlike any other you’ll have ever seen before. The “dunes” and “mountains” within the valley are built up of thin layers of sand, clay and salt – and each layer is individually identifiable when you get up close.

The Valle de la Luna is one of the Atacama’s popular destinations – at sunset, the tour buses empty out and it’s swarming with people trying to get the perfect snap. Go at sunrise instead, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get the whole place to yourself like we did. A giant lunar playground for photographs and wows galore.

6. Salar de Quisqiuro

Salar de Quisquiro

You know that feeling when a landscape is so large and so vast that it makes you feel like an insignificant ant? That. The Salar de Quisquiro is the last in a number of incredible landscapes on Route 27 from San Pedro de Atacama over to the Argentinean border. The salar stretches as far as the eye can see in a swirl of salt, sand and water. Set at an altitude of 4,700 metres, it literally feels like you are on the top of the world.
If you’re heading over to Argentina, make sure you stop off in Salta, which isn’t far on the other side of the border. Otherwise, wend your way back down the 27 for more amazing views – make sure you grab a pic of Licancabur and take a peek at Bolivia’s Laguna Verde along the way.

Otherwise, wend your way back down the 27 for more amazing views – make sure you grab a pic of Licancabur and take a peek at Bolivia’s Laguna Verde along the way.

7. Salar de Tara

Salar de Tara, Atacama Desert

Salar de Tara is located pretty close to Quisquiro on Route 27 and another one of my absolute favourite landscapes in the Atacama. Tara is located in the basin of the Vilama Volcano and is another flamingo hotspot in the area. The waters are rich in algae and microorganisms, which not only draws the flamingos, but also makes for some pretty amazing colours in the water. Keep your eyes open for the Salar’s abundant wildlife – including vicuñas, desert foxes and Andean geese.

8. Dawn over El Tatio Geysers

Sunrise at El Tatio Geysers, Atacama Desert

It’s an early start but dawn over the El Tatio Geysers is a must-see for anyone visiting the Atacama Desert. We were on the road at 5am in the freezing cold and just about made it for the beginning of the dawn (stressful). It’s so worth the effort though, watching the sun rise over the geyser field and the random (and sometimes quite violent) eruptions of the 80 active geysers was something to behold.

If you’re a bit of a wimp like I am, wrap up warm because it is COLD. At one point I was pressing the shutter release with my chin because my fingers had totally stopped working. The solution? Incredibly unladylike but very effective – shove your hands into your trousers until feeling returns. I can recommend.

9. Sunset over Guatin

Sunset over Guatin in the Atacama Desert

Guatin is a tiny little hamlet on the road from San Pedro de Atacama to the El Tatio Geysers. It’s the starting point for a trek into the Cactus Canyon (more on that anon) and makes for a stunning backdrop to sunset. We slept in Guatin for the night before heading up to El Tatio and the stars put on a pretty amazing show that night but the beautiful glow of the sunset over the canyon was unlike anything else we saw on our trip. PS, that’s Uranus twinkling in the sky (cue childish giggle).

10. Cactus Canyon, Guatin

Cactus Canyon in Guatin, Atacama Desert

The cacti in the Guatin Canyon tower over their surroundings – they grow several metres tall, with thick, chunky trunks and spears covered in huge prickles (don’t get too close). You hike in through the riverbed and the surrounding valley sides are covered in towering cacti. Don’t forget to look back for an amazing view of the canyon framed by the Atacama’s ever-present volcanos.

If you’re in the area why not hop over to Bolivia to explore more incredible landscapes?

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  • Reply Birthe (from Wandering the World) February 25, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    We haven’t made it to South America yet, but it’s definitely on our list! This is a great add to that sublist of South American destinations btw, the landscapes are awesome indeed. And maybe I can combine this with my bucket list item “seeing a flamingo in the wild”. 😉 Preferably a flamboyance (love that word) of flamingos actually, but then I have to go in summer you say?

    • Reply Julianna Barnaby February 25, 2017 at 4:30 pm

      Ah, South America is incredible – can’t stop myself from going back each year! Yes – you can definitely combine it with seeing some flamingos! They said that flamingo season in the Atacama was in their summer (UK winter) but I’ve definitely been to Bolivia just over the border in July/August and seen tonnes of them too. Mildly obsessed with flamingos!

  • Reply ellisveen February 25, 2017 at 4:40 pm

    Beautiful pictures. Bolivia and CHili are very high on my bucketlist. These pictures only make me want to go more.

  • Reply abbi @ spinthewindrose.com February 25, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    The landscapes in Chile look just incredible. I’d love to see these places with my own eyes! Thank you for the inspiration to go to Chile one day!

    • Reply Julianna Barnaby February 25, 2017 at 5:20 pm

      They are – was in Patagonia last year and it’s totally different but also pretty awe-inspiring! Here’s hoping you get to Chile, it’s incredible!

  • Reply yogawinetravel February 25, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    Wow Julianna, this landscape is stunning! I have a friend traveling through South America right now and I’m definitely sending her this post to make sure she hits up the Atacama desert!

    • Reply Julianna Barnaby February 25, 2017 at 5:19 pm

      Thanks! She really should – I wanted to go pretty much each time I’ve been to South America but haven’t – so glad I made it this time because it was incredible.

  • Reply GirlAstray February 25, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    This landscape is so strange and beautiful! I love nature and it would be amazing to get there one day…btw, I had no idea there were so many kinds of flamingos!

    • Reply Julianna Barnaby February 25, 2017 at 5:17 pm

      It’s really bizarre but beautiful. Every place looks so different too. I know- I became a bit obsessed with them when I was in Bolivia and now am all over flamingo chasing on my travels 😂

      • Reply GirlAstray February 25, 2017 at 5:38 pm

        I can totally see why! I would succumb to the flamingo charm all the same if I had the chance 😀

  • Reply Kyntra Strickland February 25, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    Beautiful pictures, thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Alina from Reverie Chaser February 25, 2017 at 7:23 pm

    Agree about the tip on trousers, I have done that before :)) Stunning images, beautiful descriptions! I really enjoyed this glimpse into another world.

    • Reply Julianna Barnaby February 26, 2017 at 9:38 am

      Yup, my fingers were so cold! Thank you Alina, so glad you liked 🙂

  • Reply www.justbeingbrooklyn.com February 25, 2017 at 9:27 pm

    Wow these photos are stunning. It looks like you’re on another planet!
    I really need to get down to South America.

    • Reply Julianna Barnaby April 10, 2017 at 11:37 am

      Totally agree that you do – South America is full of some incredible landscapes. As a continent, it has a special place in my heart.

  • Reply Hannah February 25, 2017 at 10:36 pm

    Beautiful photos! Almost looks like an alien planet. I particularly liked the sunrise over the volcano and the geyser shots- gorgeous!

    • Reply Julianna Barnaby February 26, 2017 at 9:36 am

      Thanks Hannah, so glad you like the post. It really does look like an alien planet. I loved it so much!

  • Reply Hannah February 25, 2017 at 11:39 pm

    Amazing!This is bringing back some great memories! I haven’t gotten around to writing about my trip there yet. So so beautiful…but seriously, how cold was it getting up to see the Geysers????!!!!! :-O Will pin this on my Chile board 🙂

    • Reply Julianna Barnaby April 10, 2017 at 11:36 am

      so glad that you like it Hannah! I wish I were back there now. It was freezing at the Geysers – I really thought my fingers were going to freeze to my tripod!

  • Reply Sky Fisher (@skyvsworld) February 25, 2017 at 11:45 pm

    I had no idea that the Atacama desert had so many things to offer! I haven’t made it to Chile yet – I keep coming back to Central America – but South America is on my list for next year!

    • Reply Julianna Barnaby February 26, 2017 at 9:35 am

      It’s so brilliant – totally love South America but this trip was completely up there with the best!

  • Reply Alice Chen February 26, 2017 at 10:41 am

    I’ve been to several of these places and they’re truly amazing!! The Atacama Desert is one of the most BEAUTIFUL STUNNING places in the world! These pics show it!

    • Reply Julianna Barnaby February 26, 2017 at 10:44 am

      I totally agree! Nothing had quite prepared me for the fact that it was so incredible!

  • Reply C-Ludik February 26, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    I’ve been to those places too. It is just amazing !! It is really difficult to say which place is my favorite one on the North of Chile… If I have to choose only one place within this area: the Salar de Uyuni !! If you want to see some pictures, http://www.c-ludik.fr/en/south-america/bolivia/

    • Reply Julianna Barnaby February 26, 2017 at 6:51 pm

      I actually preferred the lakes in the Atacama to the Salar de Uyuni – do love the whole altiplano area though!

  • Reply Lost Girl's Guide (@lostgirlsguide) March 4, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    I went to the geysers early in the morning and thought I was going to freeze to death haha! Definitely needed a few more layers on that day! Your photos in this article are fantastic! 🙂

  • Reply Photo Guide To Valle de la Luna in Chile - Probe around the Globe March 23, 2017 at 10:28 pm

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