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.
- 1 1. Laguna Tebinquinche
- 2 2. Sunrise over Lascar Volcano
- 3 3. A Lone Flamingo at Laguna Chaxa
- 4 4. Salar de Talar and Aguas Calientes
- 5 5. Valle de La Luna (The Valley of the Moon)
- 6 6. Salar de Quisqiuro
- 7 7. Salar de Tara
- 8 8. Dawn over El Tatio Geysers
- 9 9. Sunset over Guatin
- 10 10. Cactus Canyon, Guatin
1. Laguna Tebinquinche
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
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.
3. A Lone Flamingo at Laguna Chaxa
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.
4. Salar de Talar and Aguas Calientes
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)
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
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.
7. Salar de Tara
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
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
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
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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