Off to the Driest Place on Earth: Four Days in San Pedro de Atacama

Just when I thought it couldn’t get more hippy, we arrive in San Pedro de Atacama. In the central square, energy channelers move their bodies like marionettes, vagabonds strum their guitars, artisans sell handmade balms and oils, and at least one person offers to braid your hair. It’s the kind of place that could really inspire you to grow a rats tail.

But really, San Pedro has a pretty cool vibe. The streets are lined with adobe homes, everyone is relaxed and the surrounding area holds some of the most beautiful natural jewels in the whole world.

Arriving in the Atacama Desert is some what shocking because you don’t expect to see snow peaked mountains next to arid sand dunes. As you drive closer to San Pedro, the landscape becomes extraterrestrial and feels as though you could be on mars. On our first night we watched as the sunset over the Valle de la Luna and and we were in awe as the red rock formations lit up.

Salt as far as the eye can see

On the other side of San Pedro, the landscape becomes much more flat and salt deposits are visible everywhere. We visited the Salar de Atacama, which is a large salt flat in the Los Flamingos National Park. As the park’s name implies, its home to many, many flamingos! It was shocking to see how they could survive, even thrive, in such a harsh environment. Nu thought their mud nests were pretty interesting but found the salt flats a little stinky.

Its not only a harsh environment for those flamingos. We also saw a ton of crispy gringos who clearly didn’t take the hat and sunscreen recommendation seriously. The salt flats reflect light so they warn you not to spend more than 45 minutes outside. Even wearing 50 sunscreen and spending less than 30 minutes we walked away with rosy faces.

Up to the Altiplano

As you ascend into the mountains the scenery changes from funny cartoon-like cacti to lush green high altitude lagoons. Guanacos (similar to alpacas) feed off this vegetation and wade in the cool waters coming from the mountain peaks.

We visited a place called Vega de Putana where you can see the active volcano also called Putana. We found the name both shocking and hilarious. Anyone who speaks a romantic language will understand why…

With geothermal activity there always come hot springs – one of our family’s favourite activities! We choose the Thermis de Puritama, which was just perfect for Nu because its a comfortable 33 degrees and has shallow, clear pools. He spent an hour lifting rocks from the bottom and splashing Sami and I.

In my opinion, the most beautiful site in the Atacama Desert is the night sky. The skies are famously clear, which allows for amazing star gazing. There are several planetariums where you can use high powered telescopes to see the moon, planets an stars, but even just laying on your back its impossible not to be reminded of how magical our universe truly is.