S O U T H E R N L A T I T U D E S
T O U R S A T A C A M A D E S E R T
The Atacama Desert in Northern Chile is a very special place. To start with it contains some of the driest places on earth. There are coastal areas where the residents can’t remember the last time it rained! Most of the cities are situated on the coast including the clean, modern and vibrant Iquique. Deserted beaches stretch for miles and offer great photo opportunities.
Slightly inland as the Andes begin to rise up from the coast small amounts of precipitation do fall and life can be found. There are 120 species of cactus found in the Atacama along with scores of beautiful desert flowers.
The „altiplano“ or high plain is a feature unique to the Atacama. These high plains vary in elevation from 10,000 to 16,000 ft. The air at these altitudes is cool and thin. Here we find the majority of fascinating natural and archaeological sites the region is known for. Desert towns such as San Pedro de Atacama and Putre serve as bases to explore the altiplano. This was as far south as the Inca empire reached and signs of their inhabitance are all around. „Pukarįs“ or fortresses are exciting to explore and give an insight into the military workings of the Incas.
Wildlife abounds in the altiplano. The salt flats are home to flocks of birdlife including three species of flamingoes. Vicuńas (llama family), rheas, Andean fox and puma are all found here.
Small villages tucked away in desert oases are a wonderful cultural experience. Atacamanian people still live in these seldom visited towns and a peek into their way of life is a special experience. Brilliant blue skies are of course normal throughout the desert but temperatures can vary dramatically. Sunrise at the geysers is usually below freezing while the beaches are almost always warm and dry.
San Pedro de Atacama- This unique desert town is an important jumping off point for several of our destinations. We’ll spend up to four nights here depending on individual itineraries. The town itself is quite touristy but remains largely undiscovered by American tourists. Because of the tourists San Pedro boasts excellent hotels and restaurants. The town is also referred to as „artsie“ due to a large number of galleries and street music. There are several sights worth a visit in and around San Pedro. A wonderful museum houses artifacts from various ancient cultures including the Atacamanians and Incas. The Pukarį de Quitor is five minutes from town and is a great example of a hillside fortress. Hiking in Devil’s Gulch is a good way to explore the areas geology.
Valley of the Moon- Bizarre geologic formations and brilliant colors give this valley its name. During the day it’s mostly hot and dry but at sunset the hills spring to life with spectacular colors and shadows. Moonrise in the valley is nothing short of emotional.
The Coast- The largest cities in the desert are on the coast but in between lie hundreds of miles of deserted beaches. Blue waves contrast the parched landscape as we explore a remote white sand beach. Tidepools literally crawl with critters. Starfish, crabs and minnows hide in the rocks as we approach.
The Salt Flats- This trip has a great variety of sights. Several picturesque mountain churches await your photos. Laguna Chaxa is loaded with flamingoes almost everyday. Lovely high mountain lakes and salt flats teem with vicuńa and fox and offer an incredible contrast in colors between the blue waters and red mountains. Snow capped volcanoes up to 20,000 ft. surround us all day.
Chuquicamata Copper Mine- The largest open pit mine in the world, „Chuqui“ provides about 40% of Chile’s GNP. Mammoth trucks haul copper ore up out of the open pit mine 365 days a year. An hour long tour gives us a close-up look at the mines inner workings.
Desert Villages- In one day we’ll have the opportunity to see four remote desert villages. Hidden away in the bottoms of valleys or tucked into the trees in an oases time seems to have left these villages behind. Indigenous Atacamanian residents carry heavy loads on their backs and wear brightly colored clothes typical of the region. Photogenic churches sit patiently as time passes them by.
Geysers of Tatio- Prepare for an early morning. The geysers are best viewed at sunrise as the steam condenses against the cold morning air. Terrific photo opportunities abound as the first rays of the sun touch the steam plumes. Don’t run for your photo though, at 16,000 ft. the air is a bit thin!
Flora and Fauna- The far north holds many natural wonders. Exotic cactus species cover steep hillsides and desert wildflowers are too numerous to count. Lauca National Park is home to healthy populations of vicuńa, fox, flamingoes and vizcachas. What’s a vizcacha? Come to the Atacama to find out!
Cities- Iquique is a beautiful coastal city supported by it’s fishing and mining industries. A year round pleasant climate and clean beaches make this one of Chile’s nicest cities. Tasty seafood is popular fare at numerous restaurants and an excellent choice after several days in the mountains. Your five-star hotel Terrado Suites is on the beach and next door to the casino.
Cities: Antofagasta , Arica , Calama , Iquique , La Serena , Putre , San Pedro de Atacama
Description: Northern Chile is a land of extreme contrast, where two uniquely Andean environments, the Altiplano and the Atacama Desert, combine
with unpredictable and overwhelmingly beautiful results. The vast and colorful Atacama Desert is said to be the driest desert in the world. In some parts of this desert, no precipitation has ever been recorded.
From north to south, the principal destination cities in northern Chile are Arica, Iquique, Calama, San Pedro de Atacama, and Antofagasta. Of these, all but Calama and San Pedro are coastal cities, with fine beaches where clouds – let alone rain – are never an issue. Accommodations, transportation, and other tourist services are on a par with the capital, and each city provides access to a distinct portion of the desert, sierra foothills, or Altiplano. Trekking, Ethinc and overland tours, mountaineering and archaeological tours are among the most popular activities in Northern Chile