The famed Atacama Desert has often been described as a moon-like setting due to its desolate landscapes. The odd combination of rock formations, canyons, salt basins and lava flows, make this region one of the most striking regions in all of Chile and it appears the landscapes were pulled right off a science fiction book. Travelers from all over the world visit the dry setting of the Atacama to be witnesses of its bubbling geysers, hot springs, crystal-clear blue lagoons, and its beautiful valleys and rivers.
The Atacama plateau extends all the way from the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Our home and adventure center for our 4 night journey is the award-winning Tierra Atacama Hotel, found just 20 minutes away from the Spanish colonial village of San Pedro de Atacama and surrounded by a green oasis. At an altitude of 7,000 feet, you will feel like you can literally touch the clear and star-filled skies that hover over you at night. The skies here are some of the clearest in the world, which is why a few of the best observatories on the planet are found in Atacama.
Each day guests can choose their activities for the day, whether it be two half day excursions or one full day excursion. The choice is made every day on the spot, in order to make sure the activities tailor to your mood and energy. Below are some of the options of the fantastic places you can visit:
The Atacama Desert covers a total area of 40,541 sq. mi (105,000 sq. km), stretching 600mi (1000km) from southern Peru into northern Chile. Officially the driest place on Earth, the Atacama Desert receives almost no rainfall whatsoever. In fact, it is so dry that some weather stations in the desert have never recorded a single drop of rain. As a result of these harsh conditions, plant and animal life is almost non-existent, particularly in the lower Atacama Desert. The northern coastal areas, however, do receive a little more rainfall, and as a result, are less arid.
For more great information on the Atacama Desert ----> 10 Facts About The Atacama Desert
There are three main reasons that contribute to the Atacama Desert being the driest place on earth. The first reason is that the desert sits on the wrong side of the Andes with regards to prevailing winds. The prevailing southeast trade winds that carry moist air are forced to rise. The moisture condenses, and falls on the opposite side of the Andes to the Atacama. This is commonly known as a rain shadow.
The second reason is the high air pressure in the Atacama Desert. Essentially, descending air warms up, meaning that any moisture within turns to water vapor (gas, not liquid) as opposed to rain.
The third and the last reason is the cold Humboldt Current from the Pacific Ocean. Any onshore winds are usually chilled so they are unable to pick up moisture from the ocean. Cumulatively, the effect of the aforementioned three points creates the driest place on earth…The Atacama Desert.
The Atacama Desert is pretty cold despite being the driest desert and the temperature ranges between 0°C to 25°C. The annual rainfall in this dry desert area is less than 0.004 inches/0.01cm of rain per year. Since the desert lies between Andes Mountain in the east and Chile coast to the west, this region has rain shadow effect and is deprived of almost all moisture.
Plants do not grow in this region as the desert is covered with marine fog. However, some species of cacti, algae, and lichen are found.
Birds are probably the largest animal group in the Atacama Desert. Humboldt penguins live year-round along the coast, nesting in desert cliffs overlooking the ocean. On salt flats both near the Pacific and inland, Andean flamingos flock to eat the algae. Other birds, including species of hummingbirds and sparrows, visit the desert seasonally to feed on insects, nectar, seeds and flowers. The Atacama helps sustain several threatened species, such as the Tamarugo Conebill, the Chilean Woodstar and the Slender-Billed Finch. When flowers are in bloom, the deserts’ ecosystems even support birds of prey, such as burrowing owls and Chimango Caracaras.
Because of the desert’s extreme aridity, only a few specially adapted mammal species live in the Atacama. Darwin’s leaf-eared mouse eats grass, insects and seeds. The South American gray fox, also omnivorous, lives on eggs, fruit, lizards, rodents, seeds and even scorpions. The viscacha, a relative of the chinchilla, also lives in parts of the desert. Larger animals, such as guanacos and vicunas -- both relatives of llamas -- graze in areas where grass grows, irrigated by melted snow. Vicunas need to remain near a steady water supply, while guanacos can roam into more arid areas and survive longer without fresh water. Fur seals and sea lions often gather along the coast.
The Atacama Desert has surprisingly few reptile and amphibian species. The Vallenar toad lives on the desert, where it lays eggs in permanent ponds or streams. Iguanas and lava lizards inhabit parts of the desert, while salt flat lizards live in the dry areas bordering the ocean.
Many parts of the Atacama Desert are too dry to sustain even insect life. In other areas, sand-colored grasshoppers blend with pebbles on the desert floor. Beetles and their larvae provide a valuable food source in the desert. Desert wasps sometimes prey on other insects. During especially warm, humid seasons, butterflies visit the desert. Red scorpions also live in the desert, where their color helps conceal them from predators such as gray foxes.
We leave the hotel before dawn to arrive at the famous geysers at daybreak: the steam and vapors are all the more impressive with the cold and the light of the early morning. At the geyser field, we will also see geysers thermal pools, mud fountains, colorful rock formations, hot streams and flora and fauna. The return journey is quite stunning with an abundance of wildlife and beautifully contrasting landscapes.
A two and a half hour drive, south east from the hotel brings us to the high Andean lagoons of Miscanti and Miñiques. The lagoons are surrounded by beautiful snowcapped mountains and a wide variety of flora and fauna. The lagoons provide a stunning contrast and the combined effect is an amazing explosion of colors from white, blue and silver through to red, pink and yellow.
The history of the Atacama is fascinating, and helps to explain the culture and the idiosyncrasies of the desert peoples to the visitor. The museum displays give a broad understanding of events here and the visits to the archeological sites uncover vestiges which still exist today.
A 20 minute drive brings us to the spectacular Moon Valley. This is one of the most famous national parks in Chile and for good reason. The enormous sand dunes and dramatic rock formations create a stunning lunar landscape born of land lifts and centuries of erosion. The sunsets here are extraordinary and no visit to San Pedro is complete without a trip to the Moon Valley to watch the sun go down. We will stop in the typical spots (Kari, Cuevas de sal, Duna Mayor, Crater Central, Tres Marías). With option of many short walks.
A 30 minute drive takes us to Moon Valley. Once inside the national park, we will begin a 9km trek through the dunes, gorges and flats that have helped make San Pedro famous throughout the world.
A two and a half hour drive takes us across the high plains to the lovely village of Caspana. On the way, we will enjoy a wide variety of wildlife native to the area such as llamas, vicuñas, zuris, foxes and vizcachas. We will have lunch in Caspana, which is famous for its white liparita stone buildings and its narrow paved streets. We then visit the tiny village of Chiu- Chiu, which dates back to 3000 BC. This is a good excursion for your last day at Alto Atacama as the villages are in the direction of the airport in Calama.
On the way to the famous salt flats of San Pedro de Atacama, we visit the lovely town of Tocanao and the Valle Escondido de Kunza (the hidden valley) where we visit the church and artisan market stalls in the central plaza. From here, we continue our journey to the salt flats. On arrival, there is a gentle 20 minute walk to the Laguna de Chaxa where we can see wild flamingos and other birds native to the area. Later, when the setting sun catches on the mountains and the lagoons, you will see one of the most incredible sunsets the world has to offer.
There is a wide variety of cycling tours available in Atacama, from cycling around iconic valleys, to exploring salt flats and small villages. Durations can vary anywhere from a half hour, up to a half day (4 to 5 hours). This will depend on your interests and physical abilities, but in general, cycling tours are available for just about anyone, regardless of age or physical condition.
We can arrange a selection of rides with Atacaman horses. Our saddles are Chilean (Western) style. The horses are mounted at the hotel and we travel with our guide to discover the desert scenery. In keeping with our philosophy we work with a local small business for this service.
Autumn 2016 will see the introduction of an exciting new product in the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile. For the very first time “Balloons over Atacama” will offer visitors a unique and exciting journey flying over the beautiful Valley of the Moon in a hot air balloon.
Our sunrise flights throughout the year will drift slowly over multi colored and spectacular rock formations and salt plains against a backdrop of distant snowcapped Volcanoes. Ordinarily flights are planned to last one hour. However, the entire experience will last about 2½ – 3 hours. On landing, our fully trained local ground crew will pack the balloon whilst passengers enjoy a light champagne breakfast.
Awasi is situated inside an ancient site surrounded by a historic wall, which for years housed shepherds and herders. Its privileged location just a stone’s throw from the center of town makes it possible to enjoy “town life”. We invite you to visit the church, the museum, the fair, the picturesque local stores and get to know the people.
The hotel has only eight rooms built of stone, adobe and wood, with thatched roofs. Their ample spaces of more than 60 m² (646 sq ft), with comfortable lounge chairs, large bathrooms opening out onto private open-air patios with solarium and showers are really unique, designed for relaxation, privacy and a well-deserved rest.
Tierra Atacama is a boutique hotel on the edge of San Pedro de Atacama. Tierra Atacama provides guest experiences that combine outdoor adventure and sports with indoor comforts, hospitality and excellent service.
Tierra Atacama’s architecture, interior design and gardens were designed by some of Chile’s leading creative talent. Their objectives were to be as authentic as possible, using furniture and accessories handmade with local materials, while also creating a place that allows guests to relax, spoil themselves and enjoy the good-life in this magical part of the earth.
Their ambiance is casual and friendly; they want their guests to be comfortable in the common areas just as if they were in their own homes.
Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa is the only lodge in the San Pedro region that is totally enveloped by natural surroundings. Located in the lush Catarpe Valley of the Salt Mountain Range, just over a mile from the plaza of San Pedro, the Alto Atacama’s design was influenced by local village architecture and conceived to blend seamlessly into its environment and appear as a part of the terracotta-colored ridge that rises behind it. The setting, the sweeping views, the tranquility and silence, and the hotel’s wonderful outdoor lounge spaces make the Alto Atacama a destination unto itself, and unlike any other hotel property in the region. Environmental sustainability and a strong connection with the local culture have put the Alto Atacama in a category of its own, as has its “Andescape” concept of decorative flora and stable of friendly llamas and alpacas, local cuisine, and Leave No Trace-schooled guides.
The Alto Atacama seeks to open a traveler’s eyes, to explore, to feel, to connect, and to return revitalized and changed by a truly authentic experience one will never forget. Rather than simply taking photos as a passive traveler, Alto Atacama encourages guests to get off the beaten track, interact with the local indigenous culture and explore the desert’s varied and eerily beautiful landscapes by foot or bike. More than half of Alto Atacama’s staff is indigenous, and their personal stories and histories enrich a guests’ understanding of the region. Geysers, hot springs, volcano climbs, mountain biking through desert canyons, and exploring ancient Incan ruins and petroglyphs are just a few of the 30 adventurous excursions offered, always led by highly trained local guides
The Hotel Boutique Noi Casa Atacama is a very special place for the travelers that came to visit the north of Chile. Many details such as the architecture and tours make this place unique. The hotel is very hospitable, makes the guests feel like home, the facilities are outstanding, it has swimming pool and spa where guests can relax and rest after the fun afternoon excursions, Noi Casa Atacama provides several activities for a really impressive and friendly stay.
Formerly known as Kunza Hotel & Spa, Hotel Cumbres San Pedro de Atacama has re-emerged as the ultimate in luxury on a warm and intimate scale. Here, guests will enjoy the award-winning service and gracious hospitality for which the Cumbres brand is known.
Perfectly situated two kilometers from the village of San Pedro de Atacama, at the edge of the world’s driest desert, Hotel Cumbres stands as a tranquil oasis. It is a special place, where the ancient architecture of Atacameños Ayllu blends with modern style and sensibility. Amidst native wood and stone design elements, guests are filled with a deep sense of connection to their surroundings.
The hotel’s 60 beautifully appointed accommodation feature spacious 52-square-meter floor plans and private terraces with views of the Atacama Desert landscape and Volcán Licancabur. Each room has been designed to be the ideal private retreat, with classic furnishings and a minimalist décor existing in harmony with the natural environment.
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