Let me take you on a trip..to the Atacama Desert in Chile.
Here are our scenic highlights..
Salar de Atacama
The Atacama Desert is dry, really dry, it might rain less than a millimetre of rain every decade or so, you won’t find any stores selling umbrellas here! What you will find is a massive incredible salt flat The Salar de Atacama.
Lakes are formed from waters flowing down from the high Andes Mountains, the water becomes trapped on the massive flat basin. So with nowhere to go it heats and evaporates in the blinding sunshine leaving behind crusty salt deposits.
The saline minerals and microscopic algae in the lakes provide food for the beautiful pink flamingos at Laguna Chaxa. The shimmering waters provide perfect mirror reflections of aqua blue skies, sulphate yellows and pastel pink colours from the volcanoes that surround the Salt Flats. The vast expanse of these dried up desert lakes have formed over thousands of years to look like crusty old cauliflower florets, chunky sea coral and pointy shards of ice. The white and cream landscape is stunning against the bright blue sky. Look at my happy face!
Salar de Talar
Our Cosmo Andino tour mini van expertly driven by Juan Carlos ascended slowly as the oxygen was decreasing, to the high Chilean plateau and at 13,000ft we were amazed by the enormous landscape of Salar de Talar.
This salt flat is fantastically framed by the dusky pink, red volcanic rocks and the Cerro Medano with its grey, brown and jagged sides. In the west the Caichinque volcano contrasted against the dazzling white salt flat and spearmint coloured green lake.
Finally here, my cosy Bear Grylls endorsed winter coat made its first appearance from the travel bag. Hurray for the coat, as I was super snoochy in the strong freezy wind! We certainly felt the altitude here in our breathing walking back up from the flats. My head felt fresh, allergy free and maybe the geothermal volcanic energy gave me an extra push back up to the van.
Slightly higher in altitude on the high plateau at 14,000ft we were wowed by the deep blue volcanic lagoons of Miscanti and Miñiques. Not only are the two volcanoes spectacular but the view over the clear lakes literally does take your breath away! It was as if we had time travelled back to the beginning of time.
We took a lovely and thankfully slow, crispy cold walk along the Miscanti Lagoon edge. Felipe our Cosmo Andino tour guide provided lots of interesting information along the way.
Valle de la Luna y Muerte
NASA tested the Mars Rover here on this bizarre moon landscape, on how it would operate to detect life in an inhospitable and sterile environment. So no surprise it is called the Valley of Death and the Valley of the Moon for good reason, as the mysterious desert landscape does indeed look like it’s from another planet.
When you stand still and quiet inside the Death Valley canyons, you can hear a rather unsettling cracking as the halite rock salts contract as the day ebbs and colder shadows move overhead.
It’s an endless array of giant sand dunes, pointy rock formations and symmetrical volcanoes edging this strange land. The wind has sandblasted rocks into shapes that with a bit of imagination resemble the Virgin Mary and huge alien battleships, not two shapes usually seen together!
At sunset, throngs of travelers sit precariously on the edge of the ravines and canyons in the Valley of the Moon, cameras recording every panoramic moment of the setting sun. Shadows and colours change constantly. Salts and minerals twinkle in the golden glow as the sun fades, along with the reds and oranges, a dusty rainbow of colours edges upwards on the Licancábur volcano.
The Atacama Desert was indeed spectacular, dusty and brilliant and as we continued to travel north through Chile it seemed fabulously endless…