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Martian Landscapes and Scenic Beauty: Blown Away by Atacama

Martian Landscapes and Scenic Beauty: Blown Away by Atacama

Arriving in the Atacama Desert this October, I was speechless as the plane began to descend into Calama, the region's capitol. The austere and Martian desert stretched out in every direction and was accented with epic snowcapped volcanoes in shades of fiery orange and rusty red; the salt flats beckoned to the east while smaller, salt mountains signaled the mouth of the Moon Valley to the south.

Sunset at edge of Moon Valley looking to Licancabur Volcano

View from hike through the Moon Valley

Met at the airport, by my Explora Atacama hosts, I was given my introduction to this remote region of Chile. “The first European explorers to reach what is now known as the Atacama Desert were drawn by tales of a land rich in gold located somewhere south of the Inca Empire. It was due to this quest that the Spanish conquistador, Diego de Almagro, after a perilous journey across the Andes Mountains, became the first European adventurer to arrive in Chile and set foot in Atacama’s arid expanse. To this day, Atacama continues to offer a singular experience – a stunning encounter with mesmerizing traditions, forms and colors in a remote corner of the planet.”

Breathtaking landscapes on the Altiplano

After almost two hours of skirting the magnificent and impressive geological formations found in the Moon Valley, we arrived in San Pedro de Atacama- our base camp for a full range of adventurous activities over the coming week.

Salt mountains that run along the western boarder of San Pedro de Atacama

During my stay at Explora Atacama I was consistently surrounded by absolutely phenomenal guides who were remarkably passionate and knowledgeable about their surroundings. Any questions regarding history, flora, fauna, geology, astronomy, local food and culture and more were thoughtfully and thoroughly answered with energetic responses. Our guides Luis and Oscar in particular were some of the most professional and talented guides I have ever had. They consistently went out of their way to make our experience the best possible.

Trekking with our guide Oscar in Rio Blanco

Group summit photo with guide Oscar (right) on top of Cerro Toco (18,386 ft)

Just a few of my favorite excursions, while at Explora Atacama were: Volcano Climbing Cerro Toco (18,386 ft ) and Lascar Volcano (18,346), cycling through the Garganta del Diablo Canyon (Devils throat Canyon), and hiking in the Moon Valley and along Rio Blanco to the geysers. Finally, one of the most amazing features at Explora Atacama is their onsite observatory. The Atacama Desert is used by NASA as one of the primary global locations for celestial observation given its clear skies and lack of light pollution. The observatory at Explora allows guests to have the chance to take a star gazing hobby to the next level. While I was at Explora I had the mindboggling chance to see Saturn and its rings as well as get an absolutely magnificent view of the craters on the moon!

Cycling in La Garganta del Diablo Canyon

Hiking along Rio Blanco to the geysers

Majestic llamas along the descent of Cerro Toco

Craters of the Moon seen from Explora's observatory

Visiting Atacama, is a riveting way to begin an adventurous trip to Chile and acts as an amazing counterpoint to the wintry Patagonian steppe and granite mountains of Torres del Paine.

Want to discuss adding Atacama to your next trip to Chile? Please come to my lecture on Exploring Chile this month! November 21@ 10:00 AM - The Savvy Traveler (Edmonds, WA). Can't attend? Feel free to contact me via email.

Cheers from your friendly South America Program Director,


Gretchen
 

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