Explore geysers, bubbling mud springs and Chile’s biggest salt lakes by day and star gaze at night, all in this unmissable destination...
Astronomers the world over talk in hushed tones about the clean, clear and capacious skies of the Atacama desert. The luckiest get to book precious hours at the Very Large Telescope south of Antofagasta where they can search for distant nebulae, red dwarfs, black holes and the origins of the universe. Fortunately, even without a pass to plug in to the four huge mirrors of the VLT, visitors are free to lie down outside and drink up the Milky Way, Magellanic Clouds and Southern Cross spread across the night sky.
In San Pedro de Atacama – the ideal base for exploring the world’s driest desert – there are stargazing courses for those who really want to get to know the cosmos.
Daytime is equally spellbinding, and it pays to rise early to see the geysers at El Tatio. At 4,200m above sea level, they are most alive in the morning when the boiling steam condenses in the cold dawn air. Visitors stay for two or three hours and are free to walk along paths through the geysers and bubbling muddy springs.
As well as the shifting dunes and Martian-like mountains of the region (the southern ranges are used for Mars vehicle testing) the desert has at its heart the Salar de Atacama. Chile’s biggest salt lake, it is fringed on one side by several active volcanoes and encompasses a sinkhole, lakes where flamingos feed and, visible right from the roadside, an endless ‘sea’ of bizarre salt ‘waves’ formed by the wind.
Dine out in San Pedro de Atacama This small oasis town has some great bars – with live folk and jazz music – and very romantic restaurants.
Do a stargazing tour... Or a course so you can see the stars and planets properly – and name them.
Explora el Vino! Even if you’re not staying at the Explora Hotel de Larache, drop in for a glass of cool sauvignon blanc and check out the architecture, interior design and the volcano-themed views from the terrace.
Go to the moon in mars... In the midst of the Martian browns and reds is the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), formed by petriied, wind-sculpted sand and stone.
See the pink flamingos... At the Cejar lagoon. This lagoon is the local (but very cold) equivalent of the Dead Sea so you can just jump in and float.
Sample itinerary Cox & Kings’ 12-night ‘Splendours of Chile’ group tour, priced from £3,495, spends three days exploring the spectacular Atacama desert. Visit salt lats, traditional villages built of volcanic stone and marvel at the sunset over the Valley of the Moon. Speak to an expert about alternative private tours on 0845 619 6094
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