Return Trips: The Atacama Desert

Flamingos in the Atacama Desert

Chile is a gorgeous country full of diverse landscapes and rich culture. A trip to Chile is always full of delicious food, premium wine, exciting adventures, and distinctive history. The range of experiences that you can have in Chile is so vast that it is nearly impossible to see everything in a single, short trip. The reality is that, if you want to truly immerse yourself in all that Chile has to offer, then you need to visit a few times.
If you’ve visited Chile before, then you know that the country is exceptionally enchanting. Even a small taste of the country is enough to leave many first-time visitors enamored. Typically, trips highlight mainstream must-sees, which serve as an incredible introduction to the country but often leave visitors wondering what off the beaten path attractions they may have missed. What cultural experiences lie beyond the lively city of Santiago? What adventures await you outside of Chilean Patagonia? There is so much to explore! By embarking on a second trip to Chile, you can start to know the country more intimately. Each time you visit, you will fall more in love.
It turns out that one of Chile’s most remarkable attractions is also one of the attractions that are most commonly overlooked by first-time visitors. The Atacama Desert is a world of its own. Atacama, the driest non-polar desert in the world, is located high in the Andes in the northern part of the country. In this harsh yet strikingly beautiful landscape, you will find small villages, unobstructed stargazing, volcanic hikes, lunar rock formations, turquoise lagoons, unusual wildlife, and much more. It is one of the most interesting places to visit in Chile.
The best homebase for exploring the Atacama Desert and surrounding spaces is San Pedro de Atacama. While Atacama is an environmental spectacle, San Pedro de Atacama is a hub for heritage. This picturesque oasis town is geologically and historically rich, making it the perfect residential accompaniment for excursions around Atacama. At different points in time, San Pedro de Atacama has been a home to Inca trade and Spanish conquistadors, but it is presently known for its access to natural and archaeological wonders.
At the salt flat, Salar de Atacama, you will find unbelievable views. In the high plains, you can visit pristine, deep blue lagoons. The area is also known for the panoramas of southern constellations that blanket the dark, clear sky each night.
One of the most popular attractions is Valle de la Luna, which sits at the heart of Atacama, right outside of San Pedro de Atacama. This landscape looks just like the surface of the moon! You will feel transported into outer space as you traverse this nearly-extraterrestrial Chilean wonder.
Southern Explorations offers a wonderful trip extension in San Pedro de Atacama. It makes a fantastic stand-alone trip, but it can also be coupled with other experiences. If you haven’t yet visited Patagonia, then you won’t want to miss this region at the southern tip of the country. There, you can spend time in temperate rainforest or on glacial fjords. You may even see wildlife like penguins while you are there. A trip to Atacama also pairs well with travel to Bolivia, a high-altitude central South American country with its own stretches of the Andes Mountains and Atacama Desert, as well as Amazon rainforest, massive salt flats, and plenty of llamas. For a particularly unique experience, you can tack on a drive across the Altiplano, the most extensive high plateau outside of Tibet, into Salta, Argentina. Salta is a stunning, mountainous town known for its Spanish colonial architecture and strong Andean heritage. You will adore their awe-inspiring scenery, cute cafes, and marvelous museums. 
These are the types of experiences you miss out on when you only visit Chile once. Sure, you can connect with the country on an initial visit. You can sample local flavors, admire the landscape, visit a few museums, and meet welcoming people, but, odds are, you will leave having barely scratched the surface of all that the country has to offer. You will want to come back. Why not indulge yourself? Follow your heart back to Chile!
It is time to get reacquainted with Chile. There is no better place to start diving deeper into Chile’s culture than San Pedro de Atacama and the Atacama Desert.
 Starry Night in the Atacama Desert
 Photo by brahan milla on Unsplash