There are many deserts, many picture-perfect towns and strange natural phenomenon in the world, but there are few places where all of these things are combined in one. Are you familiar with the most popular desert town in the world?
San Pedro de Atacama is a unique destination, a place that seems as if it were created for a science fiction movie. Located in the Atacama desert, it’s one of the most visited tourist attractions in Chile as well as the home of many Chileans that decided to radically change their city lives and live in an isolated but still very interesting place.
San Pedro de Atacama is a small town that has one main street as its center, called Caracoles. Tourism agencies, restaurants, artisans, ice cream shops and hostels all converge on this small dirt road. In the morning and the evening, the small street is empty, but once the sun comes out, tourists and locals leave their lodging and homes to wander, book tours, eat and meet people from different countries.
Up until this point in the article, San Pedro de Atacama sounds like any other cosmopolitan town, similar to how Puerto Natales, Puerto Varas or Pucón are described. But this town is much different than the others for one main reason: it is in the middle of an extremely dry desert. So, why do so many people come here?
The moon, the floating bodies, and the Earth’s blowhole
At about 4 in the morning begins the caravan of minivans leaving from San Pedro de Atacama. They head towards higher ground, approximately 4200 meters above sea level to be exact. Way before the sun comes up, the earth has already awoken and begun its activity shooting bursts of water into the abyss. This phenomenon is a characteristic of the geysers, sources of hot water that erupt every now and then. There are only 1000 in the world and one of the largest fields are in Tatio, 78 km from San Pedro de Atacama.
The phenomenon, called by the locals “the grandfather that doesn’t stop crying”, is not the only thing that calls attention to the area surrounding San Pedro de Atacama. Only 57 km from town, there are 7 lagoons, emerald blue, that are surrounded by salt flats, creating a landscape like none other. In addition to its beauty, also known as Lagunas de Baltinache, this has become one of the most popular tourist attractions because of its distinctive waters, containing a concentration of salt greater than that of the Dead Sea, therefore floating the human body.
A perfect day begins at the Baltinache lagoons and culminates with a visit to a star destination of the area to watch the sunset, Valley of the Moon. To see the spectacle, you have to walk up an enormous sand dune, from where you can see the mountains of salt turning orange, pink and purple as the sunsets. Once the sky is dark, most motorized vehicles begin to leave, but not all visitors leave the spot. Some wait a while longer to ride their bikes back to town with only a flashlight and the milky way overhead.
Specialty niches in Mars and the Salar
Death Valley as some call it, but in actuality, its name is Mars Valley for the color of the sand. It is an arid zone of sand dunes where one of the most popular extreme sports in San Pedro de Atacama is practiced: sandboarding. With a board similar to a snowboard, the most daring start at the top of an enormous dune and slide down, others simply photograph this place where you can easily imagine Martians coming out of their hidden corners.
The main attraction for the majority of the photographers is not Mars Valley, but the Chaxa lagoon, where beautiful pink flamingos live, that let you get close if you arrive at the right time. Another place to photograph the flamingos is Tebinquinhe, a lagoon that dried up and left sheets of salt where the flamingos eat. This place is the second most popular to watch the sunset, and for good reason. The colors of the sun make the perfect postcard, reflecting in the white lagoons.
In the same desert, between the Salar of the Atacama and Tebinquinche are the Ojos del Salar, two pools of freshwater with depths that some daring look for without success. It is said that they are so deep that no human has reached its bottom, and although jumping into these dark waters may sound like an extreme adventure, according to most, it is the best option to refresh and escape the intense desert sun for a moment.
These are not the only places that you can visit in San Pedro de Atacama. There are also altiplanic lagoons, the Cejar lagoon, Red Rocks, Puritama hot springs, Lascar Volcano, and many more that are still kept secret .
It seems that these city dwellers that came to this corner of the universe did so for good reason. They found the rooster with the gold eggs, a place inexplicably magical full of natural phenomenons and attractions.
Live the experience
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