The beauty of the Atacama Desert

  • Marion Bunnik
  • 15 Jun 20

It has been many years since my last visit to the Atacama Desert and I was happy to see that not much has changed.

On arrival in Calama – the gateway to the Atacama Desert, our guide Alejandra was waiting for us. Our luggage came in 2 lots, after all we are in South America and things work a little differently here! The drive to San Pedro de Atacama from Calama is approx. 1.5 hrs and soon we fell asleep – so very tired from our long flight from Australia. The scenery closer to San Pedro is beautiful and sadly we missed it as we didn’t wake up until we arrived at our hotel, Antiplanico.

Atacama Desert – San Pedro de Atacama

It has been many years since my last visit to the Atacama Desert and I was happy to see that not much has changed. There are more hotels, more tourist offices, more small restaurants but still there is the lovely laid-back atmosphere I remembered. San Pedro de Atacama started as a hippy village and it still attracts the backpackers, however now there are more tourists who require higher standard accommodation and that is what is now catered for. We are staying in a lovely 4 star property, just outside the main drag and a short walk to the lively Main Street.

We went for a walk after checking in and freshening up in our room, by the time we wandered along the Main Street and visited the square the sun had set. It was just an amazing spectacle, a beautiful orange-red colour, and that meant it was time for us to find a restaurant for dinner. Our little powernap during the ride from the airport had freshened us up enough to look for a delicious meal, with a lovely glass of Chilean wine. While walking back to our hotel, we admired the wonderful stars shining so brightly here in the Atacama Desert. It was early to bed, ready for our day tour to the lagoons and the salt lakes the following day.

The mornings are cold here in the desert and we rugged up to brave the weather. We left at 730 and headed to the Lagoons. The drive was just so beautiful, volcanic mountains with ice and snow on top. The colours ranged from red to green to yellow and brown, full of salt bushes. When we reached over 3500 metres in altitude the bushes were bright yellow with the sun reflecting off them.

These are the bushes the vicuñas eat and it is their breeding area as well.  We were lucky to see some of them roaming around, they are rather shy and don’t come to close to humans. The wool of the vicunas is of very high quality and so fine and soft, it’s the most expensive wool available and the production is controlled by the Government.

Miniques & Miscanti Lagoons and Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos at Laguna de Chaxa

We went to visit both lagoons of the Atacama Desert, first the smaller Miniques and after the larger Miscanti. With the mighty volcano towering over the lagoons, the snow on top makes for fantastic photos. It almost looks like the volcano and the other mountains are protecting the lagoons. The water is an amazing blue colour, when there is no wind the volcanos are reflected in the lagoons. Unfortunately for us it was a bit windy so we couldn’t see a clear reflection.

From here we travelled to the salt lake where the flamingos breed and, as it is breeding season, we saw them doing their mating dance. The salt lake isn’t that far from the lagoons, however when we arrived here it was so hot, such a difference in temperature from the lagoons. Admittedly, we were on a lower altitude, but we didn’t expect to find that we could strip off to just t-shirts from thick coats and scarves. The sun was shining and we were soaking up the warmth with pleasure. The landscape here in the Atacama Desert is just so amazing, lava rocks surround the lake, very barren but still so beautiful. This area is a National Park and thankfully nothing will be done to change this beauty. In the distance are the mountains with the wonderful colours from brown, green, black to yellow.

Photo credit: Marion Bunnik