Trekking in the Atacama Desert

Chile, a long narrow strip of land on the south west side of South America is land of varied landscapes. It has mountain ranges of Andes to the east, coastal land in the west, Atacama Desert in the north, Easter Island in the Polynesia and some territory in Antarctica, too. Chile has the mainland, islands and archipelagoes. Continental country of Chile has a rich cultural heritage with the blend of Spanish and European influences.

The majority of the population is concentrated in the central Chile and they are mainly engaged in agriculture, mining and fishing. Tourism is also a prominent source of income; over the period of time it has emerged as a popular tourist destination with English speaking population. Atacama Desert in Northern Chile is one of the preferred destinations for adventure sports, expeditions, desert hiking and trekking.

The Atacama is one of the most arid deserts. It lies between the two mountain ranges that are the Andes and the Domeykos. Some of the topography includes salt flats, hot springs, copper and other mineral mines, oases, fertile ravines, and natural reserves. It has a number of archeological sites and museums. Temperature can rise up to 26 degree Celsius during the day and can go as low as 7 degree Celsius at night. Coastal cities of the desert have pleasant weather and temperate climate. The sea mist from the rises near Copiapo and nourishes the life forms at the natural reserves and natural parks such as Pan de Azucar and Fray Jorque. Atacamadesert is home to a number of astronomical observatories also. Some of them are Cerro Peranal and Alma Project.

The desert trek at Atacama desert in Chile begins at San Pedro located near the edge of the desert. It has not rained here for several hundred years. A few minutes of drive can take you to the heart of the desert. A number of routes are available trek the Atacama Desert. You can opt for a trek that lasts only for a few hours or few days. Generally trekking takes place in groups of eight or more people accompanied by qualified, bilingual guides. During the hike you explore the natural landscapes such as Andean mountains, salt lakes, volcanoes, coastal desert areas etc, unique wild life, and green oases. Trekking connects you to the nature and surroundings in a meaningful way. Places like labyrinths, rocky formations, narrow gorges, and ravines can be explores on foot while trekking. Trekking expeditions in desert also expose you to the ancient cultures, archeological sites, salt lakes and diverse wild life of the desert.

While trekking Atacama desert in Chile, for the first two days you can explore the areas surrounding San Pedro that are located at the altitude of 2,500 to 3,000 meter above sea level. Gradually you can move towards higher places once your body becomes accustomed to the heights. While trekking, you can reach a very high and remote plateau also known as Altiplano. Altiplano culminates at the volcanic mountain range. From here you can get a perfect view of surrounding salt lagoons, flamingo lakes, desolate landscapes and peaks of salt. During December to February Atacamean Andes have heavy rainfalls. It is not advisable to visit this place during rains. Some of the interesting trekking routes are desert trek to Altiplano, flamingos of Laguna Blanca, ascent of Licancabur, and trek through the Kari canyon.

The trek takes you to the Moon Valley. Here you may discover amazing shapes among the maze of saline formations. You can also explore unknown gorges. The summit of the Moon Valley offers a spectacular view of the sunset in the backdrop of Andes. While moving towards a shelter in Catapre, you trek along a trail through a long ledge. This is an old path, which was used by the muleteers. Trek along the narrow trail gives a stunning view of the valley of Rio San Pedro, Tambo Inca, and the Andes Mountains. Then the path descends to the steep dunes at the center of the valley. Some interesting places to visit on the way are archaeological museum Gustavo Le Paige, Pukara fortress and Tulor village. The travelers become familiar with the Atacamenian, Tiawanaku and Inca cultures and settlements.

Further on the route, you may pass through the village of Socaire and observe their ancient agricultural traditions, visit terraced plantations and historical monuments. The trek leads to the Calientes Salt flats, and finally to the Tuyaytu lake. During the entire hike you can observe a variety of high plateau birds and animals. The geysers of El Tatio are great spectacle not to be missed while trekking. Here the steam rises up to 6 meters above the ground. The Puritama hot springs are very relaxing to have a hot bath at the end of a long trail. It is surrounded by the great reeds and clear blue sky. Trekking to kari’s gorge is another gorgeous 10 km long trek. It comprises of an old winding path leading towards the highest part of the salt mountain range Cordillera de la Sal. The trek continues on a narrow ledge till you rich the dune. The trek takes to the Kari gorge where you can witness the spectacular landscapes, sediment formations, saline structures and tunnels.

While trekking the Atacama Desert in Chile, the tiny oasis villages are a must visit. The first oasis you visit is Toconao. Here, the soft water stream enters the village through a steep narrow gorge. Figs and quinces grow on the southern banks o f the gorge. Toconao has some architectural and historical monuments also to visit. Laguna Miscanti is the most stunning lake in the region, adjacent to which lies a much smaller lake Laguna Mineques. Laguna Miscanti has clear blue waters, whereas the Laguna Mineques has dark blue waters. Both the lakes are protected areas as a part of the Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos. Laguna Tuyajto set against the backdrop of mineral streaked mountains, is home to dozens of flamingoes. It has emerald green waters with salt deposits floating on the surface.
Trekking through the Atacama Desert in Chile offers the sense of beauty and power in the nature. It also offers the feeling of sense of eternity in the air.

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