ATACAMA: The Altiplano, San Pedro de Atacama, Copiapo, Valle del Elqui
The Altiplano is the second largest high plateau in the world, outside of Tibet. Though travelers might imagine the Altiplano as a barren land devoid of life, with an altitude of over 3,500 meters and extremely rare climate it is in fact the land of natural miracles.
It may be hard to believe, but the Altiplano is actually inhabited by a lot of low altitude vegetation that managed to blossom under inhospitable conditions. The area has become the home of various wildlife species, such as guanacos, vizcachas or the renowned Chilean flamingos.
The cultural ruins in Altiplano are even more intriguing. As travelers come in from Arica through arid and isolated landscapes, they will reach the town of Putre and see buildings dating back to the 17th century including a church that was built in 1670 and restored in 1871.
Apart from natural wonders, the Altiplano offers travelers a rare chance to experience communities where native and Spanish colonial traditions complement each other and blend during local celebrations and rituals.
SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA
San Pedro de Atacama is a picturesque small village located in one of the many oasis found in the desert among Northern Chile. Near the village, arise some of the highest volcanoes of the Andes Mountain Range.
The town is filled with unique artisanal crafts stands where travelers can buy knit goods and jeweleries with authentic design, and exotic herbs only grew in this region, including coca leaves that can be used to combat altitude sickness on visits to the El Tatio Geysers.
Travelers can explore the depths of the desert and scale the heights of Atacama’s unique landscapes and cultural history. There are a few destinations offering surreal beautiful sunsets such as Valle de la Luna and Valle de la Muerte. Both places offer gorgeous shadows and shifting colors that make them every photographer’s dream.
Copiapo is one of the many hidden treasures in northern Chile. While the city itself may not be an absolute highlight, the nature around Copiapo definitely is. Some of the world’s highest dunes around the town will impress every visitor. During the day, the dunes rest perfectly still, enchanting travelers with its soft beige colors and sensual shades. At night, the incredibly clear sky of the Atacama Desert filled with stars will light up the dunes with artful patterns.
There are several natural attractions near Copiapo not to be missed. For instance, you can enjoy the beautiful, postcard-worthy beaches of Bahía Inglesa and, to the north past Chañaral, Pan de Azúcar National Park, vegetation that manages to survive thanks to the ocean mist. The latter is also a residential utopia to wildlife that won’t shy away from posing for your cameras.
For the adventurous travelers, Nevado Tres Cruces National Park will be the next delight. Those mountain climbing apasionados will find the challenge from Ojos Del Salado Volcano, one of the highest points in Latin America, irresistible. When the “El Niño” phenomenon causes rain in the middle of the desert during springtime, a field of wildflowers will miraculously blossom in the area north of Copiapó. The “Flowering Desert,” featuring very unusual species and almost impossible sceneries, attracts plenty of visitors and of course world-class photographers.
The Elqui River runs some 140 km to the beaches of La Serena, passing through hills laden with vineyards and towns. Here, the perfect blending of agriculture and tourism is almost a local tradition. This incredible green oasis is set between overwhelming hills, which are part of the Andes Mountain Range. Here you will find many vineyards, amongst others growing the moscatel grape, the real star ingredient behind the Chilean national drink “pisco.” Visiting one of the many small pisco distilleries is a must in Valle del Elqui. A visit to the pisco plantation is a good place to start. Elqui offers a great opportunity to learn about the production process and taste this green grape distillate iconic national drink.
The beautiful, pure landscapes of the nearby Cochiguaz Valley have long been associated with mysticism and alternative therapies. Watching the starry sky during nighttime at astronomical observatories set along the valley under the world’s clearest sky is absolutely a spiritual experience. To complete this journey of the senses, visit the Mamalluca Astronomy Center where the pure Valle del Elqui air allows for spectacular stargazing activities. The Valley is not only a center of nature, but also a mecca of art and culture. The Chilean writer, poetess and Nobel Prize winner Gabriela Mistral was born and raised here. Her tomb and the museum created in her honor can be visited all year long. Travelers can also do horseback riding, stargazing, and pisco tasting in the heart of the Atacama Desert.