A guided tour of the Cosmos – Atacama Desert, Chile
At first glance the Atacama Desert, like most deserts on earth, appears barren, void of life, or anything remotely interesting unless you’re passionate about rocks. Strung between the Andes and the Chilean Coastal Mountain Range, like a giant desert, the Atacama is classified as the most arid (non-polar) area on the planet. It spans 41,000 square miles and goes almost from the Peru-Chile border stretching 600 miles south almost to the 30th parallel. Although a surprising variety of well adapted plants inhabit the desert, the Mars like topography and hyper-dry climate ensures that in most areas animal life is scarce. Given that this desert is little more than fruitless land with an unparalleled lack of precipitation, it is not unreasonable to surmise that a place such as this would be pointless to explore. However, if you look hard enough you’ll find that most deserts, as desolate as they may seem, are filled with interesting oddities. Sometimes you just have to slow down to see them, or turn your gaze upwards, and you may just find the best view of the cosmos this side of the red planet.
The Atacama’s remote location means human settlement is sparse and is largely undeveloped. Over the past few decades, however, the town of San Pedro de Atacama and the surrounding area has become the third most visited place in Chile next to Torres del Paine national park and Easter Island due to the growing number of activities available in the area. San Pedro is a hub for adventure tourism destinations and a multitude of natural attractions such as trekking, climbing, multi-day expeditions, geysers, volcanos and salt flats. Historically used as a crossroads between northern Chile, Bolivia and Argentina, San Pedro de Atacama may not be the palm tree style oasis seen in the movies, but it is an oasis none the less, providing good quality accommodation and decent restaurants in the middle of the desert.