Descending from the Altiplano to the Atacama Desert - the driest desert on earth, stretching along the Chilean coast to the south - one encounters contradictory and unusual manifestations of water . Among the highlights of Atacama desert tours are:
- the oasis of San Pedro de Atacama is an absolute „must“ to visit; it was the centre of a Paleolithic culture that built impressive rock fortresses on the steep mountains encircling the green valley.
- the eerily silent landscape of the nearby Moon Valley with its tiny but beautiful salt ponds and the backdrop of snow-capped volcanoes. It is a unique experience to view the vast plain of salt crusts with its octagonal- shaped crystals and to admire the lagoons reflecting the towering volcanoes of the huge Atacama Salt Lake, a former inland sea formed millions of years ago and the surrounding landscape.
- The El Tatio Geysers are another highlight; they are a geothermal field of fumaroles, small geysers, multi-coloured craters with nearby hot springs inviting to take a comforting bath after walking the crater landscape.
- Another rewarding destination is the Los Flamencos Natural Reserve at 100 km / 65 mi south of San Pedro with its pleasant highland lagoons Miscanti and Miniques; flocks of flamingos and rare birds can be observed on their breeding grounds.
- Because of the altitude, aridity, and almost non-existent light pollution, some of the most technically advanced and scientifically renowned observatories in the world are located in the Atacama Desert. One of the major observatories, ALMA, offers tours but you can also arrange year-round stargazing tours and excursions led by local astronomy experts with top notch equipment or access to smaller, tourism-oriented observatories. One of the best ways to marvel at and learn about the Atacama’s night skies is over an outdoor dinner with a local astronomy expert, who offers an accompanying lecture during dinner and points out planets, constellations, and other celestial objects.