In Northern Chile, Valle de Luna’s lack of humidity means it can’t sustain any kind of life–no animals, birds, or plants. So…silence. A full moon illuminates the desert, casting a glow over us as we crunch our way along marked trails. Eerily-shaped structures created by centuries of erosion on these salt mountains surround us. Guided by nature’s skylight, we roam the floor of this ancient lake, awed by the striking lunarscape…
We make a couple of trips each year to this skinny country lying in the shadow of the Andes–our daughter and her family live in Santiago. Most visits, we either go west from Santiago to the Pacific, or south to the lush Lake District. But this time we headed North, to San Pedro de Atacama.
There are daily flights from Santiago to San Pedro, but I recommend you make the three-day, 1,000-mile drive (excellent roads, by the way). I’ve already told you about Valle de Luna, but other things not to miss include: the giant Mano del Desierto sculpture (Hand of the Desert); Antofagasta and her nearby natural monument, La Portada; and Calama and Chuquicamata, the largest open-pit copper mine in the world.
Like most places in Chile, you’ll find bargains in the desert. We stayed at Residencial La Florida–a double room around a courtyard with shared washrooms was $10 per person. (The power is only on from dusk to midnight, so time your shower accordingly.) The Adobe restaurant offers excellent food, a nightly bonfire, and you can check your e-mail while they cook your dinner. See below for contact details.
The first thing you should do when you get here is visit the Museo Arqueologico Gustavo Le Paige, which houses the world-renowned prehistoric mummies. Then, as time allows, shop for artisan treasures, tour the prehistoric settlements, and soak in the geyser pools.