If you ask me, what impressed me the most during my trip to South America – the path of natural wonders – I can honestly say that my number one is the Perito Moreno Glacier and right after it, the Atacama Desert.
Atacama is one gigantic natural wonder. Every place – the limitless extent of the sand, green valleys, sky-blue lagunas and gaunt mountain tops have amazed me with their virgin beauty.
Against all appearances, one of the driest places on the planet also has its own fauna and flora. Saturated colors of plants are stunning, you can encounter pasturing vicunas and ostriches, as well.
Its diversity, colorfulness and the sense of being the only human on Earth is indescribable. For most of the time, I’ve been feeling like a nature documentary character, the perfect one, with more vivid and saturated colors. How is it possible, that contemporary world imposes on us the trend of enhancing photo quality, whereas those taken in Atacama are just perfect as you take them? Nothing can or should be corrected. Even a muggle would be able to catch the beauty.
Today, I’d like to travel with you again to one of the driest places in the world.
I’ve spent two wonderful weeks on Atacama. I’ve lived in a house in the middle of nowhere and every day I woke up to the breathtaking view of a desert (check you this place HERE).
In such place as Atacama, there is no other choice than travelling by car. The best is the one with 4×4 drive, because if you want to reach places located at a certain height, you will need a good car that won’t bury itself in the sand. There’s no reception there, so getting stuck somewhere on a desert can be a serious problem. Locals have satellite phones, which are lifesavers and the only chance to communicate with the world.
I took a flight from Santiago to Chile, landed in Calama and rent a car there. Next, I went to a small settlement by the Atacama – San Pedro. During a two-hour drive, the only landscape I saw through the window was a limitless, flat, red land with literally nothing growing out of it or running on it. I began to wonder, whether it was possible for all those wonders I’ve heard about to exist in such a hostile environment.
The plan of Atacama stay was pretty ambitious. The first stop was San Pedro neighborhood, which are famous Death Valley and Moon Valley, stretching around the town.
The plan served also another purpose – to adjust myself to the altitude. It was the first stop of my journey at 2400 m above sea level, so at the height of our Rysy. Imagine a sudden landing on the top of Rysy and starting some routine activities. The body is confused.
When it comes to me, I had my ears blocked for about 24 hours and a constant hangover feeling. Not mentioning the fact, that it was only the beginning. Atacama’s Lagunas I was planning to see are much higher and you need to drive for a few hours to get there. It was necessary to get used to the environment of high altitude.
Frankly speaking, I was expecting some book symptoms of altitude sickness everyone was warning me about, but this time I was lucky and practically none of those were my problem.
After a couple of days spent at 2400 m above sea level, me and my fiancé decided to pay lagunas the first visit.
The approach road was good enough for an off-roader, plus the navigation was pretty obvious, so we went there all by ourselves.
About 11:00 we set off towards Toconao. On our way there, we’ve encountered some goats marching somewhere, which perfectly reflected the atmosphere of Chile.
We’ve also met wild donkeys, looking as if someone had painted them. They were standing still, not moving even for a centimeter, watching us closely.
We were planning to stop for a lunch in San Santiago. Our landlord recommended having a soup here, it was a local delicacy. The village (it’s too much to say, rather several houses made of red bricks) looked like no one has lived there for years. We’ve been circling around it for at least 15 minutes, looking for a soup place, but finally we gave up, because neither was there a restaurant, nor the locals. A ghost city, no soup there as well.
Sticking to the plan, we continued our drive to Socaire, which was our waypoint in the wilderness.
Another hour was passing and we were still the only people on the road. The landscape started to transform from a dry ground to more and more yellow grass. The more plants were there, the more vicunas crossed our way.
The route was an uphill serpentine now and the altitude change was very noticeable, causing a headache.
I was sensing that we were close and indeed, around the next corner our breath was taken by the Misconti and Muniecas Lagunas.
We were at more than 4000 m above sea level altitude, at the foot of extinct Chilean volcanoes. The region of Altiplano with the Lagunas is on the territory of Antofagasta Region in northern Chile, near Argentina border.
Their extraordinary sky-blue color contrasts with the surrounding in pale orange, yellow and brown. In addition, there are snow-capped, brown cones of the volcanoes in the background.
East coast of the Miscanti Laguna is only one kilometer from the Salar de Atacama water divide border. The special character of the place is enriched in a black zone of lava.
The Lagunas themselves have been divided by the Miniques Volcano eruption, creating beautiful area included in the Los Flamencos National Reserve.
We weren’t in a rush to the next laguna. We stopped here and there to inhale the atmosphere around us. Views were unbelievable. Pure, virgin beauty.
I was sitting in a semi-trailer and staring as enchanted at a majestic volcano on a perfectly blue sky. Another picture in my head, next in the collection of wonderful memories.
After two hours, we reached Salar de Talar and Piedras Rojas.
I thought I couldn’t see anything more beautiful than I already did. I was so wrong!
Salar de Tara in saturated red, interspersed with white spots of salt that remaining there after the ocean backup, was the culmination of our trip.
Somewhere in the distance, there was a man walking around the laguna. He was a tiny dot in the fairy-tale background. A man versus the nature. You could see with the naked eye, who gets to decide there.
Suddenly it became cold. In the open space, the wind was blowing with tremendous speed. It was difficult to stay outside longer than for a few minutes. There was no way I could fire up my camera drone there. It would be blown off all the way to Bolivia. What a pity! I was dying to show you the bird’s eye view.
When we were heading back, ominous clouds began to gather above the volcanoes and the fog appeared. Quickly, it became dark and strange in this silent wilderness. Even vicunas hid among the grass .
We put the pedal to the metal, we wanted to be back before the night. It would be a dubious pleasure to be stuck there, somewhere between the lagunas.
Just before San Pedro, we saw a stunning rainbow on the sky, as if Atacama was smiling goodbye to us, saying: “Goodnight, thanks for today”.