The Atacama Desert is the driest place in the world, and although the landscape is stark, the area surrounding the outpost town of San Pedro de Atacama is incredibly varied. There are soft sand dunes at Moon Valley and bright rainbow formations at Rainbow Valley, and for an area that is so arid, there’s a surprising amount of water, much of it trapped under the salt lake, or salar, of the Atacama.
Where water does come to the surface, there is life in the form of flamingoes taking off in the morning over Laguna Chaxa and the swift-running rhea (relative to the ostrich) that shows up at the altiplanic lakes at 13,500 feet. There’s also water in the Ojos del Salar, where, in the middle of nowhere, fresh water has percolated up to the surface, forming round lakes that reflect the desert scenery back to visitors. And lest you forget that this area is also volcanic, visit the El Tatio Geysers to see hot water bubbles from the earth’s crust shoot up to 20 feet in the air.
And if the natural beauty weren't enough, there is a long history of human inhabitants in the area, stretching back some 11,000 years, which can be seen in a museum in town, at the nearby Pukara de Quitor ruins, in the ancient village of Tulor and at the petroglyphs found in Hierba Buena on the way to the Rainbow Valley.
There is something for everyone in San Pedro de Atacama, whether that something is history, geography, wildlife or just the beauty of the contrast between the landscape and the blue sky.