Alto Atacama: A Desert Oasis in the Southern Hemisphere

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The outdoor lounge at Chile’s Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa

After a 13-hour LAN Airways flight from L.A. to Santiago, a 4-hour wait in the airport there, a 2-hour flight to the remote town of Calama, and a 45-minute van ride through Chile’s Atacama Desert, I finally arrived at the Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa.

And in a single glance, I suddenly realized:

It had taken a lot of effort to get to this gorgeous resort, but it was going to be much harder to tear myself away.

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Chile’s Atacama Desert: The Moon is Made of Salt

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According to British cartoon characters Wallace and Gromit, the moon is made of cheese.

But after exploring the bizarre, fascinating Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) in Chile’s Atacama Desert, I’m more inclined to believe the moon is made of salt.

(Or metallic iron, sulfur, nickel and various minerals that end in “ene.” Whatever. Just come along with me on this.)

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Chile’s Atacama Desert: Vizcachas, Vicunas and Llamas, Oh My

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Vicunas and their favorite food, coiron grass, in Chile’s Atacama Desert

I glanced out the van window at a sea of sand, just in time to see a long line of vicuñas lope across the dunes. There were no other animals for miles, nothing chasing them, nothing to frighten them off. These wooly little Andean camelids were simply running for joy. 

It was my third day in Chile’s Atacama Desert, and I felt blissfully far from home.  [Read more…]

Chile’s Atacama Desert: No Need to Get Prickly

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In Chile’s Atacama Desert, one of my favorite activities was a guided hike through, up and over Los Cardones Ravine, at the junction of two minor rivers.  

It’s funny: If you ask me to stroll along a river wash and look at some cacti and rocks, I might shrug my shoulders and see what’s on Netflix. But spin it into “a riverside trek through a cactus forest,” and bam — sold.

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Chile’s Atacama: Now That I’ve Found You, Never Desert Me

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One afternoon back in 1985, I was holed up in my high school library, hiding from the strains of adolescent society, when I stumbled across a book about the world’s most extreme destinations. One in particular captured my fancy: Chile’s Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth

A 41,000 square-mile expanse of desert that gets four inches of rain every thousand years seemed at once more exotic and less overwhelming than being 14 years old. I devoured tales of active volcanoes, hills of salt, miles of marshland, carpets of wildflowers, and strange animals I could scarcely imagine. I vowed to go see it for myself someday.

A few weeks ago, exactly 28 years after I first learned it existed, I did see the Atacama Desert for myself. And you know what? It was simply amazing.

Way better than high school. 

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