Atacama Desert, Chile

Life on the Edges of the Atacama Desert

Salt Islands
A sequence of salt plates in a reddish and very saline corner of Laguna Verde.
a thorny life
A thorny cactus juts out from the parched landscape of the Atacama Desert.
cardon, or cactus
Cactus detached from a gentle slope of the Atacama Desert.
Cardones vs Mountain
Mountain stands on the edge of a plain covered with cardones.
Flamingos Route
Flamingos fly over the Salar de Tara towards the imminent Argentine border.
altiplano caribbean
The idyllic setting of Lagoa Verde, located in the middle of the Andean altiplano, on the eastern edge of the Atacama Desert and called the Atacamenian Caribbean by native guides.
Licancabur Volcano
The reddish volcano of Licancabur, 5.916 meters of altitude.
desert spinner
Native woman spins while waiting for a ride.
attacking woman
Atacama woman in colorful costumes typical of the region.
Tufa Island
End of a salt flat located on an Andean plateau on the edge of the Atacama Desert.
Tufa and island
A cardon stands in the middle of a salt lake in the Andean Altiplano.
sea ​​of ​​salt bushes
Shrubs and moss compete for the soil with the salt around a salt flat at the western end of the Andean mountain range.
Vicuna family
Vicuña and chicks roam a plain of the Andean altiplano, their natural habitat.
street life
Residents and visitors meet on one of the pueblo's several adobe streets.
When you least expect it, the driest place in the world reveals new extraterrestrial scenarios on a frontier between the inhospitable and the welcoming, the sterile and the fertile that the natives are used to crossing.

No other country is so diverse from top to bottom.

In such a way that Chileans are amused to tell that, after having created most of South America, already fed up with the task, God took what was left - bits of desert, mountain, valley, glacier, rainforest - and created Chile, in a hurry, so that, at last, it can rest.

After exploring the PN Torres del Paine, the Chilean fjords of Patagonia in a freighter turned into cruise and having climbed to the top of the Villarica volcano, in the province of Araucania, it was time for a new radical change, in terms of area and landscape. Was still recovering from the hard Villarrica's rise we departed from Pucón.

As we approach Norte Grande, the region that stretches from the Peruvian border to the Chañaral is dominated by the Atacama Desert and the gray desolation there that, according to legend, God created there.

NASA and the Choice of the Only Lifeless Place on Earth. The Atacama

In 2003, an international team of scientists, mostly belonging to NASA and the American Carnegie Mellon University, moved from weapons and luggage to these parts.

In a short time, it started to Life in the Atacama, a thorough field research program aimed at perfecting new robotic vehicles for the astrobiological mission Spirit.

The first planet to host the Spirit and the rover namesake it was Mars, in January 2004. Seven months later, Chris McKay, a NASA geologist, justified the choice of the Atacama Desert to prepare the mission to a reporter: “You can go to Antarctica, the Arctic, any other the desert we've been in, take a sample of soil that will find bacteria… this is the only place in the Terra where we really crossed the threshold and found no life…”

Salt islands, Life on the edge, Atacama Desert, Chile

A sequence of salt plates in a reddish and very saline corner of Laguna Verde.

In visual terms, if there are sites comparable to what we know and imagine about the red planet, the Atacama Desert has to be one of them.

The adjective of its landscapes as extraterrestrials occurs all the time to those who visit it. Among so many scenarios worthy of other worlds, just think of the ocher tones of the Valleys of the Moon and Death to arrive at a Martian imaginary.

And the Prolific Life of the Atacama Desert

And despite the adverse conditions, more than a million people live in the Atacama Desert pockets. Thanks to its raw materials, the regions to which it belongs – El Norte Chico and El Norte Grande – were and are responsible for the surge and recent consolidation of the Chilean economy.

In the XNUMXth century, the first explorations of Chile's famous nitrate attracted thousands of workers, until the invention of artificial alternatives.

Atacama woman, Life on the edge, Atacama Desert, Chile

Atacama woman in colorful costumes typical of the region.

Today, nitrates have been replaced by the mining of copper, silver, gold and iron, which the Atacama Desert and its surroundings provide in abundance.

Unsurprisingly, improvised villages grew out of nowhere, giving rise to new infrastructure and opportunities. Among those that already existed: Arica, Iquique, Antofagasta and São Pedro de Atacama.

San Pedro evolved to exploit another highly profitable resource in Chile, tourism.

Street Life, San Pedro Atacama, Chile

Residents and visitors meet on one of the pueblo's several adobe streets.

The Geological Eccentricity of the Atacama Desert

Extended for 1000 km, along southern Peru and northern Chile, the Atacama Desert has well-marked longitudinal boundaries. To the west, the Pacific Ocean; in the opposite direction, the Andes mountain range.

It extends over a narrow, gray and dusty coastal shelf. Soon, it rises until pampas, inhospitable plains that plunge into prehistoric river gorges covered with mineral sediments from the Andes.

The plains, in turn, give way to the Altiplano

In this pre-mountain range, countless salaries, salt ponds and geothermal fields that advertise hills and volcanoes snowy and imposing. These are the cases of Toco, Licancábur, Putana or Águas Calientes, almost all of them close to 6.000 meters in altitude.

Licancabur Volcano, Life on the Edge, Atacama Desert, Chile

The reddish volcano of Licancabur, 5.916 meters of altitude.

On the other side of the mountainous horizon, the territory is Bolivian or, further south, Argentinean.

The central part of the Atacama Desert is considered the driest place on Earth.

There, in certain specific areas of “absolute desert”, it was never possible to register rain. In others, less central, rainfall is measured in millimeters per decade.

The meteorological and climatic context of this remote desert is as mysterious as it is easy to explain.

Thorny Life, Life on the Edge, Atacama Desert, Chile

A thorny cactus juts out from the parched landscape of the Atacama Desert.

And the Climatic Constraints that Keep the Atacama Desert Arid

At these latitudes, the Humboldt Current, named after the Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, runs through South America. The upward current has contradictory effects.

Its waters, which come from Antarctica and the ocean floor, are as cold as they are nutritious, make it a Class 1 marine ecosystem (>300gC/m2-yr), the most productive in the world, from which about 20% of all comes from. the fish caught from the face of the Earth.

At the same time, the Humboldt current is responsible for cooling the air over the coastal zone of southern Peru and Chile. Feeds a high pressure core. And it blocks the formation and displacement to land of clouds favorable to precipitation.

Vicunas, Life on the edge, Atacama Desert, Chile

Vicuña and chicks roam a plain of the Andean altiplano, their natural habitat.

Along the coast, the camanchaca, a dense fog that reigns during the local winter, from June to October. A few kilometers further inland, Chile's coastal range halts the advance of the fog. From the Pacific, the Atacama Desert receives only dryness.

On the opposite side, the Andes mountain range prevents the passage of clouds laden with moisture from the east, from the basin of the Amazonas and the rest of the interior of South America. The higher mountains capture this moisture, condense it and generate rain or snow, depending on the time of year.

Overhead and to the west, only a barren wind passes.

Water from the Andes: the thaw that gives life to the driest of the deserts

The miracle of life in the Atacama Desert is produced on high. When the tropical sun, poorly filtered by the fine atmosphere, melts the snow that crowns the Andean peaks, it fills the aquifers that form at the foot of the mountains.

This gives rise to an oasis. What blessed São Pedro de Atacama, for example.

To the south and west of San Pedro, the Los Flamencos National Reserve includes seven geographically independent sectors, each with its unique setting. The Salar de Atacama, in particular, gives us an unmistakable idea of ​​the contrast that rules the desert.

Salar, Life on the edge, Atacama Desert, Chile

End of a salt flat located on an Andean plateau on the edge of the Atacama Desert.

When the endless white salt scene starts to seem like absolute desolation, we find Laguna Chaxa.

Nature surprises us again, this time, in the pink tones of the thousands of flamingos that occupy it.

At sunset, the Salar de Atacama there is resplendent with color. In addition to the permanent arrival of flamingos to the lagoon, to the west, the Andean horizon contrasts more than ever with the endless white of the salt.

Flamingos Route, Atacama Desert, Chile

Flamingos fly over the Salar de Tara towards the imminent Argentine border.

For the shortest distance they are, the perfect and reddish cones of the Licancábur volcano and the Toco hill stand out from the horizon. If we turn our gaze to the south, we catch a glimpse of the mountain range stretching out of sight, a few hundred kilometers onwards, already Argentina.

We inspect the map. It is at these latitudes, above and below the Tropic of Capricorn, that the very thin Chile reaches its maximum width. This is due to an unlikely extension of the border to the west that incorporated a substantial part of the mountain range.

An Extraterrestrial Stronghold at the Limits of Life on Earth

When we explored this kind of geographic addendum, we found it dotted by salt flats and lakes in the Altiplano with Caribbean colored water.

Altiplano Lagoon, Life on the edge, Atacama Desert, Chile

The idyllic setting of Lagoa Verde, located in the middle of the Andean altiplano, on the eastern edge of the Atacama Desert and called the Atacamenian Caribbean by native guides.

Leaving San Pedro de Atacama, we pass the fortress of Quitor. We are faced with the most displaced of the sectors of PN Los Flamencos.

Even aware that the South Americans use the term Vale da Lua to name any surface sculpted by torrents of water, wind and other erosive agents, when exploring that inhospitable vastness, we ended up admitting that the name does it justice.

60 million years ago, the Andes had completed its ascent to 6.000 meters and most of southern Chile was covered in glaciers. This region continued under the ocean. This submersion justifies the abundance of salt fields.

Tufa and island, Life on the edge, Atacama Desert, Chile

A cardon stands in the middle of a salt lake in the Andean Altiplano.

In a wide area of ​​eccentric geology, there are cinnamon-colored dunes, ocher mountain miniatures in which the elements have carved sharp edges and endless little “steps”.

These elevations face tight canyons such as the Quebrada de Kachi. Or to windswept valleys, split by heat and aridity, here and there, awash in saltpeter.

In certain areas, the potassium nitrate cover becomes so dense that it seems more like a heavy snow has fallen there. The sun is scorching, the humidity touches zero.

We advance towards Panamericana and the Pacific.

We crossed the local Death Valley, far less scorching than the Death Valley on the California-Nevada border. This part of the Cordillera de Domeyko and also the Loa river, which has the effect of deceiving those who pass through it when the liquid illusion vanishes in the face of the merciless aridity of the landscape.

Cardones vs Mountain, Life on the edge, Atacama Desert, Chile

Mountain stands on the edge of a plain covered with cardones.

As we head deeper into the Atacama, the Andes are left behind. Fresh water proves to be an eternally postponed mirage. Without technological subterfuges, survival hangs by a thread. Death is eternalized. Such logic has surprising expressions.

When, in 1985, archaeologists found several hundred mummies along the Chilean coast, they found it difficult to believe in their state of preservation and in the objects that accompanied them.

Os tombs they had been under the sun of the Atacama Desert for more than half a millennium. During that time, extreme dryness canceled out the bacteria and prevented decomposition.

It preserved the spiritual legacy of a people who beat the odds and got used to paying the price of living on the edge.

Easter Island, Chile

The Take-off and Fall of the Bird-Man Cult

Until the XNUMXth century, the natives of Easter Island they carved and worshiped great stone gods. All of a sudden, they started to drop their moai. The veneration of tanatu manu, a half-human, half-sacred leader, decreed after a dramatic competition for an egg.
El Tatio, Chile

El Tatio Geysers - Between the Ice and the Heat of the Atacama

Surrounded by supreme volcanoes, the geothermal field of El Tatio, in the Atacama Desert it appears as a Dantesque mirage of sulfur and steam at an icy 4200 m altitude. Its geysers and fumaroles attract hordes of travelers.
Damaraland, Namíbia

Namibia On the Rocks

Hundreds of kilometers north of Swakopmund, many more of Swakopmund's iconic dunes Sossuvlei, Damaraland is home to deserts interspersed with hills of reddish rock, the highest mountain and ancient rock art of the young nation. the settlers South Africans they named this region after the Damara, one of the Namibian ethnic groups. Only these and other inhabitants prove that it remains on Earth.
Dunhuang, China

An Oasis in the China of the Sands

Thousands of kilometers west of Beijing, the Great Wall has its western end and the China and other. An unexpected splash of vegetable green breaks up the arid expanse all around. Announces Dunhuang, formerly crucial outpost on the Silk Road, today an intriguing city at the base of Asia's largest sand dunes.
PN Torres del Paine, Chile

The Most Dramatic Patagonia

Nowhere is the southernmost reaches of South America so breathtaking as the Paine Mountains. There, a natural fort of granite colossi surrounded by lakes and glaciers protrudes from the pampa and submits to the whims of meteorology and light.
Salta and Jujuy, Argentina

Through the Highlands of Deep Argentina

A tour through the provinces of Salta and Jujuy takes us to discover a country with no sign of the pampas. Vanished in the Andean vastness, these ends of the Northwest of Argentina have also been lost in time.
Rapa Nui - Easter Island, Chile

Under the Moais Watchful Eye

Rapa Nui was discovered by Europeans on Easter Day 1722. But if the Christian name Easter Island makes sense, the civilization that colonized it by observant moais remains shrouded in mystery.
Death Valley, USA

The Hottest Place Resurrection

Since 1921, Al Aziziyah, in Libya, was considered the hottest place on the planet. But the controversy surrounding the 58th measured there meant that, 99 years later, the title was returned to Death Valley.
San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

São Pedro de Atacama: an Adobe Life in the Most Arid of Deserts

The Spanish conquerors had departed and the convoy diverted the cattle and nitrate caravans. San Pedro regained peace but a horde of outsiders discovering South America invaded the pueblo.
Robinson Crusoe Island, Chile

Alexander Selkirk: in the Skin of the True Robinson Crusoe

The main island of the Juan Fernández archipelago was home to pirates and treasures. His story was made up of adventures like that of Alexander Selkirk, the abandoned sailor who inspired Dafoe's novel
Puerto Natales-Puerto Montt, Chile

Cruise on board a Freighter

After a long begging of backpackers, the Chilean company NAVIMAG decided to admit them on board. Since then, many travelers have explored the Patagonian canals, side by side with containers and livestock.
Villarrica Volcano, Chile

Ascent to the Villarrica Volcano Crater, in Full Activity

Pucón abuses nature's trust and thrives at the foot of the Villarrica mountain. We follow this bad example along icy trails and conquer the crater of one of the most active volcanoes in South America.
Rhinoceros, PN Kaziranga, Assam, India
PN Kaziranga, India

The Indian Monoceros Stronghold

Situated in the state of Assam, south of the great Brahmaputra river, PN Kaziranga occupies a vast area of ​​alluvial swamp. Two-thirds of the rhinocerus unicornis around the world, there are around 100 tigers, 1200 elephants and many other animals. Pressured by human proximity and the inevitable poaching, this precious park has not been able to protect itself from the hyperbolic floods of the monsoons and from some controversies.
Hikers on the Ice Lake Trail, Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Annapurna (circuit)
Annapurna Circuit: 7th - Braga - Ice Lake, Nepal

Annapurna Circuit – The Painful Acclimatization of the Ice Lake

On the way up to the Ghyaru village, we had a first and unexpected show of how ecstatic the Annapurna Circuit can be tasted. Nine kilometers later, in Braga, due to the need to acclimatize, we climbed from 3.470m from Braga to 4.600m from Lake Kicho Tal. We only felt some expected tiredness and the increase in the wonder of the Annapurna Mountains.
Treasures, Las Vegas, Nevada, City of Sin and Forgiveness
Architecture & Design
Las Vegas, USA

Where sin is always forgiven

Projected from the Mojave Desert like a neon mirage, the North American capital of gaming and entertainment is experienced as a gamble in the dark. Lush and addictive, Vegas neither learns nor regrets.
Full Dog Mushing
Seward, Alaska

The Alaskan Dog Mushing Summer

It's almost 30 degrees and the glaciers are melting. In Alaska, entrepreneurs have little time to get rich. Until the end of August, dog mushing cannot stop.
Correspondence verification
Ceremonies and Festivities
Rovaniemi, Finland

From the Finnish Lapland to the Arctic. A Visit to the Land of Santa

Fed up with waiting for the bearded old man to descend down the chimney, we reverse the story. We took advantage of a trip to Finnish Lapland and passed through its furtive home.
Bonaire, island, Netherlands Antilles, ABC, Caribbean, Rincon
Rincon, Bonaire

The Pioneering Corner of the Netherlands Antilles

Shortly after Columbus' arrival in the Americas, the Castilians discovered a Caribbean island they called Brazil. Afraid of the pirate threat, they hid their first village in a valley. One century after, the Dutch took over this island and renamed it Bonaire. They didn't erase the unpretentious name of the trailblazer colony: Rincon.
Singapore Asian Capital Food, Basmati Bismi

The Asian Food Capital

There were 4 ethnic groups in Singapore, each with its own culinary tradition. Added to this was the influence of thousands of immigrants and expatriates on an island with half the area of ​​London. It was the nation with the greatest gastronomic diversity in the Orient.
Jok​ülsárlón Lagoon, Iceland

The Chant and the Ice

Created by water from the Arctic Ocean and the melting of Europe's largest glacier, Jokülsárlón forms a frigid and imposing domain. Icelanders revere her and pay her surprising tributes.
Bungee jumping, Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown, the Queen of Extreme Sports

In the century. XVIII, the Kiwi government proclaimed a mining village on the South Island "fit for a queen".Today's extreme scenery and activities reinforce the majestic status of ever-challenging Queenstown.
Braga or Braka or Brakra in Nepal
Annapurna Circuit: 6th – Braga, Nepal

The Ancient Nepal of Braga

Four days of walking later, we slept at 3.519 meters from Braga (Braka). Upon arrival, only the name is familiar to us. Faced with the mystical charm of the town, arranged around one of the oldest and most revered Buddhist monasteries on the Annapurna circuit, we continued our journey there. acclimatization with ascent to Ice Lake (4620m).
Jean Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center, New Caledonia, Greater Calhau, South Pacific
Grande Terre, New Caledonia

South Pacific Great Boulder

James Cook thus named distant New Caledonia because it reminded him of his father's Scotland, whereas the French settlers were less romantic. Endowed with one of the largest nickel reserves in the world, they named Le Caillou the mother island of the archipelago. Not even its mining prevents it from being one of the most dazzling patches of Earth in Oceania.
View of Fa Island, Tonga, Last Polynesian Monarchy
Got2Globe Photo Portfolio
Got2Globe Portfolio

Exotic Signs of Life

Shuri Castle in Naha, Okinawa the Empire of the Sun, Japan
Okinawa, Japan

The Little Empire of the Sun

Risen from the devastation caused by World War II, Okinawa has regained the heritage of its secular Ryukyu civilization. Today, this archipelago south of Kyushu is home to a Japan on the shore, anchored by a turquoise Pacific ocean and bathed in a peculiar Japanese tropicalism.
Totems, Botko Village, Malekula, Vanuatu
Malekula, Vanuatu

Meat and Bone Cannibalism

Until the early XNUMXth century, man-eaters still feasted on the Vanuatu archipelago. In the village of Botko we find out why European settlers were so afraid of the island of Malekula.
Northern Lights, Laponia, Rovaniemi, Finland, Fire Fox
Winter White
Lapland, Finland

In Search of the Fire Fox

Unique to the heights of the Earth are the northern or southern auroras, light phenomena generated by solar explosions. You Sami natives from Lapland they believed it to be a fiery fox that spread sparkles in the sky. Whatever they are, not even the nearly 30 degrees below zero that were felt in the far north of Finland could deter us from admiring them.
Baie d'Oro, Île des Pins, New Caledonia
Île-des-Pins, New Caledonia

The Island that Leaned against Paradise

In 1964, Katsura Morimura delighted the Japan with a turquoise novel set in Ouvéa. But the neighboring Île-des-Pins has taken over the title "The Nearest Island to Paradise" and thrills its visitors.
Traveler above Jökursarlón icy lagoon, Iceland
Jökursarlón Lagoon, Vatnajökull Glacier, Iceland

The Faltering of Europe's King Glacier

Only in Greenland and Antarctica are glaciers comparable to Vatnajökull, the supreme glacier of the old continent. And yet, even this colossus that gives more meaning to the term ice land is surrendering to the relentless siege of global warming.
Sheki, Autumn in the Caucasus, Azerbaijan, Autumn Homes
Sheki, Azerbaijan

autumn in the caucasus

Lost among the snowy mountains that separate Europe from Asia, Sheki is one of Azerbaijan's most iconic towns. Its largely silky history includes periods of great harshness. When we visited it, autumn pastels added color to a peculiar post-Soviet and Muslim life.
Joshua Tree National Park, California, United States,
Natural Parks
PN Joshua Tree, California, United States

The Arms stretched out to Heaven of the PN Joshua Tree

Arriving in the extreme south of California, we are amazed by the countless Joshua trees that sprout from the Mojave and Colorado deserts. Like the Mormon settlers who named them, we cross and praise these inhospitable settings of the North American Far West.
Bolshoi Zayatski Orthodox Church, Solovetsky Islands, Russia.
UNESCO World Heritage
Bolshoi Zayatsky, Russia

Mysterious Russian Babylons

A set of prehistoric spiral labyrinths made of stones decorate Bolshoi Zayatsky Island, part of the Solovetsky archipelago. Devoid of explanations as to when they were erected or what it meant, the inhabitants of these northern reaches of Europe call them vavilons.
Visitors to Ernest Hemingway's Home, Key West, Florida, United States
Key West, United States

Hemingway's Caribbean Playground

Effusive as ever, Ernest Hemingway called Key West "the best place I've ever been...". In the tropical depths of the contiguous US, he found evasion and crazy, drunken fun. And the inspiration to write with intensity to match.
Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica, Caribbean, Punta Cahuita aerial view
Cahuita, Costa Rica

Dreadlocked Costa Rica

Traveling through Central America, we explore a Costa Rican coastline as much as the Caribbean. In Cahuita, Pura Vida is inspired by an eccentric faith in Jah and a maddening devotion to cannabis.
knights of the divine, faith in the divine holy spirit, Pirenopolis, Brazil
Pirenópolis, Brazil

A Ride of Faith

Introduced in 1819 by Portuguese priests, the Festa do Divino Espírito Santo de Pirenópolis it aggregates a complex web of religious and pagan celebrations. It lasts more than 20 days, spent mostly on the saddle.
The Toy Train story
On Rails
Siliguri a Darjeeling, India

The Himalayan Toy Train Still Running

Neither the steep slope of some stretches nor the modernity stop it. From Siliguri, in the tropical foothills of the great Asian mountain range, the Darjeeling, with its peaks in sight, the most famous of the Indian Toy Trains has ensured for 117 years, day after day, an arduous dream journey. Traveling through the area, we climb aboard and let ourselves be enchanted.
Sentosa Island, Singapore, Family on Sentosa Artificial Beach
Sentosa, Singapore

Singapore's Fun Island

It was a stronghold where the Japanese murdered Allied prisoners and welcomed troops who pursued Indonesian saboteurs. Today, the island of Sentosa fights the monotony that gripped the country.
the projectionist
Daily life
Sainte-Luce, Martinique

The Nostalgic Projectionist

From 1954 to 1983, Gérard Pierre screened many of the famous films arriving in Martinique. 30 years after the closing of the room in which he worked, it was still difficult for this nostalgic native to change his reel.
Meares glacier
Prince William Sound, Alaska

Journey through a Glacial Alaska

Nestled against the Chugach Mountains, Prince William Sound is home to some of Alaska's stunning scenery. Neither powerful earthquakes nor a devastating oil spill affected its natural splendor.
Passengers, scenic flights-Southern Alps, New Zealand
Scenic Flights
Aoraki / Mount Cook, New Zealand

The Aeronautical Conquest of the Southern Alps

In 1955, pilot Harry Wigley created a system for taking off and landing on asphalt or snow. Since then, his company has unveiled, from the air, some of the greatest scenery in Oceania.