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 Amazon 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.
Pucón, Chile

Among the Araucarias of La Araucania

At a certain latitude in longline Chile, we enter La Araucanía. This is a rugged Chile, full of volcanoes, lakes, rivers, waterfalls and the coniferous forests from which the region's name grew. And it is the heart of the pine nuts of the largest indigenous ethnic group in the country: the Mapuche.
Jabula Beach, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa
Saint Lucia, South Africa

An Africa as Wild as Zulu

On the eminence of the coast of Mozambique, the province of KwaZulu-Natal is home to an unexpected South Africa. Deserted beaches full of dunes, vast estuarine swamps and hills covered with fog fill this wild land also bathed by the Indian Ocean. It is shared by the subjects of the always proud Zulu nation and one of the most prolific and diverse fauna on the African continent.
Annapurna Circuit, Manang to Yak-kharka
Annapurna (circuit)
Annapurna 10th Circuit: Manang to Yak Kharka, Nepal

On the way to the Annapurnas Even Higher Lands

After an acclimatization break in the near-urban civilization of Manang (3519 m), we made progress again in the ascent to the zenith of Thorong La (5416 m). On that day, we reached the hamlet of Yak Kharka, at 4018 m, a good starting point for the camps at the base of the great canyon.
Traditional houses, Bergen, Norway.
Architecture & Design
Bergen, Norway

The Great Hanseatic Port of Norway

Already populated in the early 1830th century, Bergen became the capital, monopolized northern Norwegian commerce and, until XNUMX, remained one of the largest cities in Scandinavia. Today, Oslo leads the nation. Bergen continues to stand out for its architectural, urban and historical exuberance.
Era Susi towed by dog, Oulanka, Finland
PN Oulanka, Finland

A Slightly Lonesome Wolf

Jukka “Era-Susi” Nordman has created one of the largest packs of sled dogs in the world. He became one of Finland's most iconic characters but remains faithful to his nickname: Wilderness Wolf.
drinks entre reis, cavalhadas de pirenopolis, crusades, brazil
Ceremonies and Festivities
Pirenópolis, Brazil

Brazilian Crusades

Christian armies expelled Muslim forces from the Iberian Peninsula in the XNUMXth century. XV but, in Pirenópolis, in the Brazilian state of Goiás, the South American subjects of Carlos Magno continue to triumph.
Itamaraty Palace Staircase, Brasilia, Utopia, Brazil
Brasilia, Brazil

Brasília: from Utopia to the Capital and Political Arena of Brazil

Since the days of the Marquis of Pombal, there has been talk of transferring the capital to the interior. Today, the chimera city continues to look surreal but dictates the rules of Brazilian development.

A Market Economy

The law of supply and demand dictates their proliferation. Generic or specific, covered or open air, these spaces dedicated to buying, selling and exchanging are expressions of life and financial health.
Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

Back to Danny Boyle's The Beach

It's been 15 years since the debut of the backpacker classic based on the novel by Alex Garland. The film popularized the places where it was shot. Shortly thereafter, the XNUMX tsunami literally washed some away off the map. Today, their controversial fame remains intact.

Man: an Ever Tested Species

It's in our genes. For the pleasure of participating, for titles, honor or money, competitions give meaning to the world. Some are more eccentric than others.
Seljalandsfoss Escape

The Island of Fire, Ice and Waterfalls

Europe's supreme cascade rushes into Iceland. But it's not the only one. On this boreal island, with constant rain or snow and in the midst of battle between volcanoes and glaciers, endless torrents crash.
Tulum, Mayan Ruins of the Riviera Maya, Mexico
Tulum, Mexico

The Most Caribbean of the Mayan Ruins

Built by the sea as an exceptional outpost decisive for the prosperity of the Mayan nation, Tulum was one of its last cities to succumb to Hispanic occupation. At the end of the XNUMXth century, its inhabitants abandoned it to time and to an impeccable coastline of the Yucatan peninsula.
Portfolio, Got2Globe, Best Images, Photography, Images, Cleopatra, Dioscorides, Delos, Greece
Got2Globe Photo Portfolio
Got2Globe Portfolio

The Earthly and the Celestial

Bridgetown, City of Bridge and capital of Barbados, beach
Bridgetown, Barbados

Barbados' "The City" of the Bridge

Originally founded and named "Indian Bridge" beside a foul-smelling swamp, the capital of Barbados has evolved into the capital of the British Windward Isles. Barbadians call it “The City”. It is the hometown of the far more famous Rihanna.
Cauldron of Corvo Island, Azores,
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The Improbable Atlantic Shelter of Corvo Island

17 km2 of a volcano sunk in a verdant caldera. A solitary village based on a fajã. Four hundred and thirty souls snuggled by the smallness of their land and the glimpse of their neighbor Flowers. Welcome to the most fearless of the Azorean islands.
Horses under a snow, Iceland Never Ending Snow Island Fire
Winter White
Husavik a Myvatn, Iceland

Endless Snow on the Island of Fire

When, in mid-May, Iceland already enjoys some sun warmth but the cold and snow persist, the inhabitants give in to an intriguing summer anxiety.
Couple visiting Mikhaylovskoe, village where writer Alexander Pushkin had a home
Saint Petersburg e Mikhaylovkoe, Russia

The Writer Who Succumbed to His Own Plot

Alexander Pushkin is hailed by many as the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. But Pushkin also dictated an almost tragicomic epilogue to his prolific life.
travelers contemplate, monte fitz roy, argentina
El Chalten, Argentina

The Granite Appeal of Patagonia

Two stone mountains have created a border dispute between Argentina and Chile. But these countries are not the only suitors. The Fitz Roy and Torre hills have long attracted die-hard climbers
Mother Armenia Statue, Yerevan, Armenia
Yerevan, Armenia

A Capital between East and West

Heiress of the Soviet civilization, aligned with the great Russia, Armenia allows itself to be seduced by the most democratic and sophisticated ways of Western Europe. In recent times, the two worlds have collided in the streets of your capital. From popular and political dispute, Yerevan will dictate the new course of the nation.
Tinquilco Lake in PN Huerquehue, Pucón, La Araucania, Chile
Natural Parks
Pucón, Chile

Among the Araucarias of La Araucania

At a certain latitude in longline Chile, we enter La Araucanía. This is a rugged Chile, full of volcanoes, lakes, rivers, waterfalls and the coniferous forests from which the region's name grew. And it is the heart of the pine nuts of the largest indigenous ethnic group in the country: the Mapuche.
Fort São Filipe, Cidade Velha, Santiago Island, Cape Verde
UNESCO World Heritage
Cidade Velha, Cape Verde

Cidade Velha: the Ancient of the Tropico-Colonial Cities

It was the first settlement founded by Europeans below the Tropic of Cancer. In crucial times for Portuguese expansion to Africa and South America and for the slave trade that accompanied it, Cidade Velha became a poignant but unavoidable legacy of Cape Verdean origins.

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.
Balandra Beach, Mexico, Baja California, aerial view
Balandra beach e El Tecolote, Baja California Sur, Mexico

Seaside Treasures of the Sea of ​​Cortés

Often proclaimed the most beautiful beach in Mexico, we find a serious case of landscape exoticism in the jagged cove of Playa Balandra. The duo if forms with the neighbour Playa Tecolote, is one of the truly unmissable beachfronts of the vast Baja California.
Prayer flags in Ghyaru, Nepal
Annapurna Circuit: 4th – Upper Banana to Ngawal, Nepal

From Nightmare to Dazzle

Unbeknownst to us, we are faced with an ascent that leads us to despair. We pulled our strength as far as possible and reached Ghyaru where we felt closer than ever to the Annapurnas. The rest of the way to Ngawal felt like a kind of extension of the reward.
On Rails
On Rails

Train Travel: The World Best on Rails

No way to travel is as repetitive and enriching as going on rails. Climb aboard these disparate carriages and trains and enjoy the best scenery in the world on Rails.
U Bein Bridge, Amarapura, Myanmar
u-bein BridgeMyanmar

The Twilight of the Bridge of Life

At 1.2 km, the oldest and longest wooden bridge in the world allows the Burmese of Amarapura to experience Lake Taungthaman. But 160 years after its construction, U Bein is in its twilight.
Daily life
Arduous Professions

the bread the devil kneaded

Work is essential to most lives. But, certain jobs impose a degree of effort, monotony or danger that only a few chosen ones can measure up to.
Cliffs above the Valley of Desolation, near Graaf Reinet, South Africa
Graaf-Reinet, South Africa

A Boer Spear in South Africa

In early colonial times, Dutch explorers and settlers were terrified of the Karoo, a region of great heat, great cold, great floods and severe droughts. Until the Dutch East India Company founded Graaf-Reinet there. Since then, the fourth oldest city in the rainbow nation it thrived at a fascinating crossroads in its history.
Bungee jumping, Queenstown, New Zealand
Scenic Flights
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.