Further Afield in Chile: Exploring the Wonders of Atacama Explora

Arriving in the Atacama Desert, I was speechless as the plane began to descend into Calama, the region’s capitol. The austere and Martian desert stretched out in every direction and was accented with epic snow-capped volcanoes in shades of fiery orange and rusty red; the salt flats beckoned to the east while smaller, salt mountains signaled the mouth of the Moon Valley to the south.

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Atacama, Chile

Met at the airport by my Explora Atacama hosts, I was given my introduction to this remote region of Chile, “The first European explorers to reach what is now known as the Atacama Desert were drawn by tales of a land rich in gold located somewhere south of the Inca Empire. It was due to this quest that the Spanish conquistador, Diego de Almagro, after a perilous journey across the Andes Mountains, became the first European adventurer to arrive in Chile and set foot in Atacama’s arid expanse. To this day, Atacama continues to offer a singular experience – a stunning encounter with mesmerizing traditions, forms and colors in a remote corner of the planet.”

After almost two hours of skirting the magnificent and impressive geological formations found in the Moon Valley, we arrived in San Pedro de Atacama- our base camp for a full range of adventurous activities over the coming week.

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Cycling in Atacama

During my stay at Explora Atacama I was consistently surrounded by absolutely phenomenal guides who were remarkably passionate and knowledgeable about their surroundings. Any questions regarding history, flora, fauna, geology, astronomy, local food and culture and more were thoughtfully and thoroughly answered with energetic responses. Our guides, Luis and Oscar, in particular were some of the most professional and talented guides I have ever had. They consistently went out of their way to make our experience the best possible.

Just a few of my favorite adventure excursions while at Explora Atacama were

  • Volcano Climbing Cerro Toco (18,386 ft) and Lascar Volcano (18,346)
  • Bicycling through the Garganta del Diablo Canyon (Devils throat Canyon)
  • Hiking in the Moon Valley and along Rio Blanco to the geysers
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Licancabur Volcano

Volcano Climbing, Cerro Toco (18,386 ft): Departure from Explora by van. Begin the ascent at an old sulfur plant and ACT (Atacama Cosmology Telescope) at 5,300 m (17,380 ft). Climb along a steep, but well-marked path for 1 to 2 hours. Toco is an ideal introduction to high mountain climbing and offers panoramic views of Chile, Bolivia, and the surrounding volcanoes.

Volcano Climbing, Lascar Volcano (18,346 ft): Departure from Explora by van to Laguna Lejia and begin to climb (start at 5000 meters). Ascend between 2.5 and 4 hours across rock and volcanic ash. Arrival at the crater allows for total appreciation of the morning’s hard work. It is possible to continue up to the summit (another 40 min) climbing down is by rope howling for 1.5 hours. Enjoy a picnic lunch back at the van at the end of descent.

Cycling, Garganta del Diablo: Depart from the lodge, crossing the Catarpe valley towards the Garganta del Diablo. From here, wind your way through epic walls of gypsum and crystallized salt. During this bike ride, experience some of the local culture and visit the San Isidro chapel.

Hiking, Moon Valley: Departure from Explora by van towards the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley). Here, appreciate the variations of sunlight and the spectacular landscapes of the Cordillera de la Sal while hiking through ancient dunes and bizarre rock formations. Return to the lodge by van.

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Valle de la Luna

Finally, one of the most amazing features at Explora Atacama is their onsite observatory. The Atacama Desert is used by NASA as one of the primary global locations for celestial observation given its clear skies and lack of light pollution. The observatory at Explora allows guests to have the chance to take a star gazing hobby to the next level. While I was at Explora I had the mind-boggling chance to see Saturn and its rings as well as get an absolutely magnificent view of the craters on the moon!

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Observatory at Explora Atacama

Visiting Atacama, is a riveting way to begin an adventurous trip to Chile and acts as an amazing counterpoint to the wintry Patagonian steppe and granite mountains of Torres del Paine.

For those, wishing to continue in Explora fashion and hoping to continue onto Patagonia, Explora has another lodge in the heart of Torres del Paine National Park (check out my blog on Explora Patagonia here!). Guests traveling with Adventures Within Reach and staying at two Explora Lodges receive 10% off of their trip.

Views from Explora Patagonia, Torres del Paine

Views from Explora Patagonia, Torres del Paine

Another way to continue your journey from the Explora Atacama Lodge, consider joining one of Explora’s Travesías onto Bolivia or Argentina. Explora Travesías are journeys in which guests travel privately between countries, staying along the way in special Explora camps and finishing or starting in one of the Explora lodges. The drive allows guests to access hiking routes along the way in some of the world’s most isolated landscapes.

Salta, Argentina

Salta, Argentina

During these Travesías travelers will experience the sublime silence and multi-colored valleys of the majestic Andes: the natural border between Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. Depending on guests’ desired travel routes, these Travesías can be taken either from Argentina or Chile or, Bolivia or Chile, following the same itinerary.

Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

Vicuna in the Bolivian altiplano

Vicuna in the Bolivian altiplano

Want to start planning your own trip to Atacama? Contact me!

Your Friendly Chile Expert,

Gretchen

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