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Featured Regions

The Atacama Desert – The Driest Place on Earth

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Valley of the Moon
Aptly named, this lunarscape is both geologic playground and historic site.
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Yerbas Buenas
Petroglyphs paint a picture of ancient civilizations a stone’s throw from San Pedro.
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Tatio Geysers
Geysers mimic erupting volcanoes and blast steam at 13,000 feet.
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ALMA Telescope
Aptly named, this lunarscape is both geologic playground and historic site.
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Salar de Atacama
Float in a salt pond as flamingos hunt for shrimp in the shallows.
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San Pedro de Atacama
Pre-Columbian history is manifest in this desert commune.
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Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa
A luxury resort and your basecamp for all things mountain biking, hiking and adventure.
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The Region

This unearthly plateau is the driest place on earth. A landscape unlike any we've ever seen (though we’ve yet to visit Mars), Chile's Atacama Desert is flanked by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the towering Andes to the east. Salt flats and blue lagoons, rumbling volcanoes and skyscraping summits—the Atacama croons a siren song to the adventurous.

Fascinating Facts
  • Some parts of the Atacama haven't been touched by rain in hundreds of years
  • Most of the desert's 20,000-foot mountains don’t have glaciers at the summit
  • Lack of light plus high and dry desert air makes for epic stargazing

#RealTimeChile

The Crew

Ben Weiland
Ben Weiland

A renowned surf videographer with a knack for exploring the unknown.

Michael Stolp-Smith
Michael Stolp-Smith

A quiet, aspiring photographer with a perpetually snapping shutter.

Jenny Ryden Harris
Jenny Ryden Harris

Skier, lifestyle model and overall outdoor lover—as quick to shred as she is to smile.

Peter Reese
Peter Reese

Active Junky's Director of Content, traveling the globe in search of stories with soul.

The Collector

San Pedro de Atacama

Pre-Columbian history is evident in this desert commune.

No visit to the Atacama Desert is complete without a stop in San Pedro. What would be considered a small village in any other setting is a bustling hub in the arid Atacama. Pre-Columbian sagas intertwine with a contemporary Chilean narrative as local artisans spin ceramics and weave baskets. But that’s just scratching the surface. Dig deeper and the archaeology of the region reveals detailed petroglyphs and ruins dissolved by time. For many travelers, San Pedro is a basecamp from which to explore the surrounding desert and high mountain ranges. For others, it's the cultural heart of the Atacama that puts the storied setting in perspective.

The gear that got it done

SOLE Thin Sport Custom Footbeds

Thin yet supportive, these excelled on both sand and stone.
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Ahnu Portrero Boot

Obviously stylish with a welcome, rugged feel. Great travel boots!
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Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa

A luxury resort and your basecamp for all things mountain biking, hiking and adventure.

Ahh... Desert tranquility at it's finest. But don't get too relaxed! The Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa – in addition to offering luxurious spa treatments and massages – is a five-star basecamp for all things adventure. Take off with an expert guide and hike to hot springs or mountain bike through red rock canyons. Don't be daunted by the 30+ different excursions; the obliging staff will gladly help you customize your itinerary. A standout hotel that magically blends into the surrounding Andes, the Alto Atacama should not be overlooked. Did we mention the gastronomically inspired chefs and an extensive wine list focused on Chilean varietals?

Related Videos

Alto Atacama Wine Tasting

Nearly every culture finds a way to practice alcohol alchemy.
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Chilean Quinoa Salad Recipe

A chef at the Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa whipped up a delightfully simple vegetarian salad for us.
Watch Video

Valley of the Moon

Aptly named, this lunarscape is both geologic playground and historical site.

Salt deposits – the remnants of dried up lagoons – veil the Valley of the Moon in interstellar white. Home to caverns, canyons and sprawling flats, the Valley is smooth as a tapestry one minute and jagged as broken pottery the next. Geologically gorgeous, the Valley of the Moon is a photogenic destination for off-trail scrambling. At dusk, the colors of earth and salt and stone play against the sun for a truly spectacular panorama. Go for a trail run, a hike or simply a sightseeing mission at this must-visit lunarscape.

The gear that got it done

Smith Forefront Helmet

The Aerocore is super breathable—Forefront crushes desert terrain.
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Park Tool Mini I-Beam with Chain Tool

Trustworthy and always there when you need it.
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Salar de Atacama 

Float in a salt pond as flamingos hunt for shrimp in the shallows.

Chile’s largest salt flat, the Salar de Atacama, is an eerily picturesque place. Though salt flats are often thought of as smooth, almost glassy deposits, evaporating water has clawed at the desert and left fascinating, expansive and craggy formations. The highlight of visiting the Salar de Atacama? That’d be sunset. Floating in a Dead Sea-like salty lagoon (don’t open your eyes underwater), as the flamingos arch elegant necks to scoop up shrimp, Andes towering in the background. If there’s one place you want to bring your camera on your trip to the Atacama, this might be it.

The gear that got it done

Stanley Classic Vacuum Water Bottle 27oz

Ice water stayed cold for over 24 hours in the desert. That works for us!
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Smith Lowdown Sunglasses

Casual shades, comfortable on long days, fair price.
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Tatio Geysers

Geysers mimic erupting volcanoes and blast steam at 13,000 feet.

The pictures don’t do Tatio justice. Not only is the Chilean geyser field one of the world’s biggest, but it’s also one of the highest, too. At 13,000 ft., over 80 geysers bubble, spew and steam. A popular tourist destination, and for good reason, Tatio makes for a great day trip. These geysers don't blast to astronomical heights, but the sheer number of them, all steaming simultaneously, is a shocking sight to behold. And yes, you're going to want to bring your swimsuit.

The gear that got it done

Platypus Sprinter XT 25

Mountain biking, hiking, chillin' in the desert, the Sprinter gets it done. A great day pack.
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Sierra Designs All Season Wind Jacket

We weren’t too worried about rain in the world’s driest desert, but this handled windy and chilly desert nights well.
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Yerbas Buenas

Petroglyphs paint a picture of ancient civilizations a stone’s throw from San Pedro.

While many destinations don’t require a guide to enjoy them, it's a solid idea to tour Yerbas Buenas with a historically knowledgeable expert. Hundreds of carvings, ranging from simple to elaborate, grace the walls of rock. Llamas and warriors and jaguars, the petroglyphs give us a glimpse of what was important to a mesmerizing ancient civilization. On the way to Yerbas Buenas, many tours stop at the Valle Arcoiris (Rainbow Valley), so named because of the spectrum of color exhibited by the mottled rock formations.

The gear that got it done

Coal Considered Traveler

No better hat for a day in the desert. The brim’s wide and the fit’s comfy.
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Icebreaker Sphere Crew

It doesn’t stink up and it stays cool—ideal for the Atacama (and anywhere else).
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ALMA Telescope

The world's greatest astronomers flock to the Atacama; look up and realize why.

The biggest bang to hit space since, well, The Big Bang. ALMA (which means “soul” in Spanish if you’re dusting off that dictionary in preparation for your trip) is the single biggest astronomical project ever conceived. This telescope is made up of 66 colossal antennas and is supported by a smattering of nations including: Canada, the United States, Chile, Taiwan, Republic of Korea, and Japan as well as the EOS (Eurpean Southern Observatory). Now open to visits, ALMA is a must for science-lovers. Even if you don’t stop at ALMA, make sure to look skyward at night in the Atacama—it has some of the most out-of-this-world stargazing on the planet.

The gear that got it done

Mountain Khakis Camber 107

Simple and comfortable, the Camber 107s are excellent travel companions.
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Teva Original Universal Sandal

The ultralight Universals fit into your luggage with ease and you'll be glad to have them on your trip.
Shop Now

The Gear that Got it Done