Picture Northern Chile’s dramatic terrain and one place often springs to mind: San Pedro de Atacama.
Set high above the desert on an arid plateau - that’s at a dizzying altitude of around 7,900 feet - this rustic town is framed by the Andes and the Atacama Desert. The town itself has its own cultural treasures, and Plaza de Armas comes alive at night with vendors selling trinkets and artisan goods. But the location is what makes San Pedro de Atacama the perfect spot for adventure and exploration, with exhilarating opportunities like sandboarding across the dunes and over 80 rock climbing routes to be enjoyed by all.
Only 13 kilometres (8 miles) west of the town is El Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). This serene and otherworldly spot is spectacular, with unforgettable sunsets stealing the show. A little further out - about an hour and a half’s drive from San Pedro de Atacama - is the highest geothermal field in the world: Géiseres del Tatio (Tatio Geysers). Located a staggering 4,300 metres above sea level, the best time to visit is early morning when the geothermal activity is at its peak. Look out for unique flora and fauna, as well as grazing vicuñas (wild relatives of alpacas), Andean foxes and various bird species like flamingos and avocets.
Wildlife is also plentiful at Lauca National Park, and it's also renowned for volcanoes, lava fields and calderas, and Lago Chugará (Chungará Lake). Located in the looming shadow of Volcán Parinacota, this colossal body of water sits at a towering elevation of 4,517 metres (14,820 ft). Elqui Valley is just as ethereal but offers an entirely different vista. Famous for its vineyards, pisco production and mystical atmosphere, the lack of light pollution has made this visceral valley one of the world’s best-kept secrets regarding stargazing.