Chile: Atacama Desert: Introduction: Overview
“The landscape was one of overwhelming and threatening beauty, a world of refulgent light and sidereal shadows…in the mornings, the rising sun, distant and cold, painted the peaks tints of orange and crimson; in the evenings, the light disappeared as suddenly as it had dawned.” This is how Chilean author Isabel Allende describes the Atacama desert in her wonderful novel, Ines of My Soul, which is partly set in the region, and it beautifully captures the drama and magnificence of this unusual landscape.
The majestic Andes, with snow-capped peaks and volcanoes, anchors one edge of the horizon and a red lunar-like desert bleeds in every other direction. But within the seemingly barren terrain are pockets of great natural drama: red rock canyons, vast sand dunes, crystalline salt flats, ancient lava flows, hidden natural hot springs, the Tatio geysers, tracks of rare cacti as well as wildlife. You may see llamas, vicuna (distant relatives of the camel), Andean ostrich and desert fox and, of course, flocks of pink flamingos streaking across the sky.— Melissa Biggs Bradley 04/27/2010