The North

Andean high plateau the Atacama Desert

The Chilean north overwhelms a traveller first and foremost with its dimensions. The vast expanse of deserts and semi-deserts is most easily revealed by intercity bus trip. The 2000 kilometer trip takes almost 30 hours for from Santiago to the Peruvian border. Endless, sparsely overgrown areas, cactus hills or sand dunes pass by the bus window. The dead straight road loses itself behind the horizon without a bend.

Yet the desert is anything but monotonous: the forces of the earth have formed an extremely diverse landscape. The sun plunges the rugged climes into a glaring flicker, sometimes into a reddish splendour. The few huts, bleached by dust and crouched under the desert wind indicate the sparse presence of man in this inhospitable environment. Settlements are found in the harbors, the fertile river valleys and the green oases. And of course close to the large open-cast mines where Chile's great treasure is mined: Copper ore.

The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places in the world. The large port cities of Arica, Iquique and Antofagasta or the mining towns of Calama and Copiapó are ideal bases to explore this unique place. The most popular destination is the oasis San Pedro de Atacama with its salt lakes full of flamingos, steaming geysers and the bizarre moon valley.

The andean plateau with its snow-caped volcanoes, the turquoise lagoons and the unique wildlife, however, offers an equally stunning landscape. Here on the Altiplano, there is also the opportunity to get in touch with the Aymara natives and their colourful culture. Sandy and rocky beaches are to be explored, as well as abandoned saltpeter mines, mummies thousands of years old or hot springs.

Tips for the North:

  • Go for a swim in the Pacific Ocean, on the white sandy beaches of Arica or Iquique
  • Visit the Lauca National Park with Lake Chungará, 4500 m high and surrounded by volcanoes.
  • Join the Fiesta of the desert village La Tirana near Iquique with colourful dance groups (middle of July)
  • Cross the desert by mountain bike: from San Pedro to Valle de la Luna.

Travel routes in northern Chile:

El Norte Chico and the Atacama Desert

El Norte Grand with Uyuni and the Easter Island