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San Pedro de Atacama - Deserts - Atacama Desert - Antofogasta - Chile - Americasol.Net
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- Info País: Chile
Estado: Antofogasta
Local: Atacama Desert
Temas Geográficos:
Dezembro 2001

Deserted Surrealism

Always blue. Such is the sky that covers every day the little village of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, located in the northern region of that country and in a geographical zone where the greatest Andean mountains are found. Its population is very reduced, limited mainly to salespeople, shepherds and farmers.

San Pedro is the main gate to one of the most inhospitable and surreal zones in the globe: the Atacama Desert. Because it depends on tourist activity and because it is the starting point for many excursions into the area, the village offers several services to its visitors: from hostels to restaurants, from the internet to tour agencies.

Despite its very small size, San Pedro de Atacama holds in its past a rich and wide history. The first inhabitants installed themselves in an oasis about 11,000 years ago. They gave up on their nomadic lifestyle, developed agriculture and artificial irrigation. They domesticated llamas and alpacas, making good use of their meat and wool, as well as using them for transportation. They created ceramics and clothing; they worked the wood and metals like copper and bronze. They had a religion and were one of the most developed peoples in pre-Columbian America. All that, associated to the driest climate in the world, has transformed San Pedro de Atacama not only into a tour attraction, but also into Chile’s archaeological capital. All that history can still be felt during a visit to the cultivated fields or by observing the architecture of the houses in the area.

The village is located on the Andes Mountains, just about 25 miles from the majestic and mythical Licancabur, a volcano that used to held Inca ceremonials, with offers. There isn’t, actually, a lot to do or to see in San Pedro itself, but its surroundings are full of attractions and exotic landscapes, rare anywhere in the world.

Just over 10 miles away is the Valley of the Moon (Valle de la Luna). The area was named so exactly due to its composition - formed by rocks and sands - that make it look similar to the Moon surface. The Valley of the Moon is wide, but it is possible to see a great deal of it from the top of a dune.

The highland, over 13,000 feet above the sea level and about 60 miles from San Pedro, holds a landscape different from that which is found in the Atacama Desert. One will find the salt plains (salares), which are lowlands or lakes made of crystallised salt. In this zone one will also find lagoons fed by small, multicoloured streams of white, blue, green and purple. In many of them, the birds (specially the flamingo, resistant to the strong salinity of the place) are a constant presence.

Near San Pedro are also the Puritama Springs. Those are natural pools with clear, hot water. Even under the cold that always come down with the night, the temperature of the pools remains around 86 Fahrenheit (30 Celsius). The springs, in spite of being managed by a Chilean hotel, remain open to the general public.

But before bathing oneself in the waters of Puritama, it is advisable to go and watch the spectacle of the Tatio Geysers. The geological activity of the zone has created a phenomenon in which the water stream is expelled from the ground to the surface in the manner of a spout of steam. The phenomenon can be seen every day, by sunrise, when the cold waters of subterranean rivers meet the volcanic lava.

Still on the route to the tours that may be taken by the tourists in San Pedro de Atacama, is a walk over the Valley of Death (Valle de la Muerte). Lying just two miles away from the village, the valley is very sandy, and, on the way towards it, one will pass by the Cordillera de la Sal, where natural sculptures, made by the action of the wind and time over the dunes and rocks, are found. There is absolutely no vegetal or animal life there.

For the ones who like archaeology, there are still a few must-see spots in the area. Two miles away from the village stands Pukara de Quitor: a pre-Incan fortress in ruins, covering over 6 acres (2.5 hectares) of mountain. Another archaeological site to be visited are the Tulor ruins - an ancient Atacama village, dating back about 3,000 years. It was buried under the sand, but was uncovered by the works of an archaeological investigation project developed in the place.

In the archaeological site of Catarpe it is possible to find several groups of stones united by cement, making up walls. Catarpe was the old administrative centre of the Inca Empire. In San Pedro stands also the archaeological museum “R. P. Gustavo le Paige”. Inside the museum it is possible to know better the Atacameño culture by taking a look at the ceramics, clothes and even well preserved mummies.

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