A journey through the Atacama Desert reveals a fascinating natural landscape.
It only takes a day to fall in love with Atacama. Its rugged, ever-shifting landscape, astronomic clarity, and five-star amenities are enough to feel like you could stay in the world’s driest desert for weeks. It’s an area that’s highly recommended by guides, some of the most experienced in the region.
Not only is the excursion hyper-personalized to your interests, but guides are also certified in the entire region to protect the environment. In fact, only two properties in all of Atacama have access to the Kari Gorge.
Situated along the edge of the protected Moon Valley, the scenery is filled with rugged, jagged rocks. The ridgeline follows an uninterrupted view of the area’s iconic sand dunes and volcanoes.
It is here where you will learn about and embrace how this environment came to be. Remnants of millions of years of geological activity are on vibrant display. Formations and striations reveal where tectonic movements shifted and where top layers were settled from volcanic ash.
The most surprising facet to witness, however, is the salt.
The salt saturates the landscape. Snowy white in appearance, the salt mountains, salt lakes, salt waterfalls, and salt rivers surround all sides and can trick you into thinking snow had fallen in the desert. In reality, the rains had simply evaporated, leaving the land blanketed in fragile salts.
Scurry down the face of a sand dune toward the valley floor of the Kari Gorge. Go beyond the demarcated pathways to set foot on the pristine dunes of the Atacama Desert—something very few are allowed to do.
The gorge itself is about 15 feet wide, with salt rock walls towering 30 to 40 feet high on either side. A raging river looks to be flash frozen with its waves and crevices perfectly preserved in the ice, which is actually salt.
Trek inside several of the gorge’s naturally formed caves to witness salt crystals embedded in the rock face. The lack of foot traffic and natural erosion means that the salt deposits inside are so concentrated that they glow when exposed to light.
One of the most memorable moments amid this land of sand and salt is toward the end of a three-hour trek. The guide encourages travelers to pause for a moment of silence while standing in the gorge. That’s when you will hear the swelling sound as the salt crystals crack, expand and contract with the changing temperatures of the desert.
It is an orchestra of crystals. A symphony of salt. Nature’s composition reminding us of its undeniable beauty.
Celebrate this beauty with a sundowner amid the salt flats of the Moon Valley and contemplate how unique this corner of the world feels.
The guide’s respect for the land is undeniable, taking great care of our every step, exposing aspects of the Atacama you may not be privy to without one like the geological markers that illustrate the history of the setting; or the owl regurgitations that divulge how an animal could survive in such a harsh environment; or the prime photo spots, exposures, and settings to obtain the best images, even on an iPhone.
Contact a Ker & Downey travel designer to start planning your personalized stay in Chile’s Atacama Desert. For the full Kari Gorge experience, we recommend staying at Explora Atacama.