Driving a campervan to the driest desert on Earth
The Atacama Desert, located west of the Andes mountain range, is the driest non-polar desert on Earth. It spans 600 miles of coastline and over 40,000 square miles. It is said that parts of the desert are similar to the climate of Mars, and the otherworldly desert is one of Chile's main tourist attractions.
Most tourists who visit the Atacama decide to fly directly from Santiago to Calama, the main airport in the desert. However, my friends and I had all just finished a semester studying in Santiago; we had no obligations and tons of time. We decided to do something a bit different and drive to the desert instead.
Leaving the busy highways of Santiago with no set plans, we headed north on Chile's Ruta 5. All we knew is that we had to return the vehicle (in good condition) in 12 days and that our goal was to reach the desert.
What followed were the greatest two weeks of freedom of our lives.
Day to day life on the road was pretty simple. Wake up, drive, have some lunch, drive, find a campsite, set up tent, cook some dinner, listen to music, watch the stars, and go to bed. We were completely disconnected from the world, driving for hours in the desert and passing few cars. Any thoughts of the future or worries simply did not cross my mind. Living in the campervan was truly living in the moment.
Reaching the start of the Atacama was like landing on a new planet. The landscapes of the Atacama were unlike anything I had ever seen. Everything was so void of life, yet during this trip I felt more alive than I had ever been before.
As the greenery disappeared, so did the towns and the people. Our goal was to reach San Pedro de Atacama, the biggest "city" in the middle of the desert. We would use San Pedro as a base to visit the main attractions surrounding the city.
While we were technically in the desert on Day 5, we still had another day or so before reaching the best of the Atacama. So until then, we turned on our road trip songs and continued cruising down Ruta 5.
INTO THE DESERT
Mano del Desierto, Antofagasta, Chile
ARE WE ON MARS?
I tried my best to do this beautiful place justice through my camera, but I don't think I could even possibly capture the magic of the Atacama. All of the days leading up to reaching the main highlights of the Atacama could not have prepared me for how much this place would take my breath away.
Our days in the desert were incredible. We set up tent in the most remote campsites we could find, drove to the most out-of-this-world locations, and were constantly in awe of the unique landscape of the Atacama. They say that Chile is "nature on a massive scale" and I certainly felt that in the Atacama.
FROM THE LOW MOMENTS...
Life from the campervan might appear glamorous in photos, but it was not always as easy as it looked. A week into the trip, our little campervan's engine was beginning to randomly fail, leaving us stranded. Fast forward to just one day later when drove our new campervan over a sharp rock and popped the tire, leaving us stranded in an even more remote location than the day before. From extreme altitudes and freezing desert nights, the Atacama is definitely not the most forgiving environment. However, all of the lows were completely overshadowed by all of the highs we experienced in the 12 days.
On the 9th day, we started our three day journey back to Santiago. The Atacama Desert campervan adventure was one of the best travel memories of my entire life; as much as I try to explain and show just how incredible this trip was, nothing can compare to going out and experiencing it yourself. My advice? Get some friends, rent a van, and set off on an adventure with no plans or obligations. Just bring an open mind, turn off your phone, and live each day to the fullest.
Thank you to Wicked South America for providing such an awesome experience!
...TO SOME OF THE BEST MOMENTS OF OUR LIVES.