Do you know the deserts of South America? There are several, each as majestic as the other. Most of the time, these places are not well known to travelers and that’s a shame! The advantage is that the day you go there there will be no crowds of tourists. Chile, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, the Andes Cordillera are to be discovered from a new angle! Here are three of the many existing deserts in South America that are part of the Altiplano.
- 1/ THE ALTIPLANO
- 2/ THE BOLIVIAN PUNA: LIPEZ AND UYUNI
- 3/ THE CHILEAN PUNA: SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA
- 4/ LA PUNA ARGENTINA: SPECTACULAR AND UNKNOWN
1/ THE ALTIPLANO
The Altiplano, which means “high plain” in Spanish, is located in the heart of the Andes and is the highest inhabited region in the world after the Tibetan plateau. It is nearly 1,500 kilometers long and spans four countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Chile, but most of the Altiplano is in Bolivia. This territory is home to mythical sites such as Lake Titicaca at 3812 m or the Salar de Uyuni at 3658 m. The place does not really have a developed fauna and flora: bald peaks, scattered herds of alpacas, a few clumps of paja brava, steppes where very few trees cross… But there are populations, austere of course , who live in this territory where life is quite difficult due to this extremely arid area. But the beauty of the landscape is breathtaking.
2/ THE BOLIVIAN PUNA: LIPEZ AND UYUNI
As said a little above, most of the Altiplano is in Bolivia, it’s even a third of the country! Uyuni is the logistical point of support for tourists who come to visit the largest salt desert in the world, the Salar de Uyuni, Sud Lípez with the Colorada, Verde and Blanca lagoons. These circuits last several days and are carried out in 4 x 4 vehicles, since all these circuits are done on natural dirt tracks. Several hotels or small inns welcome tourists. If you want to leave the tourist path, you can cut through passes and unknown areas coming from Tupiza, further south, for example. Once on the salar, instead of doing the classic Uyuni follow the banks of the Salar de Uyuni. Finally, further north on the Coipasa salt flats, you can stay a few days with the Uru-Chipayas, the oldest ethnic group in the Americas and even go to the spectacular Nevado Sajama, the roof of Bolivia. During this expedition, extraordinary deserts, refuges and welcoming populations await you.
3/ THE CHILEAN PUNA: SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA
The Chilean oasis village of San Pedro de Atacama is located in the basin of the Salar de Atacama in northern Chile. The village is dominated by the Licancabur volcano ( 5,916 M above sea level) and by the Sairecabur volcano ( 5,971 Maltitude). These two volcanoes are located about thirty kilometers east of the village. This mythical place is a total change of scenery. The desert is home to the largest astronomical observatories on the planet. Being the driest desert in the world and having a particularly open sky, it is conducive to astronomical observation. Formerly, the village lived from agriculture and some trade with Bolivia and Argentina. Since then, tourism has become the almost exclusive economic activity of the village. This tourism is practicable all year round and people from all over the world go there. Everything is in place to welcome them as it should. Most come to visit archaeological and natural sites and practice hiking, climbing and sand skiing. Ascents of neighboring volcanoes are also offered to tourists. On the other hand, the risk of discomfort due to the altitude! It is impossible to get bored thanks to the many landscapes and things to discover in this region.
4/ LA PUNA ARGENTINA: SPECTACULAR AND UNKNOWN
The Argentine puna, located between the provinces of Salta and Catamarca, is a place that condenses all that can be seen most beautiful in these high plateaus. You will feel far from any population and alone in the world, but in an exceptional setting. There are very few inhabitants (with whom you can stay elsewhere) and some 4 x 4 minors pass by from time to time. This place does not appear in any travel guide book so it is imperative to travel with a driver-guide. You will discover turquoise lagoons worthy of the Caribbean, a ghost town at almost 5000 m, a beach dotted with blocks of pumice stone or even a maze of red earth. A place not to be missed!