There are some places that are just made for photography. The Atacama Desert is one of those places.
No matter where you point your camera you’re almost guaranteed an amazing shot, and with such varied landscapes it’s nigh on impossible to put your camera away.
I’ve just spent a week travelling around the Atacama Desert and the Atacama Highlands in northern Chile, and the main reason I wanted to travel there was for the stunning scenery. I’m not going to lie, I went to a country purely for the photography.
Four years ago I did a similar trip to Salar de Uyuni, the salt flats in Bolivia, where I spent four days driving across these endless and eternal landscapes. During those four days I took well over 2,000 photos, and nearly all of them were winners. With high clouds, mirror reflections and one of the best places in the world for forced perspective photography, there was just so much fun to be had.
I think that was the inspiration for this trip, to come back to this part of the world again, this time in Chile, and to do it justice.
The Atacama Desert is actually the driest place in the world, and there are parts of the desert where the weather stations haven’t actually experienced any rainfall. Ever. There’s one word to describe a place like this – arid.
However, this unique geography and climate has carved out some of the most fascinating landscapes you could ever see.
83km north of the town of San Pedro de Atacama you can find the El Tatio geysers, and at 4,320 metres high they are the highest geyser field in the world. These are bubbling cauldrons in the ground pouring off sizzling steam, and walking around you feel like you’re at the end of the world in dark deep Mordor from Lord of the Rings.
If, like me, you get here in time for sunrise, you get to see the sun crest over the mountains blanketing everything in an ethereal glow, and people become just dark shadows moving in the mist, losing all form.
To the west of San Pedro de Atacama you find the Valle de la Luna, the Valley of the Moon, and as soon as you enter the valley floor it is easy to understand where the name comes from. Large white rocks carpet the ground while giant red cliffs tower either side. Cutting through the middle is a road. Just the one road, and it is actually quite eerie driving through here.
While being on the valley floor seeing these cliffs around me, I knew I had to climb to the top of one, I knew that’s where the shot was.
I’m not going to lie, it was a pretty steep climb to the top, and I was thankful that I had the Manfrotto 190 carbon fiber tripod with me otherwise I don’t think my back would’ve taken a heavier tripod!
Once I got to the top I was afforded the most astounding views of the Valle de la Luna. Shooting at around f/11, ISO100, I was happy with every single shot I took, and I took a really nice panorama too.
Also at the Valle de la Luna is the Great Dune. As the name suggests, this is a massive sand dune. There’s just the one. This is just another reason why the Atacama Desert is such an amazing place for photography; you just can’t get these landscapes all in one place anywhere else.
Finally, no trip would be complete without watching sunset in the desert. Here, with the endless landscape before you, you truly get a sense of how deserted and desolate this place is – no life lives here, nor will it. Only rock and sunshine. I love places like these.
For the photo enthusiast, northern Chile and the Atacama Desert has got to be high up on the list of places to shoot in. As I said, no matter where you point the camera you’ll be happy with the results; I know I certainly was.
PRODUCTS MENTIONED: Manfrotto 190 carbon fibre tripod
Macca Sherifi is a blogger, photographer and presenter who has worked in the travel industry for the past five years. He has travelled to over 70 countries, volunteered in Bangladesh and worked in both China and Australia.