The Atacama Desert is a virtually rainless plateau in South America, covering a 1,000 km strip of land on the Pacific coast of South America, west of the Andes mountains. The Atacama desert is, according to NASA, National Geographic and many other publications, the driest place on earth (50 times drier than Death Valley in California). Scientists recently duplicated the tests used by the Viking 1 and Viking 2 Mars landers to detect life, and were unable to detect any signs in Atacama Desert soil. The region may be unique on Earth in this regard and is being used by NASA to test instruments for future Mars missions.
On the final day of our Bolivian Salt Flats Tour, we descended from nearly 5000 metres altitude, to San Pedro at 2,400 metres down one unbelievably straight road that seemed to go on forever. It was wonderful arriving in San Pedro after the Bolivian Altiplano due to the increased breathing ability, and the warm sunny climate.
I used San Pedro de Atacama as a pit-stop, spending a total of 24 hours in Chile before making my way to Salta in Argentina. This was partly due to the fact that there were only two ATMs in the town, one was broken and the other only accepted Mastercard, and partly due to the fact that there were only 2-3 buses a week from San Pedro to Salta in Argentina (with a company called Gem’s), and one happened to be leaving the next day.