Atacama Desert, Chile (CNN) — It’s dry, barren and sparse. The otherworldly landscapes of northern Chile’s Atacama Desert could easily be from Mars.
It is the driest desert in the world outside of the polar regions, and its 40,500-odd square miles of red and burnt-orange plains stretch as far as the eye can see.
The drive through the desert marks a stretch of the Pan-American Highway, a network of roads measuring around 19,000 miles in total; an admirable notch on any road-trip fiend’s travel belt.
The lunar-esque landscape has been used by NASA for testing martian rovers, while its smooth sandy dunes draw surfers looking for a different kind of wave. By night, the sky is a kaleidoscopic wonder of constellations and attracts many a stargazer.
Driving through the desert can be disorienting, and, at first, weary travelers may mistake its most unusual monument for a mirage.
It rears up from the ground as if a giant is drowning in quicksand, reaching an outstretched hand in a desperate last plea for help.
But on closer inspection, visitors will see that the “Mano del Desierto” — “Hand of the Desert” — is, in fact, very real. Read more