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By Kate Springer | April 29th, 2016

Where to? Atacama Desert, Chile

Why you’ll love it: The Atacama Desert offers a taste of real, unspoiled adventure — you’ll explore vast, dry landscapes, strange rock formations, salt lakes, and ancient ruins. Stretching across 41,000 square miles, this aired plateau is considered the driest non-polar desert in the world and has commonly been compared with the landscape of Mars.

It’s otherworldly, that’s for sure — but still, there are some 500 species that have managed to adapt to the area. Not only will you spot salt grass and cacti but several types of animals exist too — think Andean flamingos, grasshoppers, butterflies, scorpions, various lizards, Humboldt penguins, hummingbirds, gray foxes and even vicuñas (a mammal that looks kind of like a llama).

The  various attractions in the area are all naturally occurring and pristinely maintained. There’s the astounding El Tatio Geyser, where 80 geysers emit plumes of smoke; Baños de Puritama, where you’ll find steamy geothermal watering holes; Valle de La Luna, a famous place to catch the sunset and see the Tres Marias rock formations.

Another way to explore the area is by horseback: Keteka offers taster experiences with rides between two and four hours. Travelers get to visit mind-blowing sites such as Catarpe Valley, Dinosaur Valley, the Salt Mountain range, traditional Atacameñean villages, the oasis of Sequitor, and the ruins of Pukara and Quitor.

Fun fact: The Chinchorro mummies that were found in the Atacama Desert are believed to be the oldest ever found, pre-dating Egyptian mummies by thousands of years.

Get there: Fly to Santiago with Air Canada via Toronto, or play with a combination of flights with Qantas, LAN Airlines and Cathay Pacific to get there with stopovers. Then it’s a 20-hour bus ride to San Pedro de Atacama, the area’s primary hub of activity.

Click here to return to The Loop’s 30 Days of Travel Inspiration series.