Camping in the Atacama Desert, Chile: Outside the Tent

Camping in the Atacama Desert, ChileThey tell you there’s nothing like the great outdoors: the wild and the beautiful, the remote and the other-worldly. Being under canvas, cooking over an open fire; sharing the environment, respecting and understanding the earth. All of this gives you a sense of coming together – to be one – with nature. But I have camped in a place where I realised the exact opposite, and in that realisation, I had the best night of camping-out in all my life.

Camping in the Atacama Desert, Chile

The Atacama Desert in Northern Chile stretches for six hundred miles. It is nestled between the pounding Pacific to its west and the tips of the Andean peaks to its east. It ticks all the boxes of a camping adventure. Sparsely populated, the Atacama’s dunes and orange mountains are only home to the nightly winds and long suffering cacti. Those who do live in this wilderness go underground in mines to get things done. The blazing sunsets add colourful brilliance and mysterious shadows at the end of unforgiving days. It is beauty at its bravest. Traveling along the Atacama road, the isolation is both blanketing and threatening. Turning off that road you hit the other-worldly: no signals, no sounds and no human life to lean on. This can be your planet if you choose it….

Camping in the Desert can Fill you With Awe

I pitch my tent, gather some rocks and make a fire: the simplest of actions strung together in an untamed setting. However, it has a calming effect. Faint stars join me, while the sun leaves the sky a royal blue, before it merges into purple, then navy, then black. The flames of the fire lick and curl in the gusts of wind that emerge like magical streams from around the rocks. As night falls, the moon braves itself for its appearance and enters like the greatest showman on earth. It slowly rises from the black horizon like a lost balloon, seeming to grow in grandeur and size until it sits in its lopsided armchair in the sky and peers curiously down the whole night.

The night is both serene and excited. Shadowed noises only come as far as the fire’s light. In this enormous expanse I feel as safe as ever. As the wind dies, I decide to sleep outside, tucked into my sleeping bag on a plastic mat right next to the fire. There is enough to keep it burning and keep me warm through until dawn. So I finally tuck myself in, outside, and lay on my back.

A Taste of Infinity

This is what camping is all about. Above me, the sky extends to infinity and brings it all right back again. Stars glimmer and glow in rhythm, each vying for my eye. They burn brighter as my eyes cannot rest. I have become part of the desert, another layer of earth and above me is the most wondrous world keeping me entertained. The stars become so bold; I could pluck them from their hooks like grapes. They dance and sing. They sing me a song known only to desert skies. It’s a song of space, time, love, and the distance between….

The privilege of that night sky, camping in the Atacama Desert of Chile, off a long, lonely road gave me a lesson I will never forget: sometimes you find places in the world where you can never be at one with nature: places which teach you how small you are in something which is older, wiser and infinitely more beautiful than you. These are places in which, although you can pitch your tent, you’ll never last as long as those mountains, those stars or the bed beneath your back.

Author: Laura Milsome

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One response to "Camping in the Atacama Desert, Chile: Outside the Tent"

  • Alexandre says:

    I’m at Atacama now.

    Male, 55 yrs, wanna to that alone for the first time in my life.

    Loved your text..


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