Moisturizers and SPF for face, skin and lips
We cannot underestimate the importance of having these in your luggage, and not just waiting to buy them when you land in Chile. Women should travel with their most moisturizing and SPF-packed makeup, and applying a moisture serum and night cream for sleep would be a great idea after a long day in the Atacama sun. Men should use a fragrance-free face moisturizer and lip balm. Everyone must also apply copious amounts of sun cream with an SPF of 30 or higher on any exposed skin. We used Eucerin 30 SPF face lotion as a base, then carried a portable stick of non-sting "sport" sunscreen for reapplication throughout the day.
Brimmed hat and sunglasses
In case it's not yet obvious, the Atacama Desert is super sunny. Like, dangerously so. While this means beautiful photos all day, every day, it also means some precautions must be taken. Bring your coolest, darkest sunglasses with UV protection and a hat more substantial than a baseball cap (or prepare to wrap a shirt around your head, like some less prepared tourists we encountered while hiking up a massive sand dune).
Seriously durable shoes
Another name for this region is the "Salar de Atacama," or the Atacama salt flat. Many eons ago this was a salt lake, and the residue salt deposits are sharp and harsh. Walking the banks of the occasional salt lagoon may seem like a good idea, but doing so in flip flops or thin sneaks could leave you with a cut foot in a place that's hours away from a full-service hospital. We wore our trusty dusty leather Dr. Martens boots, which were black when we arrived, and a chalky grey when we departed. Thanks, salty sand.
A good camera with a long lens
The Atacama Desert is PHOTOGENIC. Yes, all caps are necessary. Even if you're not into all the colors and striations of sites like the Valle Arcoiris (Rainbow Valley) or Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), the Atacama brings it with roadside herds of llama and alpaca, flocks of flamingos, and other rare desert animals you'll want to snap...if only to post cute baby llama photos to your Facebook wall.
We already mentioned baby llamas, but to see them (and the other flora and fauna) up close, whip out a pair of travel binoculars. In a pinch, use that long zoom lens you hopefully have on your camera.
Jumping into a bracingly cold hole full of water in the desert may not seem like a great idea now, but after an exhausting day in the dry sun it may be all you can think about. Luckily the Atacama offers a few oases of salty lagoons (10x the salinity of the ocean!) and "Los Ojos del Salar" (eyes of the salt flat), pictured below, that fit the bill. The rest of the time, however, wear breathable full-coverage clothing and leave the shorts and tank tops at home unless you'd like to jumpstart a journey towards melanoma.
We traveled to the Atacama as a guest of LAN, but all photos, observations and opinions are completely our own.
[Photos: Cynthia Drescher/Jaunted]