The Atacama Desert in Chile is the driest place on Earth. On a recent trip with Yampu Tours and Awasi Atacama, I explored some of the most amazing landscapes I had ever seen. While Atacama is a photographer’s dream destination, its breathtaking beauty can be captured with no special equipment too. From parched deserts, expansive salt fields, and star studies skies, to local wildlife, here are some of the unedited photos I took with my iPhone 6.
That’s me overlooking Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) in Atacama. There was nothing but rocks and sand as far as my eyes can see. The soil here is rich in gypsum and clay, which gives it red-orange colors.
My guide from Awasi Atacama took me to off the tourist paths in the Moon Valley, where we could see giant crystals of salt intact. They looked like snowflakes but when I got closer, they were rock solid!
This is to give you an idea of how dry the land actually is, allowing nothing but a few bushes of Rica Rica to grow. The locals use leaves from this bush to make tea and desserts.
In a land where nothing grows, there are 17 agricultural oasis such as these. The water is diverted through a canal/ drip system. I saw trees of oranges, lemons, quince, and pomegranate sustaining few people and their livestock in these areas.
A beautiful sunset in the high plateau of the Atacama desert, located close to Laskar (5th most active in Chile). The colors of the sky changed from blue to orange, yellow, pink, red, blue and then black, as temperatures dropped from 60s to 0F in just matter of minutes.
Driving up to see the petroglyphs from 10,000 years ago at Yerbas Buenas. I hiked down into the valley to find over a thousand prehistoric petroglyphs well intact depicting llamas and people.
Salar de Atacama (salt fields) located an hour away from San Pedro. There are lots of lagunas (lakes) in the area where you can see salt and flamingoes, with the background of mountains and picture perfect sunsets.
Because of the thin atmosphere and high UV rays, the cloud cover in the Atacama is an ever changing dance show. This one looks like a UFO, doesn’t it?
The village of San Pedro De Atacama has a population of 2,500 but is the main spot for tourists to stay, eat, and book tours from in this area. It is centrally located to major attractions, while still offering a small desert town feel.
While I saw many llamas all over Chile, this one stood out. He wanted to come very close to my camera, while his mom photobombed the portrait. Taken at the town of Toconao, in the background is the famous Laskar volcano.
Whether you’re looking for delicious food, vintage car rides, architectural gems, or lively dance, Cuba has it all. Here are the best reasons to visit Cuba…
1. Tour Havana in a classic American car. Drive through Havana in a vintage Chevrolet convertible for a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Adolfo, our guide/driver of a bright pink Chevy, tested our Spanish by explaining details of each site. Highlights include: the stunning view of Havana from La Cabaña (The Fort); photo ops in front of a massive marble statue of Jesus Christ, called Cristo de la Habana in Spanish; sampling delectable scoops of ice cream for four cents at the government run Coppelia Ice Cream Parlor; and meeting the official “Lennon glasses guardian,” Juan Gonzalez, who is in charge of putting Lennon’s famous wire-rimmed glasses on his statue.
2. Drink a fabulous Cuban mojito or daiquiri. Mojitos are refreshing Cuban drinks with five key ingredients: rum, sugar, lime juice, sparkling water, and mint. Outstanding mojitos are available at nearly every restaurant or bar in Cuba. My favorite mojito was at 5 Esquinas(5 Corners) Restaurant in Old Havana because I got to watch the bartender make it! Daiquiris are cocktail concoctions with three key ingredients: rum, lime juice, and sugar. Bananas or strawberries can be added to the mix for additional flavor. Ernest Hemingway’s favorite Havana joint, El Floridita, also known as “The Cradle of the Daiquiri,” whips up frozen daiquiris, made with blended ice and maraschino liqueur.
3. Smoke a Cuban cigar. Even if you’ve never smoked in your entire life, there’s a first time to try everything! Though some may prefer snus like these instead, others will let themselves have a treat when they make it to the Cuban shores. Start with the best by trying a Cuban cigar at a family-run tobacco plantation in the town of Viñales. However if you have smoked, or are a smoker and you’re wanting to quit the tobacco but you’re not sure if you can quit “cold turkey” looking into vape products as well as different Vape Juice could be the first step to quitting tobacco.
Vaping products are becoming increasingly popular due to the wide acceptance that they are a safer alternative to traditional methods of smoking, like cigarettes and cigars. Vapers also have access to a plethora of flavors to enjoy from premium brands like Nasty Juice have won many awards.
4. Dine at a traditional Paladar. Paladars are intimate family-run restaurants with a delightful ambiance. These cozy restaurants serve traditional Cuban food, along with wine and delicious desserts. I had a lovely dinner at Paladar Los Mercaderes, located inside a charming colonial building in Old Havana. I walked up a staircase with pink rose petals and took a seat at my table underneath stained glass windows. As I enjoyed a scrumptious meal of succulent lobster with pineapple sauce, I listened to a violinist and guitarist strum “Guantanamera” in the alcove. For dessert, I enjoyed a layered chocolate and wafer treat with a caramelized edge.
5. Stay at a family-run casa particular. These bed-and-breakfast-style casas are everywhere in Cuba. A casa particular typically has a few private rooms, each with its own bathroom, situated inside a family’s home or apartment. You can rent the room at a very reasonable price, usually around $30 per night. The casa’s family members cook breakfast, assist with luggage, and even pick guests up from the airport or bus stop. Staying at a casa is just like visiting a relative for the holidays, except you get to chat about life over mojitos and learn a few rhumba dance moves from the family! It’s a fun experience and you get a chance to bond with local Cubans.
6. Walk along the Malecón and watch an incredible sunset. The Malecón is Havana’s famous thoroughfare where locals gather to chat with friends and enjoy spectacular ocean views. From here, you can see gorgeous sunsets and watch the Malecón’s colonial buildings light up in bright pink and orange. Everyone I met in Havana told me that if you haven’t visited the Malecón, you haven’t seen Cuba!
7. Dance. In a small Havana alleyway called Callejón de Hamel, crowds gather every Sunday at noon to take in the energetic rhythms of Afro-Cuban music. Here, people dance to the beats of pounding drums, spirited singers, and enchanting rhumba dancers moving their hips to the beat. If you’re lucky enough to sit close to the stage, you might find yourself dancing with the group!
8. Visit the town of Viñales. Here, you can photograph soaring evergreen trees and giant limestone cliffs at the magnificent Parque Nacional Viñales. It’s also designated as a UNSECO World Heritage site. Viñales is famous for tobacco plantations, historic caves, and beautiful greenery. Take some time to relax in a rocking chair on the porch of your casa particular and watch the world go by.
9. Admire Cuban architecture. Only in Cuba will you find a mix of different architectural styles ranging from baroque to modern art deco. Stroll past ancient churches, narrow alleys, and cobblestone plazas to admire the colorful architecture. In an open top bus tour (which is only $5 per person), you’ll drive by art noveau buildings in central Havana’s hip neighborhood of Vedado.
10. Check out the art. It’s everywhere. Cuba’s art scene is vivacious and unique. The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (The National Museum of Fine Art) hosts intriguing exhibitions from Cuba and abroad, including a recent art show from the Bronx. I was in town for the Havana Biennial art celebration in May, so all the galleries had amazing art shows on display. I also visited a hip, new gallery called Clandestina, started by a young graphic designer named Idania del Río. Her shop in Old Havana is full of colorful posters, T-shirts, and other fun items.