Guatin / Gatchi – an active Atacama option
The Atacama Desert has numerous excellent and unique excursion options. While they all allow you to see amazing and extremely varied things, many of them (particularly some of the most highly-touted, like the Tatio Geysers, Atacama Salt Flat, Valley of the Moon, etc.) require quite a lot of time in a vehicle as part of the excursion, and don’t allow for a lot of physical activity apart from some short walks. This doesn’t mean those excursions should not be done – they certainly should – but for those looking for a bit more physical activity with less time in the car, the Guatin and Gatchi hike is a fantastic half-day option.
On a recent visit to Tierra Atacama, I had the chance to do this hike with my wife and dad. We weren’t expecting a whole lot out of it, just a morning activity that would allow us to get out and get some exercise. We were more than pleasantly surprised with this trek, the start of which is only about a 20 minute drive from the town of San Pedro and the area where most hotels are located. The excursion involves hiking downstream in the Guatin Canyon, navigating over rocks and boulders at times, and across the stream that lies in the middle.
One of the most notable things about this excursion is the great variety of colors due to plant life – something that you really don’t expect to find in the driest desert in the world. Greens and yellows contrast with the red and grey of the canyon walls, and a variety of textures also help create some great photo ops.
The trek ends by hiking out of the canyon, which puts you up on top of a plateau with panoramic views of the valley below, as well as the Andes and Dolmeyko mountain ranges.
I’d categorize the physical activity required for this trek to be no more than intermediate. There’s lots of walking and navigating over uneven ground, and at times very large rocks, but the activity is not strenuous. If you’re looking for something active on your next visit to the Atacama Desert, this is an excellent option to check out.