“Reach for the stars even if you have to stand on a cactus.”
There are so many adventures to be had in the Atacama Desert of Chile. After having having a leisurely stroll through the salt flats, we decided to take another excursion. This time we chose to take a cactus hike in Los Cardones Ravine in the Atacama Desert. In a word……WOW!
At first glance a cactus hike may not sound all that thrilling. But the trek offers so much more as you hike up and over the ravine along side a small
river stream. There was so much to see and it turned out to be an amazing experience.
We off-roaded to the starting point of the hike. As soon as we stepped out of the vehicle, our eyes immediately scanned the 360 degree views of the awesome landscape. Everywhere we looked there was a beautiful scene to be seen. There was no one else around and not a car in sight. It felt surreal to be alone in the desert.
First order of business, crossing the
river stream. Obviously a great picture taking opportunity! Phew… we made it!
We followed the path along the banks of the water and immediately came upon our first cactus view. As the cactus catch your eye they may not seem that special…….but we were intrigued as we learned about them.
As we hiked closer, we were able to get our first glimpse of the cactus and just how tall they are. They may not look that tall, but the cactus can grow up to 30 feet in height! Cactus get their shape as they balance themselves out by sprouting “arms” for weight distribution. Each “arm” serves a purpose and makes for some uniquely shaped cactus.
Due to the desert conditions, our guide told us they grow roughly 1 cm per year. Yes, thats’s right, 1 cm per year! What a small amount of annual growth. We were looking at cactus that were over a thousand years old! Imagine everything that they have been through and the amount of people that have passed by over that huge stretch of time.
The cactus are unique in that the insides are a wood material. The wood material had historically been used in buildings and structures in the surrounding areas. This building practice over time has destroyed many of the cactus in the area. Due to the amount of time it takes for one to grow, the cactus is now protected by the government (similar to an endangered species). If someone is caught cutting one down or destroying one, a large fine is given.
Our journey continued along the water. As we traveled deeper into the ravine, the marsh grass became thicker. It was very warm in the sun, but nice and cool in the shaded areas. As you can imagine, walking along the water was very relaxing.
While we concentrated on walking along the path, we kept reminding ourselves to look up to take in the beauty of the cactus along the way. So many shapes and sizes of cactus lined the side of the ravine.
We zig-zagged across the water throughout the cactus hike. Phew.. Made it again! No wet shoes!
Our hike started around 9 am however after just an hour into the hike, we were feeling the heat of the desert! We made sure to stay hydrated while taking in the sights of our hike.
Our decision to wear long sleeves was a good one to protect against the blazing sun. As a tip, we would recommend pants as well. Our legs got a bit scratched as we scaled the rocks and walked through the marsh grass.
After about 1.5 hours of the hike, we increased our elevation and the water became scarce which led to the dry terrain.
It was such a shift in landscape certainly kept the cactus hike interesting.
One of the more difficult parts of the hike is to trek back up the ravine to the exit. But the views…….they make you forget about baking in the sun along the way!
Once we reached the top, we found a nice area to relax and catch our breath!
The last 20 minutes or so of our journey were spent crossing the vast rocky area to meet our van. It was bitter sweet to be leaving such a beautiful area, but great to get out of the hot sun!
Overall we would highly recommend a cactus hike during your time in the Atacama Desert of Chile. This 6 mile, roughly 2.5 hour hike really showcases the vast area and breathtaking views. It is a great experience unlike any other we’ve done in the past.
Don’t forget to bring your sunscreen, water, sunglasses and your jumping skills to cross over the water.
Have ever hiked in the desert? Tell us about it in the comments.