atacama desert chile - nature antonia reyes montealegre - tierra hotels - paraiso

Is there life on Mars?

Nestled between the towering Andes Mountains, the arid landscapes of the Altiplano conceal the profound beauty of nature's subtleties. This expedition captured otherworldly magic unveiled by an unforgiving landscape, on a mission to prove that “desert” is not to be mistaken for “life-less”.

Though colonial narratives have persistently portrayed them as such, deserts are not empty wastelands. Despite their historical significance as habitats for civilizations and incredible biodiversity, misconceptions based on capitalist paradigms and hyper-productivity continue to depict deserts as inherently barren, and unfair assumptions of “desolation” have been used to justify extractive and oppressive initiatives.

An exciting partnership with Tierra Hotels for a modern intake on naturalist expeditions and creative exploration; this first of a three part travel series began by exploring Chile´s northern frontiers: the Atacama Desert. 

A collection of travel articles and naturalist illustrations depicting the most remarkable birds, medicinal plants and animals of the desert wildlife was created to captivate future travelers and discerning guests. A creative journey that extended beyond sketching; the epic moments, the unforeseen and daily awe of this experience was shared daily through social media in a travel journal intertwining wildlife exploration, artistry and luxury hospitality. 

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Expedition 0.1: Pink / Salar de Atacama / Los Flamencos National Reserve

Silver salt flats, cradling mountain ranges in soft pink, muted mauves, and earthy siennas. The landscape gives off a venusian vibe and it feels like another galaxy. As though we had landed on the Planet of Flamingos. I jot down a note: the neon-pink feathers of these elegant creatures is an electrifying interruption against the tranquil desert canvas.

_ Antonia Reyes Montealegre / "El Planeta de los Colores"

Expedition .02: Green / Guatín and Valle del Arcoiris

I ventured forth like an astronaut, looking for water as the first indicator of life. Yes, there is water, and it mirrors the sky. It takes the shapes of salt flats, hidden reservoirs, shy tributaries, and patches of ice that crystallize under the moon's gentle gaze, defiantly enduring the daily fiery sun. 

Plants timidly emerge from the arid soil, their existence condensed into resilient clusters. They do this to concentrate moisture and avoid large sun-exposed surfaces. In their tenacity lies their allure. Many of them hold ancient medicinal secrets of the local Aymara, Quechua, and Atacameño cultures, now creatively woven into modern cuisine. I carry a list of species I’m supposed to document: Copa-Copa, Pingo-Pingo, Rica-Rica. Why is there iteration in their names? No one could provide me a precise answer, but it is believed to signify abundance and sacredness.

Breaking up the botanical samples to study their parts unveils a whole new experience for the senses, a world of scents. Who could have thought that such rich aromas resided within the pale, desaturated grains of Rica-Rica? It’s no surprise these scents infuse cocktails, herbal teas, and ice creams in the culinary creations offered at Tierra Hotel.

Green also radiates from the very earth beneath our feet. The sun activates the mineral grounds and everything sparkles in hues of citrine, emerald, and deep greens, giving this place the name Valle del Arcoiris. Here, landscapes are visual a symphony and their names are the lyrics: Valle de la Luna, Llano de la Paciencia….

_ Antonia Reyes Montealegre / "El Planeta de los Colores"


These high-altitude lagoons are warmed by magma.Though we are standing 4600 meters above sea level, we are directly connected to the center of the Earth.

Colonies of hyperthermophilic algae and bacteria are thriving in this place, a site of high biological heritage, essential for astrobiology (the specific science that studies the origin of life and its potential existence on other planets).

LOCATION Atacama Desert, Chile YEAR 2022 PHOTOGRAPHY, WORDS & ILLUSTRATIONS Antonia Reyes Montealegre ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Tierra Hotels

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