Nicholas Buer/Vimeo
A stunning time lapse of the skies over ancient, arid Atacama, still home to vibrant Indigenouse Peoples in Chile.

Video: Ancient Cycles Play Out in This Time-Lapse of the Atacama Desert Skies


The Atacama Desert in Chile has been home to Indigenous Peoples of the same name for thousands of years.

Known as the most arid place on Earth, the region is characterized by famous volcanoes, geysers, rock formations and desert landscapes, in addition to its cultural riches, according to the website This Is Chile.

A couple of years ago, photographer Nicholas Buer ventured there for a 12-day stretch of filming.

“This film follows the ancient cycle of sunset, to night, to sunrise,” he wrote on his Vimeo page. “A continuous loop of perpetual movement that has been unbroken since the dawn of time, and the only true constant in our lives.”

Shooting around the San Pedro de Atacama region of Northern Chile, he was clearly captivated, and immersed in this artistic endeavor.

“The Atacama is well-known for what are arguably the cleanest, darkest skies on Earth,” he wrote in his Vimeo introduction. “The dry air adds an extra transparency and this coupled with the altitude creates a night sky like no other. I visited at a time when Venus was situated quite close to the centre of the Milky Way; an astronomical event that only takes place every 8 years or so. I also timed my visit with the Autumn equinox which is a good time of year to capture Zodiacal light; the celestial phenomenon caused by sunlight scattering interplanetary space dust in the Zodiacal cloud. It stretches across the ecliptic and glows for a short while after sunset like a UFO beam and I was lucky enough to witness this every night I stepped out into the dark.”

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There are about 21,000 Atacameño people living in Chile today, according to the website Indigenous News, which focuses on Chilean Indigenous Peoples. They have lived what is today the northern part of Chile for thousands of years, originating as early as 9000 B.C. Though starting out as hunter-gatherers, they soon became farmers and raised llamas, the site says.

These cultures are still vibrant today, celebrating numerous holidays and festivals, according to Lonely Planet.

“Indigenous pre-Columbian tribes like the Aymara and Atacameño inhabited the arid landscape long before Spanish settlers arrived in the 15th century—and today, their descendants still celebrate ancestral traditions during lively regional festivals that allow visitors a glimpse into the past,” Lonely Planet says. From the Winter Solstice of June 21 (which doubles as the New Year), to the La Fiesta de La Tirana (the feast of La Virgen del Carmen) in mid-July, the opportunities to appreciate and learn about these ancient cultures are rife.

We can start with Buer’s stunning, ethereal interpretation of the skies. 

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