Have you heard of the Hand of the Desert, el mano del desierto, in Chile?
The Atacama Desert in Chile is the driest place in the world, outside of the polar regions. Covering over 105,000 square kms, and stretching 1000km from north to south, this area of Chile is bordered on one side by the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean on the other side.
Traversing this expanse of desert is the Pan American Highway, also known as Route 5 in Chile. Alongside the highway, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, an impressive sculpture rises out of the sand.
What is it?
The Hand of the Desert, or Mano del Desierto, was created in 1992 by Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal. He was asked to create a monument to the vastness of the Atacama Desert. Constructed out of concrete and iron and standing over 11 metres high, the Hand is an impressive sight!
The meaning of the sculpture is unknown. Some say it represents human vulnerability and helplessness while others say it’s about mankind’s ability to rise no matter the circumstances. But as with all art, everyone will view it differently and should form their own impressions.
How to get there?
If you’re looking to visit the Hand of the Desert, you’ll need your own car to get there. Located along Route 5, the sculpture is just under an hour from the nearest town of Antofagasta.
After seeing this while researching what to do in the Atacama Desert, I knew we had to see it. It’s a bit of a detour from San Pedro, which is where the main activities and tourist area of the desert are. We rented a car from the airport in Calama, mainly because I knew we wanted to do a road trip and see the Hand. We rented the car for the week, drove to San Pedro and explored that area of the desert for a few days before making the three hour drive to Antofagasta. The next day we drove another hour to see the Hand of the Desert and then drove back to Calama to catch our flight.
It’s a long detour, but we thought it was worth it!
What to expect?
The sculpture is literally in the middle of nowehere. Antofagasta is the closest town and that’s just under an hour away. Along the way, there aren’t any rest stops or gas stations, so if you’re driving, be sure to fill up before you leave Antofagasta!
You can’t miss the giant hand, as it’s surrounded by miles of desert. A small gravel road leads from the main highway to the sculpture. There are no signs or information, or entrance fees. Just an enormous hand, stretching from the sand and reaching up to the sky. Snap some photos, take your time admiring the enormity of the Hand but to be honest, it’ll take less than half an hour.
Part of a Pair
Although this hand is the most famous of the artist’s works, he actually has three other scultptures around the world. One is in Madrid, one in Venice and the third is in Uruguay. The Hand of the Desert is actually the left hand of a pair. The right hand, called the Monument to the Drowned, is in Punta del Este, Uruguay. Some say the pair represent two hands holding up South America.
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