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.

El Mano del Desierto rises out of the sand and reaches for the sky
El Mano del Desierto

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 Hand of the Desert rises out of the sand along Route 5 in Chile.
The Hand of the Desert

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.

Pin Hand of the Desert
pin the hand of the desert in the chile

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31 Comments

  1. Wow, this was a very, very interesting read! Thank you for writing about this sculpture and everything around it! I actually knew nothing about it and I am happy, that I had a chance to learn something new from your blog! 🙂

    Best wishes from
    http://www.mysmalltravelguide.com

    1. Thank you! Let me know if you ever get a chance to visit it!

  2. I showed this to my kids and they thought it was so neat! Now we have to add it to our family bucket list. 😊

  3. Emily Ackerman says:

    I have always wanted to go here!I am fluent in Spanish and have traveled through Central America but haven’t been able to venture into South America.. yet anway

  4. Tara Hallie says:

    WOW! So cool! Chile is on our bucket list – we’ll get there one of these years!

  5. This looks like an amazing trip! I love to be able to virtual travel while stuck at home!

    1. It’s not quite the same to virtually travel, but it helps, doesn’t it? We just posted about the national parks you can experience virtually too!

  6. This is really neat! I’m enjoying reading about other people’s travels while we’ve been quarantined. I just finished week #9 away from my office! Thank you for sharing this and giving us some interesting sights to see from our couches. 🙂

    1. You’re welcome! We’re isolating at home now too, so it’s nice to finish these posts and remember different experiences.

  7. Chantelle says:

    This is so cool! My sister lived in Chile for a while I’m sending this over to see if she’s been there!

    1. You’re welcome! We’re isolating at home now too, so it’s nice to finish these posts and remember different experiences.

    2. Amazing! How did she like it?

  8. Jessica M. says:

    I had no idea this existed! I would love to visit a place like this in the future.

    1. I had no idea either until we started researching our trip! Unfortunately we had to cut our adventure short and we weren’t able to make it to the other one in Uruguay.

  9. What a cool place to check out. I’ve found that on a lot of my road trips, there’s so many places in the middle of nowhere and having a full tank departing anywhere is definitely a necessity.

    1. Yes! I think we’ll be doing more road trips this summer and hopefully finding some cool spots like this in our own country!

  10. I didn’t know the history of the Hand of the Desert. I love that it is one of a pair representing South America.

    1. Unfortunately our trip was cut short and we didn’t make it to see the other hand in Uruguay. Maybe next year….

  11. I’ve never heard of this before but it looks like a great place to stop and check out.

  12. This is a great post! I’ve only seen this in photos – it would be so incredible to see it live. And of course, I had no idea that there were more of these sculptures.

    1. Its incredible to see in person! Especially in the middle of the desert, you realize how small you really are…

  13. This is impressive and that there is a pair is even more intriguing. Thanks for sharing – a sight to see I am sure.

    1. Definitley a sight to see! Unfortunately we didn’t make it to see the second hand in Uruguay but we’ve added it to our list for next year!

  14. Wow, this is cool! I’ve never heard of this before. Thanks for sharing!

    1. We hadn’t either until I started researching our trip to Chile! But it quickly was added to our list!

  15. I had never knew there was 3 of these yet alone seen or heard of one of them. So many fascinating things to learn. Super cool!

  16. I would love to see this. I have never seen it before. Interesting for sure.

  17. Oh my goodness – I’ve never heard of this but it looks so cool. I’d love to see it!

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