There’s a Surreal Hand Sculpture in Chile’s Atacama Desert

Created by Santiago sculptor Mario Irarrázabal, the towering monument stands out in the barren and sparse landscape of the desert.

What makes the “Mano del Desierto” or “Hand of the Desert” so unique is that it is located, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere.

The human hand, in its various expressions, have signified everything from connection to power. As such, it’s no surprise to see artists around the world take inspiration from such a universally recognizable form. For instance, Vietnam’s famous new attraction in Danang is a 150-meter bridge designed to make visitors feel like they’re sauntering across a golden thread held up by the hands of gods.

However, few know that the surreal landscape of northern Chile’s Atacama Desert, also the driest non-polar desert on earth, is home to a massive monument of a human hand. Increasing popular among travelers in recent years, it resembles either a desperate plea for help or a friendly, welcoming gesture, depending on how you look at it.

The idea for this 11-meter-tall sculpture was born more than 25 years ago, when the city of Antofagasta (the center of Chile’s copper mining industry), asked Santiago sculptor Mario Irarrázabal to create something to grace the empty Atacama Desert. The result? Four outstretched fingers and a thumb, crafted from concrete over an iron frame, with height taller than an NFL goalpost.

What makes the “Mano del Desierto” or “Hand of the Desert” so unique is that it is located, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. Road trippers on Chile’s Route 5 will no doubt do a double take as they spot the hand near the highway. Located an hour south of Antofagasta, the hand stands out like a relic from a bygone era. The nearest destination to it is the Cerro Paranal observatory 60 miles south, which is home to some of South America’s largest telescopes.

Those curious to see it with their own eyes, will have to take either Route 26 or 28, driving until the road joins Route 5. Keep a close look at your GPS, and you’ll find that the hand sits between mile 1309 and 1310.

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