The Hand in the Desert - Unique Places Around the World

The hand in the desert outside of Antofagasta, Chile. Editorial credit: Ksenia Ragozina /
The hand in the desert outside of Antofagasta, Chile. Editorial credit: Ksenia Ragozina /

The Hand in the Desert (or La Mano del Desierto) refers to a giant sculpture of a hand in the middle of the Atacama Desert in Chile. From the sculpture’s location, the nearest town is Antofagasta which is roughly 47 miles away. To get to the hand, one has to use a branching road off the Pan-American highway. The branch is on the highway between kilometer markers 109 and 110.

The massive hand sculpture was sculpted by a Chilean, Mario Irarrázabal, in the early 1980s after a local company named Corporación Pro Antofagasta sponsored the project. The actual height of the hand is 36 feet high although it is not uncommon to hear some ridiculous exaggerations. The exaggeration is symbolic. The symbolism portrayed by the hand is that humans are helpless and vulnerable. Such symbolism is common to most of Mario’s works. The official inauguration of the sculpture was on March 28, 1992.

Interestingly, Mario Irarrázabal constructed an almost similar, albeit smaller, sculpture in Uruguay. This piece of work is named “Man Emerging to Life” although the local populace calls it “The Hand” or the “Monument to the Drowned.” A similar sculpture, called “The Awakening.” was also constructed at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Maryland, by an artist named John Seward Johnson II.


Contrary to expectation, the Atacama desert is full of life. Over 500 species of plants have adapted to life in the harsh conditions. Such plants include thyme, llareta, and pimiento trees. Animal life is considerably limited, but a few have made the desert a permanent residence. Such animals include the likes of red scorpions, desert wasps, and some butterfly species. Even a few amphibians have found a way to survive.


The uniqueness of the massive hand lies in the fact that there are only two such sculptures in the world. Furthermore, the location in the desert makes it unique. So sequestered and isolated, there is no sculpture of its size that comes close to matching the La Mano del Desierto. In fact, its sequestered location close to the expansive desert of sand and hills makes it stand out as a remnant of a previous life form. The sculpture certainly qualifies as a wonder of the world.


The La Mano del Desierto is a popular destination especially for lovers of art and photographers. Adventure seekers also appreciate a visit due to the desert location. Adding to its popularity, one of the popular James Bond film series, The Quantum of Solace, featured the hand. Close by, the Cerro Paranal Observatory, which has the largest telescopes in South America, further adds to the places’ budding popularity.


Not much can damage the sculpture. However, humans do some minor aesthetic damage on a regular basis. Many people attack the sculpture with profanities and vulgarities that are written using graffiti. The authority in charge has had to commission several cleaning operations in the past.


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