Atacama Desert

Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina

Hard
Not Suitable For Families

About the Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert is a plateau in South America, and it covers an area of 106,189 km2 (41,000 mi2) on the Pacific Coast, to the west of the Andes Mountains. From north to south, it is 965 km (~600 mi) long, and mostly made up of salt lakes, sand and lava flows. The desert is located mainly in Chile, but it extends also in Peru, Chile and Argentina.

Climate

The Atacama Desert is believed to be the driest desert in the world and also one of the driest areas – only Antarctica is drier. Some weather stations positioned throughout the desert have never recorded rainfall. Even its mountains, which rise to a height of 6,885 m (22,589 ft), are free from glacial ice. Temperatures in the desert range from 0-25° Celsius.

Flora and Fauna

Some areas in the desert receive a marine fog known locally as camanchaca, which provides the moisture necessary for algae, lichens and even some cacti to grow on some small hills (or ‘lomas’). The Atacama Desert flowering occurs in years in which there has been rain during September, October and November.

Only a few specially adapted mammals can survive here – including species of mice, fox and guanacos. Birds probably make up the largest animal group. Humboldt penguins live along the coast all year round and Andean flamingos flock to the salt flats to feed. Where the marine fog lingers, the resulting vegetation allows species of hummingbirds and sparrows to feed here.

Activities

The clear skies, dry air, lack of light pollution and radio interference make it perfect for both amateur and scientific astronomers to view the cosmos through telescopes. Some observatories are open for public tours.

All terrain sports enthusiasts use the desert for rallying and sand boarding. There are routes for hiking, cycling and horse-riding – San Pedro de Atacama is the oasis town from which most explore the desert and frequent tours run to the most popular attractions.

Hiking
Cycling
Stargazing
Guided Tours
Horse Riding
Landscape Photography
Backpacking
Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina
Latitude: -23.372514, Longitude: -69.830818