Atacama, Chile

According to philosophynearby, the Atacama Desert is located in northern Chile, between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. The southern tip of the desert is about 800 km north of Santiago.

Along the coast of Northern Chile, the Atacama Desert stretches for 965-1126 km, located between the Pacific Ocean in the west and the Andes in the east. The mountains of the Cordillera de la Costa reach a height of about 1500 m, and the highest peaks rise up to 2000 m. On the western side they drop steeply to the coast, often ending in cliffs up to 500 m high. The desert itself is a high mountain depression on the eastern side Cordillera de la Costa, stretching to the Precordillera Andes in the east.

This whole area is extremely dry, and what little water does reach the desert quickly evaporates or sinks underground. This is one of the driest and most lifeless deserts on the planet. Usually, only 0.1 mm of precipitation falls here per year. All the moisture that local residents can count on comes here in the form of fogs or the smallest water suspension. It is much colder here than in other areas located at the same latitude: the average summer temperature on the coast is 19 C, while in the desert, located at a higher altitude, it is even colder.

Despite the unfavorable conditions for the existence of living organisms, more than 160 species of cacti grow here (90 of them are endemic) and about 200 species of animals live, mainly reptiles and insects.

In September-October, you can observe the “blooming of the desert”, caused by the climatic phenomenon “El Niño”. This is a rather rare phenomenon, and it is associated with the arrival of moist air masses from the Pacific Ocean. During this period, intermittent rains occur here. The sandy canvas in the foothills of the Andes turns into a real meadow. The dead sands of the Chilean desert are covered with a carpet of wild flowers of bizarre shapes and colors.

The rivers descending from the Andes to the eastern outskirts of the desert erode the salt marshes. Water accumulates, forming salt lakes. The surface of the lakes dries up under the scorching rays of the sun, forming a thick salt cover. And what looks like a lake from afar, turns out to be close to a shining surface of salt. In some places, this cover breaks up, forming lagoons – a favorite habitat for flamingos and coots.

The eastern part of the Atacama, slowly rising, passes into one of the most beautiful regions of Chile – the Antiplano highlands with an average height of 4000 m. While there is no precipitation in the desert and the humidity level is zero, irregular tropical rains occur on the plateau in January and February. The flora and fauna of the highlands is very rich and interesting. Here you can find animals such as vicuña (a type of llama) and viscacha (long-tailed chinchilla).

Relatively few people live in these places: in addition to the direct inconveniences associated with such a harsh climate, agriculture is almost not developed here, and the main industry is mining.

The starting point for a journey through the desert is the town of San Pedro de Atacama, the birthplace of the Atacamamena culture. It is a small town with narrow streets and whitewashed houses built from local stone – adoba.
In the vicinity of the city there is a stone fortress Pucara de Quitor. The fortress was built in the 12th century by the inhabitants of the Atacama Desert to repel the Inca raids. In 1981 it was declared a national monument.
40 km from San Pedro is the majestic and mystical Licancabur volcano (5916m). The name of the volcano translates as “people’s hill”, it was chosen by the Incas as a place for religious ceremonies, and the crater of the volcano as a place of sacrifice.
To the east of San Pedro de Atacama is one of the most amazingly beautiful places on the planet – Moon Valley. This place resembles the lunar surface due to the unique formations of salt, sand and stone, which arose over thousands of years under the influence of water and wind. In the valley you can watch an amazing sunset, which delights with its range of colors. This is where many science fiction films were filmed.
The gigantic Atacama salt lake with a thick salt cover, located 56 km from San Pedro de Atacama, delights with its beauty. Chaksas lagoon on the lake is especially picturesque. 3 species of flamingos live here.
At an altitude of 4300 m above sea level, there is a valley of geysers El Tatio, consisting of several hundred geysers, releasing water and steam with furious force from the depths of the earth. Geysers begin to operate before dawn and go out by 9-10 am. The height of the fountains reaches 10 meters. Boiling water, steam, sulfur and various minerals form at dawn a fantastic picture of many colors constantly changing in the light of the first rays of the sun. There are thermal wells near the geysers, where you can swim in warm, pleasant water. You can also take a dip in the Puritam Baths. This is a fantastic place where small pools of hot water are fed by the waters of the Puritama River, located at an altitude of 3500 m in a deep narrow gorge. The water in the river always maintains a temperature of 32°C.
The main tourist attractions in the Antiplano Highlands are the world-famous Lauka biosphere reserve and Isluga National Park, as well as one of the highest mountain lakes on the planet – Chungara, located at an altitude of 4514 m and surrounded by volcanoes Saham (6250 m), Parinacota (6100 m), Chungara (6001 m) and ever-smoking Guiatiri (6070 m). On the tops of volcanoes lie the ruins of small fortresses. Who and why built them at such a height is still not clear.

Transit points for further travel through the desert are the cities of Arica, Iquique, Calama, San Pedro de Atacama and Antofagasta. All of them, except San Pedro de Atacama, have an airport where you can fly from Santiago.

The climate
during the day is about +30 C (from October to April) and +18 C (from May to September), at night the temperature drops to 0 C and sometimes to -15 C.

Pace. air, C 15 15 14 12 10 9 9 9 11 13 14 15
Precipitation, mm 0 0.1 0 0 0 0.2 0.1 0.1 0 0 0 0

Atacama, Chile