Cover Picture © Credits to istock/Skouatroulio
Cover Picture © Credits to istock/Skouatroulio

Unique landscapes in Chile, the Atacama Desert

3 minutes to read

Did you know the Atacama Desert is the driest non-polar desert of the world? It is even dryer than the Sahara Desert! It is in the north of Chile, and it extends for nearly 105.000 Km2. A unique characteristic of the Atacama Desert is that it used to be part of the Pacific Ocean seabed, which explains its high salt concentrations and variety of landscapes. Visiting this desert feels like seeing a thousand places in one (including Mars!).  

First and current inhabitants of the desert

The first people to live in the Atacama Desert were the “Atacameños,” a native culture of northern Chile. So you can grasp "how ancient this culture is," and keep in mind that they were here before the arrival of Spanish conquerors. What is impressive about this culture is that they settled in the driest place with the most extreme temperatures you can think of and managed to live there and still do up to this day. Their main activity is agriculture; they developed a method of terraced cultivation, which saves a lot of water and it provides for them since they first settled in the north of Chile. You can still see this method of cultivation being used if you visit Caspana, a small town located 180 KM away from San Pedro de Atacama. In there you can see big terraces used for cultivation that even hold apple and peach trees in the middle of the desert.

Caspana
Caspana
Caspana, Calama, Región de Antofagasta, Chile
Picture © Credits to istock/ajlber
Picture © Credits to istock/ajlber

Clean, vibrant skies at day, astronomic dream at night

Have you ever seen the milky way? In the Atacama Desert, you can and is a must! Since it is extremely far away from light pollution and it’s so dry that there are no clouds, it makes the perfect spot for astronomy and sky-seeing. There are about 20 astronomical observatories, with the Paranal Observatory being the main one. It is the most advanced and powerful astronomical complex in the world and home to the VLT (Very Large Telescope). Fun fact- it was featured in the movie 007: Quantum of Solace, because of how beautiful its structure is. Also, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) can be also found here. It is the world’s biggest millimetric telescope since it consists of an array of 66 antennas, which are meant to observe millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths, acting as a giant telescope. ALMA is considered the most significant astronomical project of the world and was one of the telescopes used to make the first image ever of a black hole.

Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA)
Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA)
San Pedro de Atacama, Región de Antofagasta, Chile
Picture © Credits to iStock/tifonimages
Picture © Credits to iStock/tifonimages
Paranal Observatory
Paranal Observatory
Cerro Paranal, Antofagasta, Región de Antofagasta, Χιλή
Picture © Credits to Flickr/ESO/P. Horálek
Picture © Credits to Flickr/ESO/P. Horálek

The Atacama miracle, flowerful desert

Close your eyes and imagine a desert full of flowers and an explosion of colors in the middle of it. That’s precisely what happens in the region of Copiapó once every five years -in the Atacama Desert. A garden of flowers blooming in the desert does sound like a miracle, but this phenomenon is caused due to “El Niño” current, which is a warm marine current that brings rains with it and makes the seeds hidden in the soil germinate. The best date to visit this wonder is in September, but it usually extends from July to October. I suggest you take into consideration the dates it occurred in the past, so you have an idea when it might happen again. The last blooming dates were 2011, 2015 and 2017.

Picture © Credits to istock/abriendomundo
Picture © Credits to istock/abriendomundo

The Atacama Desert holds many secrets, mysticism, and beautiful tourist attractions; you’ll be amazed at how unique and different from one another the landscapes of the desert are. But beware! If you visit the Atacama, you’ll fall in love with the north of Chile for life.


The author

Francisca Pizarro

Francisca Pizarro

Hi, I am Francisca. From the north of Chile and south of the world, obsessed with natural landscapes and museums, I will take you through Chile as if you were a local, hoping you fall in love with this country as much as I am.

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