Atacama Desert

Travel Guide South America Chile Atacama Desert



Valle de la Luna - Atacama desert

Valle de la Luna - Atacama desert

© snatterand

Although the Atacama desert doesn't have the high temperatures you'd expect from a desert, it is certainly a desert in the true meaning of the word, as it has virtually no rain at all, especially along the coastal areas or just a few kilometers inland. Some cities like Arica has no rainfall at all, and the few drops of fluids are mostly of the foggy type.

The desert spreads out over two countries, Peru and Chile, the latter having the biggest and most impressive portion. Most of the desert is a narrow stretch along the coast but in the south, east of the seaport of Antofagasta it widens towards the Chilean altiplano near San Pedro de Atacama, the gateway to both the sanddunes of the desert as the altiplano itself. Also the spectactular Salar de Atacama, with it white salt flats and flamingo is actually part of the desert.

The Chilean part is the driest and on the whole the Atacama is the driest desert in the world (some places never receive rainfall and some have been known to be completely dry for 400 years!) and together with the Namib desert the only cool coastal deserts. Still, due to the warm tropical air that cools off above the cold water of the Humoldt Current, fog (locally know as Camanchaca) penetrates inland up until 50 kilometers, sometimes more.
It might not rain, but the coastal area is still suitable for agriculture. This doesn't apply to places more inland, where it is just too dry for agriculture and almost no rain falls as well.

The desert is not a hot desert mainly because of its elevation, which averages over 2000 meters. Higher elevations see more rainfall as well, and in winter some snow falls, mainly on top of the volcanoes on the eastern edges of the desert.
Nights, especially inland can drop well below zero, especially during the cooler months of May to September. The clear skies are perfect for watching stars though during these nights. La Sila and Paranal Observatories are the best ones.

Other places of interest in the Chilean part of the Atacama desert are the cities of Iquique and Calama and the enormous coppermine near Chuquicamata, not far from Calama. From San Pedro, the El Tatio Geysers deserve a visit as well.




There are numerous accommodation options in both Chile and Peru. For your convenience, here you can find the options in San Pedro de Atacama, which is the hub for trips to the desert.


Hostal IquisaCalle Puripica 172Guesthouse-
Hostal SolorVolcan Tatio 737 Poblacion LicancaburGuesthouse-
Incahuasi B&BEl Carmen 132Guesthouse-
Rent a House San PedroDomingo Atienza 3a San Pedro de AtacamaApartment-

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This is version 5. Last edited at 8:08 on Aug 17, 09 by Utrecht. 3 articles link to this page.

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