Our team of expert travel specialists all agree that the Atacama Desert is one of South America’s most unique and awe-inspiring places to visit. From the conical volcanoes that dot the horizon to the brilliant white expanse of the Atacama salt plains, the landscape is at times utteraly surreal, but always impressive. For adventurous travellers there are a host of activities to partake in, including cycling, hiking volcanoes and even hot-air ballooning! But there are also many more relaxed excursions which will show you the wonders of this fabulous region. So what makes this part of the world so interesting? Let’s find out!
Atacama is the driest (non-polar) desert in the world.
In fact, periods of up to four years have been registered with no rainfall whatsoever! While the average annual rainfall is just 1mm per year. The reason Atacama is so arid is due to its location between the Andes and the Chilean Coast Range. These two very high mountain chains catch virtually all the precipitation, leaving Atacama with practically no rain at all. However every so often, intense winter rainfall hits the region and causes one of the world’s most stunning natural phenomonens…a sea of wildflowers whose seeds have lain dormant for years suddenly erupt from the desert floor. This incredible vision occurs every 5 to 7 years or so on average so if you witness the spectacle, count yourself very lucky.
Atacama is an incredible place for stargazing.
Atacama is fortunate to have a unique range of atmospheric and climatic conditions to thank for its awesome stargazing. Firstly, it is located at relatively high altitude, with the tourist hub of San Pedro de Atacama sitting at around 2,400m. The altitude literally brings us closer to the stars, making them easier to observe. Secondly, the lack of cloud cover means skies are clear throughout the year. And finally, the tiny human population that inhabits the region means very little radio interference and practically no light pollution.
These conditions have led to Atacama enjoying a boom in “astro-tourism,” drawing amateur stargazers, astronomy enthusiasts, and astro-photographers from around the world. Many of the lodges located in San Pedro have their own observatory and high-powered telescope which guests can use. Alternatively, book an astrology tour from town and discover the wonders of the Atacama sky.
Atacama has the world’s largest supply of sodium nitrate.
Northern Chile and the Atacama Desert in particular is the world’s largest natural supply of Sodium Nitrate, which can be used for producing fertilizers and explosives amongst other things. Mining of this mineral, also called Chile saltpeter, was at a boom in the 1940s and many abandoned mining towns may be spotted and visited in the desert.
Atacama’s soil is very similar to that on Mars.
Actually, NASA uses the Atacama Desert to test instruments that will go on missions to the red planet. And, the Atacama desert has also been used as a film location for movies set in space. So we’re not kidding when we describe Atacama as otherworldly!
The oldest artificially mummified human remains are here.
In fact, the Atacama mummies (7020 BCE) precede Egyptian mummies (3000 BCE) by thousands of years. The extreme lack of moisture helped to preserve these ancient samples.
The team at Contours Travel all agree the Atacama Desert is one of South America’s most unique and impressive destinations. And there are so many different ways to experience it! From luxury lodges to hiking, biking, hot air balloon rides and more! Talk to us about incorporating Atacama into your holiday today!