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The Beautiful Scenery of the Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is famous for being the driest place in the world. It is a virtually rainless plateau that sits across a location nearly 600 miles wide and is 50 times drier than the Death Valley in the United States, with an average rainfall of just 1 millimeter per year across the region, while some weather stations have never reported any precipitation since they started keeping records.

Atacama's landscape has been carved by volcanic activity in the area and looks like no other. When you see the beautiful colors of the lagoons, volcanic peaks and vast salt basins that cover the desert, you will see why it is one of the most up-and-coming travel destinations in the world.

 

Lake view near Piedras Rojas (Red Stones) at over 4000m altitude

Have You Seen the Incredible Landscapes of the Driest Place on Earth?
Source: Flickr User Haz14

A view over part of Salar de Talar with beautiful red rock volcanoes in the background.

Have You Seen the Incredible Landscapes of the Driest Place on Earth?
Source: Flickr User Jim Trodel

Laguna Miñiques, a high altitude lake sitting in a volcanic crater.

Have You Seen the Incredible Landscapes of the Driest Place on Earth?
Source: Flickr User pirindao

Given that the Atacama Desert is famous for being the driest place on Earth, it may come as a surprise to many to see a series of high altitude lagoons dotting across the area and providing a beautiful color contrast against the red volcanic landscapes. However, many hundreds of years ago, small periods of heavy rainfall caused water to accumulate in basins and create small lakes. Other lagoons formed from melting glaciers during the last ice age and have remained until this day. The lakes are generally extremely salty and given that more water evaporates in the area than falls, the lakes are technically drying up - although they will still be around for a while. 

 

View over Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) near the town of San Pedro.

Have You Seen the Incredible Landscapes of the Driest Place on Earth?
Source: Flickr User Otavio Piske

Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) is so named because the landscape is often compared to our moon.

Have You Seen the Incredible Landscapes of the Driest Place on Earth?
Source: Flickr user Alexander Schimmeck

Walking around the desert gives visitors a sense of being on 'another planet'.

Have You Seen the Incredible Landscapes of the Driest Place on Earth?
Source: Flickr User Pablo Flores

Many visitors flock to the area to experience its famous 'otherworldly' landscape. The comparisons with faraway lands are not just aesthetic either - they are grounded in science. Samples of soil taken in the desert have been found to have a similar composition to samples taken from Mars. NASA even uses the area to test roving vehicles and other instruments before they depart on missions for the red planet.

 

Flamingos at Laguna Chaxa.

Have You Seen the Incredible Landscapes of the Driest Place on Earth?

Source: Flickr user Ana Elisa Ribeiro

Vicunas are closely related to llamas and live in large herds close to water sources.

Vicunas Atacama

Source: Flickr user Haz14

Viscachas are inquisitive residents of the desert and recognizable for their big ears and curly tails. They are closely related to chinchillas.

Have You Seen the Incredible Landscapes of the Driest Place on Earth?

Source: Flickr user Haz14

Despite the harsh conditions, nature (as it so often does) has found a way to thrive. Many varieties of weird and wonderful plant life add some color to the landscape, and a number of animal species have made the desert their home. Llama-like vicunas, small and furry viscachas and the elusive South American Grey Fox are among the mammals of the region, while a variety of birds can also be spotted including three different types of flamingos.

 

A bright summer's day at Laguna Chaxa.

Have You Seen the Incredible Landscapes of the Driest Place on Earth?

Source: Flickr user Mariano Mantel

Clouds and red rock volcanoes reflecting in the altiplanic lagoons of the plateau.

Have You Seen the Incredible Landscapes of the Driest Place on Earth?

Source: Flickr user Mike Green

Snowcapped, perfectly conical volcanoes are everywhere.

Have You Seen the Incredible Landscapes of the Driest Place on Earth?
Source: Flickr user Mariano Mantel

The desert was at the center of a huge land dispute between Chile and Bolivia in the 1800s. Because the area is home to the largest supply of sodium nitrate, it is a lucrative source of economic possibilities. The mining industry remains a big business today, and there are many abandoned towns that provide a reminder of the mining practices of yesteryear.  Chile won the land dispute, which is still the cause for some resentment across the border today.

The conical peak of the Lincancabur Volcano.

Have You Seen the Incredible Landscapes of the Driest Place on Earth?
Source: Flickr user Marcio Cabral de Moura

Volcanic activity is extremely noticeable at the Geysers del Tatio.

Have You Seen the Incredible Landscapes of the Driest Place on Earth?
Source: Flickr user Mariano Mantel

Two types of white: the salt of Salar de Tara in front of snowy peaks.

Have You Seen the Incredible Landscapes of the Driest Place on Earth?
Source: Flickr User Mike Green

The desert is largely isolated with a just a few small towns dotting the landscape. Visitors can arrive by air or overland into the largest town in the region - Calama - and most head for San Pedro de Atacama, from which many tours of the region can be arranged. The remoteness of the desert and lack of ambient light ensure it is a special place to be after night falls, offering not only spectacular sunsets above ethereal scenery, but also incredible views of the stars after nightfall. It is a one of the best places in the world to gaze into the milky way and it's easy to arrange stargazing trips to please any budding astronomer. 

 

Sunset over the salt flats.

Have You Seen the Incredible Landscapes of the Driest Place on Earth?
Source: Flickr user richd777

A stunning view of the milky way taking over the Atacama desert.

Have You Seen the Incredible Landscapes of the Driest Place on Earth?
Source: Flickr user Alessandro Caproni

Info source: traveladvisortips.com

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