The Atacama Desert is a plateau in South America (mostly in Northern Chile & partly Southern Peru), covering a 1000-km (600-mi) strip of land on the Pacific coast, west of the Andes mountains. It is the driest nonpolar desert in the world. The Atacama Desert occupies 105,000 km2 (41,000 sq mi). Most of the desert is composed of stony terrain, salt lakes (salares), sand, and volcanic mountains - most of which are inactive.
Geographically, the aridity of the Atacama is explained by it being situated between two mountain chains (the Andes and the Chilean Coastal Range) of sufficient height to prevent moisture advection from either the Pacific or the Atlantic Oceans, a two-sided rain shadow. It is so dry that some weather stations have never received a drop of rain. As a result of these harsh conditions, plant and animal life is almost non-existent, particularly in the lower half of the Atacama Desert. This section of the desert is 50 times drier then Death Valley.
San Pedro de Atacama
Kathy and I are on a trip to the Atacama Desert. Our starting point is San Pedro de Atacama, a small town on the very east side of the Atacama Desert and very close to the Bolivian border. Although we will not be traveling into the driest & remote areas of the desert, we will be experiencing the desert's climate, geography and amazing features by traveling north from San Pedro Atacama to Uyuni, Bolivia. Our 650km (400mi) round trip will take us as far as Uyuni, Bolivia and return to San Pedro de Atacama via the Deserito de Selole in southern Bolivia. When we talked to previous Atacama Desert travelers who traveled this very route - everyone of them said it was one of their most memorable adventures.
The town of San Pedro de Atacama is a destination unto itself. It is a small town teeming with young people, many with backpacks looking for adventure. The dirt streets are lined with many small tour agencies trying to attract clients to their particular adventure. If you would have visited Playa del Carmen in Mexico twenty five years ago, this is what it would have looked like.
The tour company we signed on with picked us up early on day one of our four day adventure. Many surprises awaited us - as my next blog will tell...