15 Facts about the Atacama Desert- The driest place on the planet.

I still remember the day my 6th-grade geography teacher walked towards a huge map, which was hanging next to the blackboard, and pointed at a strip of land that was on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Then, she turned to us as if she was paying attention to every single one of us, and told that the strip of land was the driest desert in the world, Atacama.

That is how I got my first knowledge about the Atacama desert. In fact, that was the only knowledge I had until I revisited the topic 14 years after that geography class. As more interested and mature mind, I learned these facts about the Atacama desert:


1. Atacama desert lies in Chile, the country that locates on the west of the Andes mountains.

2. The desert covers about 490,000 sq miles (128,000 sq km). It is roughly three times smaller than the Karakum desert.


3. The mountains of the area are free from ice covers due to its arid weather conditions.


4. There are several river beds in the desert. However, according to the scientific estimations, these rivers were dry at least 120,000 years.

Facts about the Atacama desert
A donkey is posing in the Atacama desert

5. There are parts of the desert that has never got a drop of rain. The dry conditions are not something new for the area, the desert stayed as the driest place in the world about 40 million years.


6. Hyper-arid areas of the desert get some moisture thanks to the marine fogs, called Camanchaca. Researchers attempt to catch the tiny droplets of fog with huge nests, so they could use the recovered water for agriculture and drinking.


7. The Atacama desert contains world’s largest supply of sodium nitrate.


8. Some parts of the Atacama desert reminds a scenery of Mars. Therefore, some film production companies shoot their Mars related videos in those locations. Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets is one example.


9. The desert also caught NASA’s attention. Scientists choose the Atacama desert as the testing site for the Earth-Mars Cave Detection Program.


10. In spite of its arid environment, about 500 species of flowers grow in the southern part of the Atacama desert. The blooming happens near the border after the rare rainfall events.


Atacama desert facts
Atacama desert flowers after the rare rainfall


11. Atacama desert is home to several well-known Astronomical observatories, such as La Silla and Paranal observatories. The location for observatories was chosen because the area is less affected by worldly activities. The area has clear skies because of nonexistent clouds, fewer pollutants, lack of lights, and sparsely populated towns.

12. The environment of the desert perfect for truck rallies. For instance, the Atacama desert hosted several world-class championships. For example Lower Chile Rally, Lower Atacama rally, Dakar Rally, etc…


13. Atacama desert locates between two mountain chains, Andes and Chilean Coastal Ranges. These mountains prevent the moisture coming into the area from both Pacific and Atlantic oceans.


14. The world’s oldest mummies were found in the Atacama desert. These mummies were the remains of the inhabitants of Chinchorro culture, which existed between 9000-3500 BP.

Image of a mummy found in the Atacama desert
Chinchorro mummy

15. Indigenous people of Atacama desert herded llamas about 2800 years ago. Interestingly, llamas are still grazing around in the desert.

If you have any additional facts about the Atacama desert, please mention them on comments section.

By Arslan Batyrovich

Founder of
Writer, Researcher, Fact-finder, and All-in-one
Loves nature, Likes history, and Adores anything interesting
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