Chile’s dry, open desert landscape characterises the north of the country. The Atacama desert is the driest desert on earth and dates back to almost 30 million years ago when volcanic erruption and lengthy wind erosion led to the creation of the desert in its present form. Occupying 105,000km2/40,600m2 of land in Chile, the vast desert runs 1000km/600m up through Northern Chilean terrain to the border with Bolivia, Peru and Northern Argentina. Much of the desert consists of salt flats and sand, interspersed with lagoons, hot springs, dunes and rock formations. Volcanoes line the horizon as do the Andes mountains running down the continent's spine.
San Pedro de Atacama, at 2000m above sea level, is a favourite travel hotspot for Chileans and tourists alike. Landmark attractions include Moon Valley, the Tatio Geysers and the Atacama Salt Flat, the second largest salt flat in the world after Uyuni in neighbouring Bolivia. San Pedro is also famous for its star gazing opportunities and has a wealth of world-class telescopes.
Further south in the desert there are many beaches and small villages famous for their food or drink production. The Flowering Desert phenomenon, when flowers bloom across the desert floor following rare rainfall, is found in the southern half of the desert every five years or so.