Patagonia – the region, not country – covering the lower halves of Chile and Argentina is known for its abundance of marine life, soaring, craggy outcrops covered in snow, and its sense of wilderness at ‘the end of the world’. But just north of Patagonia, in Chile, is a vast desert.
Located at high altitude, it’s not a baking hot desert, not wavering in a dry, unbearable heat like the Sahara. But the Atacama Desert is the driest in the world and, despite the lack of water, an event takes place here in this harsh environment which is unmatched anywhere else on the planet: the flowering of the desert.
When rain does briefly fall in the spring, arrays of blindingly colourful flowers appear, as if from nowhere from the moon-like landscape. Cacti and seeds that have lain hidden under the soils suddenly burst into life and the desert temporarily becomes a garden. Over 200 types of plant species add colour to the display. The ground can be carpeted with little blue flowers called azulillos, round pink ‘guanaco feet’, and bright sunshine yellow petals. The flowers bring out with them a greater variety of wildlife, from insects to birds and lizards that you wouldn’t normally see.
When to go
The blooming of the desert happens between the months of September and November, in the years when winter rainfall has been higher than normal. The peak is typically the second half of October. Be warned – it doesn’t happen every year!
Where to go
Be sure to check out both the coastal portion of the desert and that further inland, as the scenery and range of flowers are very different and equally beautiful. In fact, the flowering of the desert can be seen over an area of almost 200 kilometres between the city of Vallenar to the north of the city of Copiapó, in both coastal areas and towards the interior sectors and the mountain range. Huasco is known as one of the best spots to appreciate the blooms and you can fly here from the vibrant capital of Santiago in just 45 minutes. San Pedro de Atacama is another top destination, and here there are a few luxury desert lodges tucked around the outskirts, which are fantastic places to stay in.
How to see it
The Atacama Desert is a fragile ecosystem and its plants are easily damaged. As more visitors have been flocking to the region to admire the spectacle, an impact is being felt in the local environment. Be cautious about taking 4×4 excursions out into the desert, as it’s these sort of tours that have caused damage to the area. Be sure to book with a reputable tour company who are clear on their commitment to caring for the desert and its wildlife.
This article was made possible thanks to Exsus Luxury Holidays.