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The Atacama Desert of northern Chile is, at 2,500 metres above sea level, the highest and also the driest desert in the world, giving the Atacama some unique features.

With a pleasant climate year-round and a wonderful transparency of light, it attracts photographers to its dramatic lunar landscapes of volcanoes, craters, rocks, salt flats and wetlands. In fact, the desert looks so like the surface of the moon that it has been used as a test sight for lunar vehicles.

The lack of precipitation and high mineral content of the soil means that there is a total absence of vegetation in the interior, so most plants and animals of the region cling to the shoreline and coastal river valleys. These include: llamas, vicunas, alpacas, huemel deer, mice, grey fox and viscacha (the largest member of the chinchilla family). 

Birds of the area include three species of flamingo (Andean, puna, and Chilean), lesser rhea, puna miner, tamarugo conebill, black-throated flower-piercer, giant hummingbird and Andean swallow. Rare and endemic birds include: Chilean woodstar, coastal miner, thick-billed miner, white-throated earthcreeper, slender-billed finch, and drab seedeater. Colonies of seals, penguins, terns, gulls, cormorants, boobies, pelicans, and oystercatchers can all be found along the coast as well.

Despite its barren and inhospitable nature, the Atacama is a uniquely beautiful and atmospheric place, well worth a visit if travelling to the region. 

View suggested itinerary

Key info

  • Ideal for viewing: Andean flamingo, Chilean flamingo, guanaco, rhea, vicuna
  • Where: Atacama Region, Chile

Wildlife trips

This wildlife location is featured in the following itinerary:

Land of Extremes

Explore the extremes of Chile – from the great lakes and towering snow-capped mountains of Torres del Paine to the lunar landscapes of the Atacama Desert. Discover overwhelming beauty at every turn, with erupting geysers, spectacular glaciers, as well as fascinating unique wildlife.

  • When to go: Oct-Apr
  • Duration inc. flights: 15 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £7,145 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea
Suggested accommodation is shown below. Please contact us for further recommendations.

Alto Atacama Lodge & Spa

A stay at the luxurious Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa allows you to get the most out of Atacama’s unique desert landscape, by staying right in the midst of it. Silence and rugged mountains surround its spacious, comfortable rooms, each of which has a private terrace so you can enjoy the views.