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.
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