The Driest Place on Earth

“Stretching away between the ocean and the mountains, a seemingly endless belt of sand, rock, and mountain unfurls itself, more absolute and terrifying in its uncompromising aridity than the Sahara.  The first glimpse of a strange land usually elates; but the sight of this grim desert oppresses the mind with a sense of singular desolation.” – Stephen Clissold, Chilean Scrapbook

Dry, vast, empty, inhospitable, and yet very beautiful, Chile’s “Far North” occupies almost a quarter of the country’s territory, but contains just five percent of its population.  Its single most outstanding feature is the Atacama Desert, which stretches down from the Peruvian border for over 1,000km; the driest desert in the world, it contains areas where no rainfall has ever been recorded.  The landscape of this desert is not one of rolling Arabian sand dunes, but rather one of bare rock and earth spread over a wide pampa, almost completely barren – alleviated only by the distant mountains that shimmer in the golden daytime heat haze, and glow red at sunset. Continue reading