The Atacama Desert is located between the three countries of Chile, Peru and Bolivia. The extent of this desert is 2/3 of Italy. Atacama is mostly covered with sand and salt flats and extends from the Andes to the Pacific Ocean. The heights of the Andes mountains prevent rain clouds from reaching this region and separate this desert from the rain and forest region of the Amazon like a wall. This has caused the average rainfall in some parts of this desert, especially the Antofagasta region in Chile, to be only 3 mm throughout the year. Even some places do not see rainy years. These weather conditions have caused the Atacama desert to be called the driest desert in the world.
Some researchers consider the Atacama desert to be the oldest desert on earth, because in some parts of it, such as parts of the desert that are located in Chile today, this age is estimated to be 200 million years old, which can be Africa’s Namib Desert compared. Currently, the Namib desert is officially recognized as the oldest desert in the world. In the Atacama there is an area called the Whale Cemetery, where the skeletal remains of hundreds of whales have been piled up. Some of these fossils date back to 5 million years ago. The cause of death of all these whales is said to be poisoning due to eating a type of seaweed.
Atacama is very barren and dry, even some of the high mountains around it, which reach a height of 6000 meters, do not have any snow or ice on their peaks, even on its highest peaks, you can rarely see permanent snow and ice.
In an area located 100 km south of Antafagosta in Chile, where the altitude reaches 3000 meters, the soil of the Earth has been compared to Mars. Even because of the non-terrestrial appearance that this point of the desert has, it has been filmed as Mars in some scenes of a space television series.
Atacama is important because of the presence of rich minerals in its soil. Now this desert has one of the largest sources of sodium nitrate in the world, which is exploited. The sand dunes of this desert have even made it ideal for competitions such as rally. A car race called Crossing the Atacama is also held in this region, which is a week-long race in which the participants have to go through all the different parts of this desert.
Nowadays, many tourists go to Atacama to visit this dry and Martian desert. Atacami is one of the three most popular tourist destinations in Chile. Tourists who want to travel to this desert stay overnight in a city called San Pedro de Atacama.