The desert usually evokes shifting dunes and nothingness; not a speck of water in sight. But in the far reaches of certain continents, these golden landscapes collide with roaring waves and gentle waters in the most spectacular of ways.

1. Namib Desert

Along the Atlantic coasts of Angola, Namibia, and South Africa stretches the extra-ordinary Namib desert; a coastal desert where the desert literally kisses the Atlantic ocean. Because the desert has been in a state of aridity for roughly 55-80 million years, it is considered one of the oldest deserts in the world. In 2013, the desert was granted a World Heritage status by UNESCO.

Namib Desert is not suitable for human inhabitation. However, a number of living beings such as ostriches, antelopes, rodents and birds have managed to adapt to this desert. Namib desert features Namib-Naukluft National Park dubbed “Africa’s Super Park” by National Geographic. The park is the largest game park in Africa and the fourth largest in the world.

The park contains a surprising collection of creatures who manage to survive in the hyper-arid region, including snakes, geckos, hyenas, and jackals. Some of the highly specialised desert dwellers include the Welwitschia plant, considered a living fossil, and the fog-basking beetle. The most prominent attraction in the park is Sossusvlei, a salt and clay pan surrounded by high red dunes, located in the southern part of the Namib Desert.

2. Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert is a desert plateau in South America covering a 1,600 km strip of land on the Pacific coast, west of the Andes Mountains.

Because of its high altitude, nearly nonexistent cloud cover, dry air, and lack of light pollution and radio interference from widely populated cities and towns, Atamaca desert is one of the best places in the world to conduct astronomical observations. Atacama Desert is often used for Mars expedition simulations by National Aeronautics and Space Administration because of its otherworldly qualities.

3. Salar de Atacama

Salar de Atacama is the largest salt flat in Chile. It is located 55 km south of San Pedro de Atacama, is surrounded by mountains, and has no drainage outlets. In the east it is enclosed by the main chain of the Andes, while to the west lies a secondary mountain range of the Andes called Cordillera de Domeyko.

Parts of the Atacama Desert have gone without rain for as long as people have been keeping track, but water rich in dissolved salts lies beneath this flat surface. The Salar is particularly rich in lithium salts. Lithium is used in rechargeable batteries. With increased use of smartphones, mobile computers, and electric cars, there is higher demand for the soft, silvery metal. Brines from beneath the salty crust are pumped to evaporation ponds, visible as the blue rectangles in these Landsat images. The extremely dry and windy conditions here result in an efficient process.

The concentrated salts are left behind after evaporation from which lithium carbonate and other materials can be extracted. The lithium mining activities in the Salar de Atacama have expanded over the years, as can be seen in these Landsat images acquired in 1993 and 2015. Landsat imagery can help study worldwide land change effects from a variety of mining types.

4. Los Flamencos National Reserve

Los Flamencos National Reserve is a nature reserve located in the commune of San Pedro de Atacama, Antofagasta Region of northern Chile. The reserve covers a total area of 740 square kilometres in the Central Andean dry puna ecoregion and consists of seven separate sections.

This reserve, created in 1990, consists of seven areas located in the town of San Pedro de Atacama. Each one of them has a different geography, flora, fauna and hydrography. The Tara Salt Flat – Aguas Calientes area is five hours east of San Pedro. Here you will find attractions like: Tara lagoon and salt flat, Zapaleri river, Aguas Calientes 1 Salt Flat, and Negra Lagoon. The animals that dwell in this area are the vicuña and the Andean fox, whereas the most important flora specimens are the water tola (Baccharis tola) and the amaia.

The area of Pujsa Salt Flat is located a bit further south of Tara-Aguas Calientes. Just like the former, its relief features rolling plains with an inter-mountain depression and the hills of Negro de Pujsa and Balle. The fauna present in the area includes vizcachas, tawny tuco-tucos, flamingoes, rheas, condors and eaglets, among others.

5. El Tatio Geyser Field

El Tatio is a geothermal field with many geysers located in the Andes Mountains of northern Chile at 4,320 metres above mean sea level. It is the third-largest geyser field in the world and the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.

Geysers are found in volcanic or recently volcanic areas around the world and scientists believe they indicate the presence of magma beneath the earth’s surface. They are a type of hot spring that erupt in a burst of hot water or steam and are formed when rain water soaks into the ground and runs deep into the cracks of the earth. The water then comes into contact with heated rocks which cause it to boil and push upwards with great force in either steam or liquid form. These spectacular eruptions can last from anything between a few minutes to a few hours.

The best time to visit the E Tatio is between 4.30am and 7.00am when its streams can reach up to 30 feet high. This means an early start in San Pedro where tour operators all require a 4.30am start for the two and a half hour drive. The tour is highly recommended as it is cheap and it’s difficult to find location if you travel privately.


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