Salar de Atacama, Chile
GPS: -23.499741625022, -68.24979149287
The salt desert (or salar) of Atacama extends over 3,000 km². Wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains, it is located east of the Cordillera Domeyko mountain range, in the Chilean region of Antofagasta. This desert is known to be the driest on Earth. Although the size of the Salar de Atacama is three times smaller than its Bolivian neighbour, the Salar de Uyuni, it is still the sixth largest salt reserve in the world. This place is more widely part of the Lithium Triangle, a huge territory prized for its mineral resources. It extends over part of Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina on the high plateau of the Puna de Atacama (180 000 km²).
Born from a huge salt depression, the Salar de Atacama is south of the city of San Pedro de Atacama. Its soil of volcanic origin is covered with a solid layer of mineral salts to which nature sometimes gives surprising shapes, according to the wind and water emanating from the melting of the snow. The area is of great interest to the scientific community because of its ultra-arid environment and extreme living conditions, with similarities to the planet Mars. In fact, the Atacama Desert is regularly used as an experimentation area by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known by its acronym, NASA.
The Salar de Atacama is surrounded by high volcanoes with snow-capped peaks, such as the Lascar volcano (one of the most active in the Chilean Andes) or the Licancabur volcano (containing one of the highest crater lakes in the world). Its rocky and sandy landscapes rise to an average altitude of 2,500 meters. They contain geysers, thermal springs, and lunar sites favourable for stargazing. Rich in colour, the Atacama Salt Flat has many salt lakes that reflect the blue sky of the desert. They are known to attract half of the world’s flamingo species. Inhabited for 10,000 years by the Atacama indigenous people (also called Kunza or Likanantaí) despite the harshness of its environment, this region also conceals many archaeological sites and remains well preserved by time. Its extreme temperatures are combined with powerful radiation from the sun. Only the most resistant micro-organisms, at the base of the food chain, can survive year-round in the Salar de Atacama.