The Atacama Desert is northern Chile's most distinctive geographical feature. Starkly different from the south of the country, this 1,000 kilometre strip of land is one of most arid regions on earth. Rainfall is virtually non-existent in many parts of the Atacama Desert and gets less as you travel north into Chile's important copper mining and fish processing region around Antofagasta, Calama and Arica. In the far north, the Atacama Desert ends and is replaced by the high Altiplano, on the border between Chile, Peru and Bolivia.
The dusty and dry Atacama Desert is an expanse of rocky terrain dotted with cacti, and occasional small oasis towns along the Pan-American Highway. One of the most popular stop-offs is San Pedro de Atacama, surrounded by geysers, lunar valleys and vast salt flats. Star gazing under clear desert skies and adventure tours into the desolate but beautiful Atacama Desert are some of the possible activities for travellers in northern Chile.