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Atacama In Bloom

It’s a well-known fact that Chilean Atacama is the driest place on the entire planet. Hardly a gardener’s paradise then. And yet in the first tentative falterings of spring's arrival, something remarkable happens in this wind-whipped desert. A sea of colour sweeps across the dry sands, bringing delicate petals which flutter in the breeze: a desolately dramatic landscape is transformed into nature’s own wildflower garden. Visit Atacama between the months of September and November, and you might just witness the Atacama desert showing its true colours.

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Atacama in full colour

This climatic phenomenon is called the flowering desert (in Spanish, desierto florido), and it is the result of unusually high rainfall during the months of July and August. The results cannot be enjoyed until springtime comes knocking later in the year, but what beautiful results they are. The rainfall cannot be too intense, nor too spaced out, and it is essential that the icy frosts of winter are not so harsh that germination is prevented. But when all these exacting requirements are met, a miracle of nature occurs right here in the north of Chile.

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The desert is taken over by flowers

The desierto florido is thought to be linked to El Niño and the resulting anomalous changes in the temperature of ocean currents, bringing increased storms and rainfall. The desert brimming with life can be observed from various spots around the Atacama region, including Copiapó, Caldera, Vallenar, and La Serena.

The winter rains essentially tell dormant seeds lurking beneath the ground that its time to rise and shine, some of which may have been waiting patiently to bloom for many years. They then come out of hiding in a magical explosion of colour. Over 200 species of wildflowers finally have their long-deserved moment in the sun, with many not growing anywhere else on Earth.

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Despite the aridness of the desert, life can still flourish here

Species you might spot include the pretty pink añañuca, the soft red garra de león and the purple-pink pata de guanaco. Clinging to rocks, waving cheerfully in the wind, peeking out from behind spiky cacti, the thoughtful Atacama desert presents the lucky visitor with a whole bouquet of flowers!

And this year, though the rains were not as heavy as they have been in the past, you can still catch the phenomenon filling the arid landscape with colour and life. According to Senatur (Chile’s tourism board) and La Tercera, you can enjoy this natural marvel in the coastal Atacama region, from Huasco running right through Caldera, up to Chañaral.

It goes without saying that picking any of the flowers is strictly prohibited, and visitors must do everything they can to safeguard the delicate flowers. As the director of Senatur Atacama, Daniel Díaz, told La Tercera, every single flower trampled means fewer seeds dispersed for next year, and the gradual decline of the splendour of the desierto florido. So don’t go straying from the beaten track this time! Just for a few months, the Atacama desert belongs to these flowers, painting the sandy hills and dunes in dazzling hues of pink and blue and purple.

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The flowering desert

The Chilean Atacama is a wonderful place to travel to and explore. Check out our Atacama Multi Sport Adventure and travel through this desert on horseback, bicycle and of course on foot! Don't forget to let us know which is your favourite season in Chile and why!