The Atacama Desert is one of the highest, oldest and driest deserts on Earth. It averages barely half an inch of rainfall every year, and there are some regions where no rainfall is recorded for years at a time. Because of its altitude and especially dry conditions, the Atacama is a favorite destination for athletes, astronomers, filmmakers and (around Nazca) archaeologists.
The plateau that runs between the Pacific Coast and the Andes Mountains probably desertified about three million years ago. The Nazca people, who lived at the extreme northern end of the desert in the 1st millennium AD, left behind great glyphs in the Earth that have been preserved thanks to the aridity. The area was generally sparsely settled until the Spanish showed up in the 16th century to establish ports and mines. Since 2000, the desert has become a popular location for extreme sporting events and races.
The Atacama Desert is the third driest desert in the world (after the polar regions) and probably the second oldest desert in the world after the Namib in Africa. The area is so dry that manyof the surrounding mountains do not have ice caps. There are many mining operations active in the area, but also many abandoned, so that much of the desert is littered with ghost towns.
The Atacama Desert draws a very diverse array of visitors. Many tourists come to enjoy the unique beauty of the area. The desert hosts a number of annual sporting events, from track and field to motor sports. Several major astronomical observatories here are considered among the best such facilities in the world. The amazingly preserved Nazca lines amaze scientists and the curious. Web: N/A.