National Geographic Magazine


Atacama Desert Map

Arid Atacama

The Atacama, edging northern Chile for some 600 miles (1,000 kilometers), lies between the ocean and the Andes—bookends ensuring an arid climate. A high-pressure cell over the Pacific holds back moisture from the west, while the mountains block storms from the east. On average only half an inch of rain falls each year, and in some mid-desert spots it has never been recorded, creating vast wastelands. Water scarcity affects long-rooted tribes and city dwellers alike as demand, spurred by recent economic development, outpaces the meager supply.

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