Atacama redirects here; for the political-administrative region of Chile, see Atacama Region.
The Atacama Desert is a virtually rainless plateau in South America, extending 966 km (600 mi) between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean. It is created by the rain shadow of the Andes east of the desert. Its area is 181,300 square kilometers (70,000 mi┬▓), in northern Chile. It is made up of salt basins (salares), sand and lava flows, and is 15 million years old and 100 times more arid than California's Death Valley.
The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on Earth, and is virtually sterile because it is blocked from moisture on both sides by the Andes mountains and by coastal mountains. The average rainfall in the Chilean region of Antofagasta is just 1 mm per year. Some weather stations in the Atacama have never received rain. Evidence suggests that the Atacama may not have had any significant rainfall from 1570 to 1971. It is so arid that mountains th