Seeing as it has the word “desert” in its name, the Atacama is a place you’d expect to be extremely and exceptionally dry. In this vast, arid moonscape, however, set halfway between sea and sky, there are isolated patches where a drop of rain has never—ever—been recorded, taking the world “desert” to another level. In fact, looking at the geology of what’s officially considered the driest desert in the world, researchers believe that the Atacama has gone 400 years without rain.
Just because it’s always sunny, however, doesn’t mean that this desert is hot. In fact, seeing as much of the Atacama Desert is well above 10,000 feet, temperatures can often dip well below freezing on clear and crisp nights. So—what’s the draw for visiting this desert with its famously harsh terrain? Because it’s the hands-down, best place in the world to look up and see the stars. Astrotourism has taken off in this northern Chilean outpost, where, thanks to the consistent clarity of the skies and pollution-free elevation, the stars, planets and depths of the universe are on brilliant display each night. From the town of San Pedro de Atacama, visitors can journey to public observatories and telescopes to literally look light-years into the heavens through a single, powerful lens. Wrap yourself in a warm blanket or clutch a steaming drink, and stand in the driest, clearest place on Earth in awe of the scenery above you. It might be cold and it might be dry, but there are few other places in the entire world where the stars all shine this bright.
The Atacama Desert is the driest non-polar desert on earth and can be found west of the Andes Mountains. The desert stretches for more than 1,000 kilometers.