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Atacama desert in bloom, Chile
Photograph: Shutterstock

This Chilean desert sometimes fills with flowers – and it’s becoming a national park

The Atacama desert, with its rare and astonishing flower blooms, will be officially protected

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

Chile’s Atacama desert is one of the world’s most fascinating places. The sunniest place on Earth and the planet’s driest non-polar desert, the Atacama is known for its spectacular lava fields, vast salt flats and abandoned mineral mines. Being so desolate, it’s also renowned for its astronomical observatories and stargazing. But there’s one other natural spectacle that really makes it unique.

The Atacama is a pretty barren place but, every three to five years, the desert spectacularly bursts into bloom. If the area gets particularly heavy rainfall during the winter season, over 200 species of plant flower in the desert and create a vivid carpet of colour.

And now, excitingly, huge bits of the Atacama are set to be made into a national park. Earlier this month, Chilean president Gabriel Boric announced plans to protect the area from development and fund research into its ecosystems.

As it stands, the desert is a bit of a flashpoint for ongoing conflicts between environmental activists and companies mining for lithium. Demand for the rare metal is soaring, as it’s used in batteries for electric vehicles and other consumer products.

As yet, the exact boundaries of the protected area haven’t been confirmed. However, the park is unlikely to cover the entire desert, which stretches over 41,000 square miles between Chile’s Pacific coast and the Andes.

No date has been set yet for the formal designation. But when it does happen, the Atacama will become Chile’s forty-fourth national park. From the glaciers of northern Patagonia to the vineyards of the country’s middle regions, much of the country’s landscape is already officially protected. And now the miraculous blooms of the Atacama will also be secured for future generations.

Did you see that Norway is creating ten (yes, ten) new national parks?

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