Chile's flowering desert
As I write this I’m sat on a bumpy bus back to Santiago in Chile where I am currently working as a language assistant for the year. I’ve just spent the weekend in a city 5 hours north of Santiago called La Serena. During my visit I was lucky enough to go and see the Flowering Desert, a natural phenomenon that occurs around every 5 years here in the Atacama Desert.
Following a particularly large amount of rainfall earlier in the year, a variety of flowers come into blossom between the months of September and November. In general these flowers are bright purple and create an incredible spectacle at the base of the surrounding mountains. There are in fact more than 200 species of flowers that can be found. As well as the plants, there is an explosion of species of insects, birds and lizards in the area.
The Atacama Desert is usually one of the driest places on Earth. In fact, it’s officially the driest desert and has soil similar to samples taken from Mars! However, the bloom is particularly impressive this year and this is due to the strong presence of El Niño. This is a band of warm water that occurs in the Pacific Ocean off the western coast of South America, changing the temperatures and increasing the rainfall in certain areas.
In order to catch a glimpse of this magnificent gem of nature, I took a bus with some friends 2 hours north from La Serena to a town called Vallenar. According to the limited information available online and in the guidebooks, this was the Flowering Desert’s most southern spot. However, with no further information, we walked into the town centre to try and find a tour or a bus heading in that direction. Failing this, we asked in the city hall what to do and very generously one of the women there offered to drive us to the area 10kms away. What we saw did not disappoint, and as expected it was even more overwhelming and astonishing than the pictures we had seen online. The vast rug of colour spreading into the distance towards the contrasting green hills was simply glorious, and warranted a large amount of photos! A real reminder of the beauty our planet can provide.