5 Largest South American Deserts
South American deserts represent this region’s most marvelous and jaw-dropping landscapes!
Although we may think “desert” stands only for an arid area with no water and nothing to see, today we will explore five South American deserts that prove this wrong.
South America is home to breathtaking paradises that await us. With stunning salt flats, bewildering fauna like penguins and flamingos, trekking trails for those looking for an adventure, there is something for every adventurer to watch and have a life-changing experience in the extraordinary nature of South America.
Be sure to save your energy, as the sunrises are the most startling views that you’ll ever witness!
Let’s explore the largest and most impressive deserts of the Southern hemisphere.
Astounding South American Deserts
1. Eastern Patagonia Desert
If you’re planning a trip to Argentina, include this destination on your itinerary! It extends just across the border into Chile. It is also known as the Patagonian or Magellanic Steppe Ecoregion.
They describe this desert as a semiarid scrub plateau that covers most of the southern portion of Argentina.
It is the largest desert in Argentina and the 8th largest desert in the world—going on for 673,000 sq km (260,000 sq mi).
Home to herbaceous plant species, the occasional precipitation of the region nourishes its bushes and grasslands. On western areas, you can find lakes of glacial origin.
The topography of the largest of South American deserts consists of plateaus and plains, with a dry climate that results in snowfall during the winter. Nonetheless, frosts occur year-round.
The Patagonian Desert collides to the West with the Patagonian Andes, to the North with the Colorado River, to the East with the Atlantic Ocean, and to the South with the Strait of Magellan.
Tierra del Fuego—an area to the South of the desert—is part of both Argentina and Chile.
Enjoy Your Visit
This is probably the one desert in which you can do as many diverse activities as you like!
If you’re a fan of wildlife, you must visit the penguins in their habitat, Punta Tombo in the province of Chubut.
For those outdoor fans, hiking to the Laguna Torre (Torre Lagoon) promises to be a fulfilling experience. Walking through the forests and getting to the lagoon to find the small icebergs on it is a visual experience for the books.
If you can’t get enough of hiking, be sure to visit the W Trek in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park in The Andes. Depending on your plans and physical condition you can either take the short five-day trip or the full seven-day trip to experience the trek in its entirety.
For tourists looking for a low-impact visit to enjoy the views, they can take a boat trip in the Beagle Channel. This body of water joins both oceans.
What’s more, you can catch a glimpse of the area’s wildlife that surrounds it.
What’s so magnificent about the Patagonian Desert is that you are literally seeing the land at the end of the Earth.
2. Dunes of Cabo Polonio
There is no South American trip without a visit to Uruguay and its deserts. The Dunes of Cabo Polonio have been part of the National System of Protected Areas since 2009.
Indigenous tribes from over 11,000 years ago inhabited this region, naming it after a ship that sank in the rocky cape. The gorgeous coastal area was once a hideout for pirates and smugglers. However, near the end of the 1800s, fishermen took over the land.
Tourists can enjoy the extensive beaches with white sand in these rocky islands. The unique dune system reaches 30 meters in height and goes on for 40 square kilometers of land.
Cerro de Buena Vista was once a boundary between the Spanish and Portuguese empires between 1,750 and 1,777 under the Treaty of Madrid.
Enjoy Your Visit
Because of the astonishing coastline, they recommend you rent a beach house to enjoy this attraction for days to come.
You must know, though, there is no electricity, no running water, no real streets for automobiles to drive on. The only way to get around the island is by foot or a safari-style truck especially destined for tourists.
Enjoy tasty seafood sold by street vendors and sit back to watch the peaceful view.
3. Atacama Desert
Located in Northern Chile, the Atacama Desert once was home to the Atacameño, an extinct Indian population.
They’ve named it the “Driest Place on Earth” for its cool, arid climate. It runs along 600 to 700 mi (1000 to 1100 km) from north to south.
Its boundaries include:
- Cordillera de la Costa to the West
- Cordillera Domeyko to the East
- Loa River to the South
- The border of Peru to the North
It’s highest peaks reach 6,500 ft, with the rest of it’s height reaching 5,000 ft. Volcanoes characterize this beautiful tourist attraction.
Chile’s frontier with Argentina and Bolivia consists of the Atacama Plateau.
Enjoy Your Visit
Due to its extension, there are diverse attractions according to the area that you visit. Among the breathtaking landscapes you can find are:
- Salt caves
- Sand dunes
- Salt flats
If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind view, make sure to see El Tatio geysers at sunrise. Additionally, the Valley of the Moon is perfect for trekking.
Chile is home to the world’s second-largest salt flats, and here, you can pay a visit to Chaxa Lagoon, the home of pink flamingos. Be sure to take your camera!
Hand-picked for you: A Traveler’s Guide to Valparaiso, Chile
4. Desert of Siloli
When in South America, plan your visit to the town of Potosi, in southwestern Bolivia. The desert of Siloli is probably the most interesting of South American deserts.
Bolivia offers the world “The place where Earth meets the sky.” That’s the nickname given to the Desert of Siloli due to its extreme altitudes. Reaching up to 14,764 ft (4,500 m) above sea level, this desert is a majestic view for its rocky red sand.
The desert is surrounded by ridges of volcanoes to the sides. In its center, you can find the most famous rock formation of the Bolivian Altiplano. Rock formation? That’s right—this area is renowned for its rocks’ odd shapes!
The Árbol de Piedra (Stone Tree) is a beautiful and unparalleled rock formation that resembles a tree.
Moreover, the most interesting volcano of this desert is the volcano Inacalari.
Enjoy Your Visit
Plan ahead if you wish to see this natural paradise. In June, the climate is dry with no chances of snowfall.
However, you shouldn’t visit when it snows as you won’t enjoy your trip! You’ll be stuck in your hotel cabin watching the blizzard through the window.
Visiting between December and April is best for you to enjoy your time here!
The desert is a 3-hour drive away from Uyuni—a small town in southwestern Bolivia—where you can see the Uyuni salt flats.
Climb on the lowest rocks to enjoy the views without taking much of a risk by hiking to high altitudes! It’s dangerous to try to get to the higher altitudes as they represent a lack of oxygen. If you want to take the challenge, you’ll probably only reach about 9,186 ft (2,800 m) before you may get altitude sickness.
Beware of the ground when walking, as it is mainly rocks, sand, and gravel.
5. Sechura Desert
They often refer to the Sechura Desert as the Coastal Desert of Peru!
The Sechura desert extends over 189,000 square kilometers of land. This arid habitat is home to foxes and rodents. The unique species, the Sechuran fox, can survive long periods without water.
It borders to the West with the Pacific Ocean; and extends to the East reaching the Andes secondary ridges.
Make the best of your trip enjoying the warm climate in the Summer. The climate is wet during the winter but the average temperatures year-round are 22°C (71.6°F).
The hills that border it to the southwest fog to the desert, which is great for the sparse vegetation of the area.
There’s an area of trees to the north, as well as coastal wetlands. The rocky areas are home to lizards, iguanas, and rodents.
The desert is part of the Protected Areas Cerros de Amotape National Park and the San Fernando Reserved Zone.
There is a need to protect these areas as human activity such as agriculture and mining threatens to diminish this land’s natural beauty.
Enjoy Your Visit
Choose adventure tours to be sure to see the most astounding regions of the desert. Thanks to the amicable average temperatures, you can visit year-round.
From December to March, the dry season makes it perfect for visiting the coast. From September to November, the climate is more suitable for hiking.
Begin Your Adventure
Traveling to a Latin American country is definitely an enriching experience. Aside from learning about new cultures, new traditions, and different tourist places, you can get a chance to practice your Spanish.
Your experience in Latin America will be much more culturally enlightening if you take the challenge of speaking to the locals. Learning about their backgrounds and costumes is much better when they speak in their native language.
Let Homeschool Spanish Academy improve your upcoming trips by letting our native Spanish-speaking teachers turn you into a fluent and fearless speaker.
Our teachers offer instructive yet entertaining lessons that not only teach you about vocabulary or grammar, but also about the cultural insights of Latin America. Plus, our 1-on-1 lessons are perfect for you to loosen up with your speaking skills.
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