Chile – Altiplano - trekkingchile

Chile – Altiplano

Plants of the heights

Only specialists survive in Atacama!

By Altiplano we do not only mean the geological place, but, to make it simpler, the whole north of Chile. Toward the north, the average anual rain fall gets ever lower. In La Serena, for instance, it falls about 130 mm of rain annually; in Arica in contrast, it falls just 1 mm per year. Friends of cactuses, of course, get their money’s worth mainly in the dry north of Chile with its more than 160 different species. Every few years the El Niño stream causes rain to fall in the middle of the desert. In those years, arround september, the desert starts to bloom in bright colours. A spectacle that should not be neglected.

Coastal area

In the whole northern coast there is a thick fog (Camanchaca), mainly in the morning, for many months; it is for many plants the only way to get water. This fog-caused vegetation is made up of different cactuses (e.g. Eulychnia iquiquensis, Copiapoa species), bushes (e.g. Euphorbia lactiflua, Oxalis gigantea, Berebris litoralis), tresses and bromelias (e.g. Deuterocohnia chrysantha, Tillandsia geissei). South of La Serena, due to the coastal fog, survive even some forests whose composition (e.g. Drymis winteri, Myrceugenia correifolia, Aextoxicon punctatum) is consistent with the southern rainforest. But here what prospers mainly are cactuses (Trichocereus chilensis) y bromelias (Puya chilensis, Puya berteroniana).


North of Copiapo, between the Domeyko mountains and the Andes, is the famous Atacama desert. Even dry climate specialists, like catuses, can hardly gain ground in these extreme climates. Only in oasis can we find trees (e.g. Prosopis tamarugo, Geoffroea decorticans) in the Atacama desert.


The so called Puna is the zone which starts in the east up the Andes. Cactuses (e.g. Browningia candelaris, Echinopsis atacamensis), bush-shaped composite plants (e.g. Chuquiraga oppositifolia), grases (e.g. Stipa frigida, Stipa leptostachya), a few types of trees (e.g. Polylepis tarapacana) and the hard pillow-like Llarreta (e.g. Azorella compacta, Laretia accaulis) are perfectly adapted to the hard life circumstances here.

Travel destinations in the Altiplano:

Lago Chungara, Mamina, P.N. Pan de Azucar, Taltal, Paposo,  Los Molles, P.N. La Campana