Environment and Location
The indigenous communities of the Atacama Desert are not homogenous but consist of a number of separate cultures. The Atacameño communities live in the oases and valleys of the Atacama salt flat and Loa river basins in Chile’s Antofagasta Region. There are also small populations in northwestern Argentina, in the highlands of Salta and Jujuy, and in the southwestern Altiplano of Bolivia.
The region has a desert climate, with almost no rainfall and extreme day-night temperature variation. Water is present in the meadows and grazing lands that border rivers such as the Loa, the Salado and the Vilama. Plant life consists of high Andean species: small hardy bushes, grasses, and cushion-like yareta plants. Where water is present in oases or ravines there are stands of trees such as carob (mesquite), tamarugo (Prosopis tamarugo), chañar (Geoffroea decorticans), pepper, and others.
Local wildlife also varies by region and ecosystem. Animals found here include Andean foxes, armadillos, hare-like viscachas, condors, flamingos, wild geese such as the Magellan Goose, and the llama-like guanacos and vicuñas.