One of the things which immediately struck me while driving down Ruta 5 norte along the Atacama Desert coast was the presence of green plants. The coastal road further north between Iquique and Tocopilla (First Region), for instance, not only has no green plants, it has no brown or dead ones either. There is no life in that part of the Atacama. But I learned from a couple of locals hitchhiking that winter in the coastal Third Region had been unusual during 2009. It actually rained in this coastal section for some 12 hours straight on a fine winter day in August. That storm, the sector’s first rain in nearly a decade, caused brown plants to blossom to life and flowers to begin to spring from the desert floor. I was blessed to see the rebirth as I drove through the area over a month later. The unusual torrential rains also caused severe flash flooding which destroyed part of the highway. The photographs below depict what happened and what was seen on the road between Chañarál and Caldera. But I start by showing some of the green plant life:

Typical coastal scenery:

The seaside town of Balneario Flamenco (which locals simply call Flamenco, meaning “Flamingo”). In this town, squatters come to stake their land claims, living in shanty homes with no electricity or running water. The rent is only 80,000 pesos to 150,000 pesos per month (US$147 to US$276), making it an attractive retirement area for Chileans in the lower classes who have a generator. And ownership is possible as soon as the government maps out the subdivision. The hitchhikers who rode with me live in the town and provided this information.
Blossoming and blooming plant life, including violet and yellow flowers, was appearing due to the earlier rains:

Here is a bay overlook taken a few miles down the road:
This wash below was the route of the flash flood that destroyed the highway:
And some water from that flood still remains even after several weeks had passed, as can be seen on the right middle part of the photograph below:
The culvert simply could not hold up with all the water coming down. One can see the road devastation (a new road had been paved along side):

A little further down the road is this specialized port (seen in the distance) used to load iron ore mined in the area onto ships, and evidently transported to the port by means of a specialized piping system:
Here are shots of what the dormant desert floor normally looks like when there has been no rain:

Another squatter’s town just north of Rodillo (near Caldera) is seen below, where the Chilean government encourages people to stake out a spot in the sand, erect a structure, and wait for the government to apportion it and bring in utilities. Apparently the land so “developed” by an occupant can be purchased for a mere 900 pesos (US$1.65) per square meter (which is 10 square feet). If my calculations are correct, a 50 square meter lot (165 feet by 165 feet) would only cost about $275.

It seems to me that it would be worthwhile to consult with a Chilean attorney to see who can buy a parcel (e.g., foreigners, permanent residents, or only citizens and, if so, from which social classes) and if it is worth doing. One should also find out the cost of the little cabin he needs to erect in order to reserve the land when it is finally deeded. Next down the coast, the town of Rodillo is seen in the distance:

Ramada beach lies just between Rodillo and Caldera off Ruta 5 norte. The government signage indicates that this is an area where people can erect structures on the land and eventually buy it cheaply (as mentioned before). The beach is a nice cove, apt for swimming and sunbathing. No doubt, the government would like to see this area begin to develop.

Entering the city of Caldera from the north side and then photographing its central area and port is presented below. The port used to be a place to ship out copper but now it serves primarily to support the local fishing industry and to ship table grapes from the valley southeast of Tierra Amarilla and Copiapó to other parts of the world.

The best part of the area is clearly Bahia Inglesa, a small resort town just 4 miles south of Caldera and about 40 miles west of Copiapó. This town has great airport access from Santiago at least (being much closer to the Copiapó airport than Copiapó itself).

Here are a couple of short videos taken on the beach on September 22, 2009. Very early spring but the sun was out and temperatures were in the low 70s. Very nice, and peaceful, with few people on this Tuesday. The water temperature was brisk.
The beach is pleasant, with some infrastructure around, white sands, and clear turquoise water. The day before was partly overcast with the “marine layer” and made the beach appear less vibrant and colorful, but it was still nice.

There are nice restaurants, like the one photographed below, along the beach.

And this one in particular had the best fish dinner I can remember having in my life! For about US$19 including tip, I got the great view, along with three delicious varieties of (local) Rock Fish (Rollizo, Cabrilla and Viela Gallo) and all the fixings. (Lunch was not cheap, but it was my only meal of the day, and the experience was worthwhile!)

This was the colorful, tasty dish:
There are decent residential and nice tourist homes and cabañas on the north side of the city.