A train travels through Chile's Atacama Desert during the height of "desierto florido."
A train travels through Chile's Atacama Desert during the height of "desierto florido." (Photo: Guillermo Andre/Flickr)

Receiving barely a half-inch of rainfall per year, Chile's Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on Earth, but that all changes when El Niño rolls around every few years.

Heavy rains caused by this weather phenomenon activate the germination of dormant seeds and bulbs buried deep within the ground, resulting in a sea of brilliant pink-hued blooms beginning around September.

The gorgeous natural event is known as desierto florido, which means "flowering desert" in Spanish.

As a fairly rare occurrence tied to a irregular climatological phenomenon, desierto florido is a popular attraction for locals and tourists alike. According to Chilean tourism officials, 2015 is one of the strongest flowering years in nearly two decades. While 2010 was also a strong year, it pales in comparison (and hue) to this year.

Large cactus surrounded by pink flowers in the Atacama Desert.
(Photo: Antoine Lassagne/AFP/Getty Images)

A few of the flowers that make an appearance during this special time include Rhodophiala rhodolirion, Cistanthe grandiflora, Schizopetalon tenuifolium, among others. Of course, these lovely blooms aren't the only organisms thriving in Atacama. As the plants begin to sprout, there's also an influx of insects, birds, lizards and other small critters.

What's interesting about desierto florido is that it operates on a "Goldilocks" principle — like many things in life, moderation is key and having more isn't always better. In this case, while an above-average rainfall is likely to produce a thick carpet of flowers, excessive rainfall can limit the blooms.

Although Atacama's landscape is expected to return to its more typical sandy appearance in November, continue below to see a few images of the flowering desert in full glory.

Beautiful pink flowers during the Atacama region's "Desierto Florido."
(Photo: Joselyn Anfossi Mardones)
Pink flowers in the Atacama Desert.
(Photo: Ksenia Ragozina/Shutterstock)
Beautiful pink flowers in Atacama's Llanos de Challe National Park.
(Photo: Antoine Lassagne/AFP/Getty Images)
Purple-pink flowers during Atacama's "desierto florido."
(Photo: Ksenia Ragozina/Shutterstock)
One of the many species of pink flower that bloom during the Atacama region's "desierto florido."
(Photo: Jean-Michel Moullec/Flickr)
The Atacama region during the "desierto florido."
(Photo: Ksenia Ragozina/Shutterstock)

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.