The second day in the Atacama Desert started pretty early. Our destinations in the morning were the Altiplanic Lagoons (Lagunas Altiplânicas) and Salar de Atacama. The first tip I give you for tours that start early is to wear clothes in layers, since the desert gets really cold in the morning, and as the sun rises, so does the temperature.
At 6:30 we were already in the car heading to our first destination. The morning fog started dissipating and we could see the sun rising behind the mountains. The view was beautiful… as the sunrays crossed the sky, the desert was enlightening little by little.
We stopped on the way to admire the small church in Socaire Village. It was still very cold, but the experience of being there was totally worth it.
We got back on track until a little animal caught our attention on the road. It was a small fox (I believe), which first looked at us with curiosity, then lay under the sun to warm up. The pause was quick, as we couldn’t waste much time because the travel plan of the day was really busy.
Lagunas Altiplânicas are 115km far from San Pedro, inside Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos (Los Flamencos National Reserve). The entrance in the reserve costs 5,000 Chilean pesos, which are charged separately from the tour price. Our guide left us at the entrance of the reserve, from where we walked to the lagoons.
The landscape is absolutely amazing. If the pictures look like paintings, being there felt like a dream. The lagoons reflect the countless volcanoes around them, and the silence is broken only by the sound of the wind. The sun was already getting us warm, and the cold didn’t bother us anymore… What a good feeling it was to be there.
The first lagoon we saw was Laguna Miscanti (Miscanti Lagoon). With its amazing 15 square kilometers, this lagoon draws its water from the underground infiltration of rains, thermal waters and summer rains.
Next to Laguna Miscanti is Laguna Miñiques. Much smaller than the other, this one is only 1.5 square kilometers. But don’t be fooled to think it’s any less because it’s smaller. Particularly, I’ve found Laguna Miñiques more beautiful than Miscanti. There’s just so much beauty altogether, however, that it’s hard to compare them. It’s worth mentioning that both lagoons are connected through an underground canal, and Laguna Miñiques draws water from its bigger neighbor.
We had our breakfast, prepared by Ayllu Agency, next to Laguna Miñiques. It was delicious… coffee, milk, chocolate, yogurt, toast, scrambled eggs and other sidings… hmmm, remembering all of that and the landscape around us makes me miss it so much!
After eating, we walked our way back, which was great to take some pictures, enjoy nature and the amazing view. This time we got closer to Laguna Miscanti and, to our surprise, we could see some vicuñas… A friendly little animal that looked at us from afar with curious eyes. Vicuñas look a little bit like llamas. Later on, I found out they’re very common in the region and can be easily sighted.
Back to the car, we went on towards Salar de Atacama. It looked nothing like Salar de Uyuni, in Bolivia. Salar de Atacama’s ground is uneven, and we couldn’t even walk there, but everything was just as striking and exotic as in Uyuni.
When we got to the desert, we had were presented some facts and curiosities about the place, as well as its importance to Chile. After that, we had some free time to walk through the paths in the Salar.
Besides the vastness of sand, what really caught our attention were the flamingos. With all of their pinkness, flamingos are the big starts of the place.
Looking closely to the piles of salt, I could see a very funny animal: something like a mini lizard. To be honest I can’t really tell whether it was a lizard (I appreciate if someone can confirm that to me), but I know that I started noticing many of them there. Look how interesting this little guy’s colors are:
The tour to Salar de Atacama was coming to an end. When I got to the car, I saw a group of bikers arriving… now that’s a trip I’d like to go on someday!
On the way back to San Pedro, we stopped by the small village of Toconao. It’s a very simple place, though very important to the region. They produce many kinds of fruit there, in small quantities, but with great diversity.
It’s incredible to think this is possible in such a dry place like the Atacama Desert. Our visit through the village was short. We went to its main square, saw a church tower and soon enough went back to the road.
Our tour ended up lasting longer than expected. When we got back to San Pedro, it was past 3 p.m., and our next tour would start at four. It was just enough time to wear some shorts and order a sandwich to eat on the way. Our next tour was in Laguna Cejar, which I’ll tell you about in another post.
General information about Altiplanic Lagoons and Salar de Atacama
One of the most wanted tours in the Atacama Desert. I’ve personally found it one of the most beautiful.
I went on this tour with Ayllu Agency. Don’t miss the post with more information on agencies in San Pedro de Atacama.
Tips: take water, sunglasses, sunscreen and remember to cover up – it’s very cold in the morning and the wind may be strong.
How much: The tour costs 60,000 Chilean pesos + 5,000 for the entrance ticket (updated in 2015).
If you go to Chile and you need accommodation, check out the best options on Booking.