And for the last day in the Atacama Desert we went to the Salar de Tara tour. At about 140 kilometers away from San Pedro de Atacama and at an altitude of 4,400 meters, this tour started being sought more recently. Because it’s further from San Pedro, not all agencies offer the tour.
It’s worth highlighting that this is not a tour to go on without an agency. It takes an experienced guide to cross several parts of the way and to know how to get to the most beautiful places.
The Salar de Tara is a whole-day tour. We left Ayllu Expediciones before 8 a.m. and the sun was still hiding when we stopped to photograph Licancabur – the most famous volcano of the region.
We made another stop on the way to enjoy an astonishing landscape – the Salar de Aguas Calientes (Hot Waters Salar). At this stop, the sun was already warming us up and making the view even more beautiful. Some flamingos were around the area and definitely caught everybody’s attention.
After recovering our breaths, we returned to the car and followed the road – while it existed. A significant part of the path is in trails or straight on sand, where there aren’t any signs showing the way – that’s why you need an experienced guide.
The Salar de Tara is located inside the Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos. Mike, our guide, left us right at the entrance of the reserve, where we could walk freely amongst incredible rock formations.
Lonely in the middle of the desert, it’s extremely curious to think how they appeared there. Known as the Monjes de la Pacana, according to our guide, they were formed by volcanic eruptions. Yet, I still can’t imagine how they ended up in those shapes.
After exploring that part of the desert, we stopped for breakfast. Just as on the other days, everything was incredible. Toast, scrambled eggs, milk, coffee, pie, cheese and others – and of course everything was even better with the landscape around. Ayllu Expediciones did it once again!
With everyone well fed, it was time to continue our tour. There were still several surprises waiting ahead. Our next stop was at the top of a cliff, where we could see, from afar, a big wall of rocks. The beauty of that place was completely exotic.
It’s hard to describe the magnitude and the size of that place. Just so you have an idea of the proportion of things, look for the person in blue on the next picture (I confess I only noticed that person when I opened the picture on my computer):
On this next photo, it’s possible to see a pickup truck and a person next to the wall. That’s when you understand how small we are…
Anyway, we got back to the car, and after going through a trail in the middle of the rocks we arrived at the base of the wall. Looking like a castle, that wall is known as As Catedrais de Tara (The Tara Cathedrals).
Opposite the wall, we had, finally, the Salar de Tara. The scenario there is fantastic (you must be tired of how much I’m praising this place, but it’s impossible not to, sorry). On one side the Catedrais, and on the other the salar… A perfect combination.
And just when the tour was coming to an end, our desire to stay there was such that we had a little mishap:
The Salar de Tara Hurdle
On our way back to San Pedro, the cable of our car radiator ripped and we were isolated, alone and lost in the middle of the desert. Ok, ok, enough of this drama… but if we didn’t have our guide with us, we’d be in big trouble. But everything turned out well at the end.
Mike, our guide, had a phone that looked like those old models, big and brick-like really, and contacted the agency in San Pedro so they could come to our rescue. He also asked if someone in the car needed to get back to San Pedro early, as we could have another appointment that day. Anyone who was in a hurry could have gone in another agency’s car, but everyone preferred to stay and enjoy the adventure.
The weather got stormy and a very strong wind started rocking the car. A very light rain started as well, but no more than a few drops fell. We even got to take a nap in the car zzzzzzZZZZ.
A couple hours later we noticed two cars coming our way – yes, our rescue! Flavia, the owner of the agency, came along and brought us some delicious sandwiches. We had a great snack and received the best attention possible.
Hurdles are part of any trip, and Ayllu Expediciones gave us all the necessary support to turn that into a fun moment. I loved this hurdle!
Car fixed, it was time to head back to San Pedro and, believe it or not, we still had another surprise! With the sky covered in clouds and a lot of humidity, the sun came down lighting the horizon in crimson red and very soon the temperature plummeted. It was really cold… like, reeeeally cold… And with the humidity, guess what happened? Yeah, believe me: it snowed in the desert!
We stopped the car at the roadside and ran to enjoy the snowflakes out of the car. Unfortunately, I couldn’t even register that moment in photos – everything was so fast and fun that the only record was in my memory. But believe me, this is not just a tall tale – it really snowed in the desert!
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And this is how my amazing experience in the Atacama Desert in 2014 came to an end. It was 4 days (not counting the arrival and departure) of pure adventure and lots of surprises. I visited incredible places, went trekking, climbed mountains, descended slopes, saw volcanos and geysers, and yes, I was fascinated and completely in love with the Atacama Desert.
On the next day, I would head to Bolivia for the hippiest adventure of my life. The Salar do Uyuni was my next destination, and I’ll tell everything about it here on the blog.
General information about Salar de Tara:
- The tour was made with Ayllu Expediciones and cost $ 60,000 chilean pesos (updated in 2015). Click here for more information about Agencies in San Pedro de Atacama.
- Since it’s at 4,400 meters of altitude, it’s essential to take some precautions: drink a lot of water the day before and avoid alcohol. During the tour, walk slowly and avoid quick movements.
- Warm clothes are necessary. At some points the wind is strong and during the morning, as well as at the end of the day, it gets pretty cold.
- Sunglasses, water, hat/cap and lip balm are important, just like in every other tour in the Atacama.