Day 3 in San Pedro was another early morning for us. We had booked a tour to the lagunas altiplanicas and the flamingo reserve through Cosmo Andino tours. They picked us up around 7AM and we drove about an hour to Los Flamencos National Reserve. The reserve is divided into a number of different sections but the first encompasses Laguna Chaxa and the surrounding salt flat (Salar de Atacama).
Salar de Atacama – the third largest salt flat in the world
It wasn’t long before we spotted some flamingos from a pretty long distance (good thing I had my telephoto lens). As a Floridian, I always knew that the idea of flamingos in the tropics was pure hogwash. That said, seeing a flock of them feeding in a lake at 7,500ft above sea level really drove the point home! Another interesting fact about the Salar de Atacama is that it is the world’s largest reserve of lithium. Something like 30% of the world’s supply of the metal comes from the salar so, if you are reading this blog on laptop or phone, there is a good chance your batteries have material from the salar!
After a light breakfast at the reserve we headed to the village of Socaire to have a look around. The quiet village survives on farming and has a couple of nice churches made of adobe.
Laguna Miscanti and Laguna Miñiques were the next stop after Socaire. These brackish lakes lie at 4,300m (14,000ft) and have a mirror-like surface most days. The lakes are home to a number of different bird species so it is not possible to approach the shoreline. I was impressed by the fact that there were actually park rangers present to enforce these rules.
The final laguna on the tour was the Salar de Aguas Calientes which has a nice blue lake flanked by some strange red rocks. We had a nice lunch (vegetarian friendly as well!) at this spot and did our best to capture the other-worldly colors of the terrain.
Lunch provided on the tour
On the way back to San Pedro we stopped at the village of Toconao. This was a welcome stop as it took over 2 hours from our lunch stop. The village is situated along a river which makes it the wettest place in the driest desert in the world. There are many farms in Toconao but unfortunately we didn’t get to see much as most of them were swept away by a flood earlier in the year.
All in all, we were very happy with Cosmo Andino the operator of all three of our tours (Tatio Geysers, Valle de la Luna, and Lagunas Altiplánicas). The guides were knowledgeable and spoke fluent English, the food was plentiful and the vehicles were in good condition. We paid 67,500 CLP (about $135) per person for all three tours together. This price was a slight discount over the posted prices because we booked all three tours at the same time. Another tip for other travelers would be to book late in the day as the tour companies are keen to fill the remaining seats in their vehicles.