The tour

The tour of Lagunas Altiplánicas and Piedras Rojas is scheduled in the morning by the agencies and starts very early. At 5 am in the morning, the vans begin to get the participants from their accommodation (this day, we left a little late, which was to be expected as a Brazilian tour! ^^). At dawn and in the morning, it is sooooo cold in the Atacama Desert, so leave with some layers of clothes, regardless of the season. Later on, I will give some tips about what you should take with you.

Old church in Socaire
Old church in Socaire

From San Pedro de Atacama we drove for 86 km to the first stop, the village of Socaire. On the way, we saw the sun rising over the mountains and volcanoes in the desert. It is worth it to stay awake this part of the way, as the landscape is even more beautiful in the colors of the dawn.

Socaire is the last small town on Route CH-23, before Argentina. As we arrived very early, it seemed that the small village was still sleeping. And the main attraction of the town is the old church, with the typical architecture of the Atacama Desert, built with mud bricks and a straw roof. The church was closed so we just stopped for an outside photo and to go to the bathroom (which on that day had to be outdoors! hehe But usually they stop at one of the establishments on the way. However, take the chance whenever you can because in Atacama there aren’t a lot of possibilities to go to the bathroom outdoors and the next toilet stop will take a while).

After the quick stop in Socaire, we continued to Salar de Talar. Don’t confuse it with Salar de Tara, which is another tour. Still try to stay awake, because on the way, you can see some animals, such as vicuñas and guanacos, which are camelid like animals, as well as llamas and alpacas, but are exclusively wild. Pay attention because they camouflage very well in the Atacama vegetation. Drink a lot of water so you don’t get problems with the altitude.

Laguna Tuyacto
Laguna Tuyacto

Salar de Talar is at an altitude of 3,950 meters and spreads over an area of ​​46 square kilometers. It is in this Salar that you will find the famous Piedras Rojas and Laguna Tuyacto, which was our first stop.

The water of Tuyacto has a milky tone due to the salt. At some days of the year, it has a high salt concentration around it and becomes even more beautiful. When we were there, there wasn’t a lot. On the other hand, the water mirror was perfect, reflecting the surrounding mountains.

Laguna Tuyacto is a few kilometers from Piedras Rojas where we went next. During the tour, our guide Dani, explained to us the geological formation of this region and the reason for the intense red color of the stones, which is due to the great concentration of iron, coming from volcanic lava. By the way, Dani is an excellent guide. Super fun and with very good explanations. Moreover, he is always helping to get great photos! =)

As Ayllu specializes in giving tours for Brazilians and the group was almost all Brazilian (except for Julie, who is German but speaks Portuguese), the explanation was all in Portunhol (portuguese +spanish). But they also speak English and have tourists from other nacionalities as well.  Dani understands Portuguese very well, so we talked all in Portuguese. All the explanation is made on the way in the car so that you can spend more time outside, enjoying the scenery and taking photos. And also that you don’t freeze too much!

I repeat again, be prepared for the cold, which ranges from below zero to 10 degrees and the wind is very strong in Piedras Rojas. We did the tour in late May and the temperature was below freezing. Also avoid to take off your gloves to take pictures, so that you don’t get frostbites on your hands, which happened to me.

When we got to Piedras Rojas, we were nearly alone only together with one other group from Ayllu, which was very good to take good photos. Ayllu groups are a maximum of 10 people per car, which is great because we can get to know people better (our group was really fun) and the guide can explain everything without being interrupted.

Red Stones, Salar de Talar
Red Stones, Salar de Talar

While we took photos and admire the stunning landscape (which is best described by the pictures than by words), Ayllu team prepared the breakfast, overlooking one of the most beautiful lagoons in Piedras Rojas. The offered breakfast is very good with everything you could need: fruits, bread, biscuits, tea, coffee, nutella … everyone will be satisfied. I think this was the most beautiful place I’ve ever had breakfast in my whole life! But we ate quickly as the cold was hard to bear.

After breakfast, we went to Lagunas Altiplánicas, and in case you think that the landscape cannot be as beautiful as the one of Piedras Rojas, you are surprised by the beauty of these lagoons.

We visited just two of the Lagunas Altiplanic: Miskanti and Miñiques are inside Los Flamencos National Reserve. The entrance fee of $ 3,000 CLP per person (May 2017) is paid extra.

Laguna Miskanti
Laguna Miskanti

The first lagoon, Miskanti, is the largest and in my opinion the most beautiful one. With a very blue and calm water, surrounded by the volcano with the same name and other mountains, that had a very beautiful contrast between the white of the snow and the dark color of the rock formations, next to the greenish-yellow of the Atacama vegetation, at the end of May. The pond is shaped like a heart, which can be seen best by looking at the map: https://goo.gl/maps/hSzifaTzUvz .

At this lagoon you can go to the bathroom (puhh!) and also do a trail in case you want to walk around the lagoon, respecting the boundaries marked by stones. There are flamingos (that we just saw from far away) and vicuñas.

Vicuña in Lagunas Altiplánicas
Vicuña in Lagunas Altiplánicas

By car, we went to Miñiques lagoon, which is next to Miskanti, but too far to go on foot. The two lagoons were separated by petrified lava from an eruption of the Miñiques volcano. Yes, as you would expect in Atacama, next to the lagoon Miñiques there is another volcano.

Laguna Miñiques
Laguna Miñiques

Miñiques is much smaller than Miskanti and the volcano was not as snowy as the other one, so I think the first one is more beautiful. However, the two are stunning!

On the way back from Lagunas Altiplánicas, we saw even more animals like vicuñas and guanacos (difficult to differentiate one from the other) and also a fox (Culpeo fox), a typical species in South American countries.

Fox in the Atacama Desert
Fox in the Atacama Desert

Along the way, the sun begins to heat up the air, and the altitude decreases, as well as the wind. So, you can enjoy the scenery a lot more and for longer.
 [Vicuña on the road and the usual question in Atacama: is it snow or salt?]
The last stop before lunch is at the Tropic of Capricorn, parallel to the South of the Equator. A sign on Route CH-23 marks the place where the imaginary line passes.

With Fred and Julie at the Tropic of Capricorn
With Fred and Julie at the Tropic of Capricorn

We returned to San Pedro de Atacama around 2pm, for lunch at Ayllu’s restaurant. The lunch was a free buffet, full of great choices (we even had feijoada!), with enough option for vegetarians as well. To accompany it with a drink of juice, soda, white and red wine.

Lunch at Ayllu's restaurant
Lunch at Ayllu’s restaurant

A perfect tour from start to finish! <3

Landscape along the road
Landscape along the road

As it is a half-day tour, some people take two tours a day. But I believe it is very tiring, since you get up at about 4:30 in the morning. If you want to do two tours try to find a second which leaves as late as possible in the afternoon. Considering as well extra time for an eventual delay of the first tour.

 

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Written in Portuguese by Karla Larissa

Translation by Juliane Boll

Leia este post em português:

Lagunas Altiplânicas e Piedras Rojas: passeio imperdível no Deserto do Atacama