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Altiplanic Lagoons and Atacama Salt Flats Half Day Tour

This half day tour begins in San Pedro de Atacama and takes you to the Altiplanic Lagoons, the Atacama Salt Flats, and to two Andean towns – Socaire and Toconao. See the Atacama desert’s stunning high altitude lagoons and massive salt flats, which are home to beautiful high altitude flamingos!

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Altiplanic Lagoons and Atacama Salt Flats Half Day Tour

Highlights

  • See the Atacama desert’s iconic and stunning bright blue Altiplanic Lagoons!
  • Visit the famous Atacama Salt Flats, home to high altitude flamingos
  • Learn about the lagoons and salt flats from guides who have been trained in geology!
  • Visit two small Andean towns and get a glimpse of how the locals live at in the Andes above the Atacama desert

Description

On this half day tour, you will visit the Altiplanic Lagoons, the Atacama Salt Flats, and two Andean towns (Socaire and Toconao). Led by local guides trained in geology, you will learn about how the salt flats came to be, why they are so large, and how the flamingos survive in such an intense environment. You will also learn about how the Altiplanic Lagoons were formed and why they and the mountains around them have such a special color. During your stops in Toconao and Socaire, you will get to see how locals live in the Andean desert and take in some spectacular views of the desert and salt flats from on high. Walk slow (you’ll be at high altitude most of the day), put on a good pair of sunglasses, and enjoy some of the most spectacular views that you can find in Chile’s grand northern desert!

The price does not include entrance to the park, which is $2,500 Chilean pesos (about $5 USD), paid in cash to the park rangers. (Note that we do not include the park entrance fee in the price at the request of the tour operator – they prefer that customers bring their own cash for this fee, instead of being responsible for bringing sufficient cash for the group).

Itinerary

(Note that the middle part of the itinerary may vary – this tour operator does a good job of trying to visit destinations when there are not many other travelers there, so sometimes they flip or rearrange the order of the itinerary)

  • Pick up at your hotel/hostel between 06:30-7:00am
  • Quick stop in the town of Toconao to enjoy the views and to use the bathroom
  • Drive up over 13,000 feet (~4,000 meters) to the Altiplanic Lagoons – Miscanti and Miñiques; here you will have time to walk around and your guide will explain the many geological phenomena you see around you
  • Stop at a church in Socaire on the way down to learn more about living in the Andes in the desert and to enjoy the views of the flats
  • Visit the Atacama Salt Flats, where you should see flamingos grazing in the shallow water and flying against the epic backdrop of Andean mountains
  • Drop-off back in San Pedro around 14:00 pm

What’s Included

  • Transport from hotel to destination and back
  • Experienced and Knowledgeable guide

What to Bring

  • Layers – the temperature will fluctuate a lot during the day depending on the sun, the altitude, and the wind; bring a lot of layers, keeping in mind that you can always leave excess layers in the van
  • Sunglasses and/or a hat – it is extremely bright and the sun is intense at altitude
  • Sunscreen and/or long sleeves – you will not be exposed for too long, but you will be at altitude, so it is best to protect yourself
  • Water – staying hydrated is an important part of defending against altitude sickness

Important Notes

Please note that in order to reserve this tour, we need to pay the operator immediately, so all bookings are non-refundable. If you have any questions before booking or want to confirm a certain date, please email us at info@keteka.com.

This day tour will take you to over 13,000 feet (~4,000 meters), so we highly recommend that you hydrate well the night before and stay hydrated during the day (this helps prevent altitude sickness). Also avoid alcoholic drinks the night before this trip. If you commonly suffer from altitude sickness, we recommend taking this tour a few days into your visit to Atacama in order to acclimate. This excursion is not recommended for people who suffer from high blood pressure or heart deceases. Pregnant women and children younger than 4 years old should also skip this tour.

Rules and Regulations in the National Park

The Altiplanic Lagoons are a part of the Flamingos National Reserve. Drinking alcohol, smoking, and collecting rocks is strictly prohibited. Visitors are prohibited from walking in restricted areas. Stay on trails. There is no phone reception at the Altiplanic Lagoons, but the operator will have a satellite phone in case of emergencies.

Map

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Altiplano Lagoons

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Altiplano Lagoons -23.433532, -67.278248

Additional Information:

Geology of Salt Flats

The evaporation of a water pool, such as a lake or pond, forms a salt pan in climates where the rate of water evaporation exceeds the rate of precipitation, like a desert climate. If the water is unable to drain into the Earth, it remains on the surface until it can evaporate, leaving behind minerals precipitated from salt ions dissolved in the water. The minerals (salts) accumulate on the surface over thousands of years and reflect the sun’s rays, often appearing as white expanses. Be warned, salt flats can also be dangerous, as the crust of the sand sometimes conceals a quag of mud that can engulf a truck!

History of the Atacama Desert

Humans have inhabited the Atacama desert for over 10,000 years, but the first organized tribes began to roam the region as hunter-gatherers about 7,000 years ago. The Loa River, the main water source of the desert, sustained agricultural and llama-herding villages dispersed along it and around San Pedro de Atacama from around 900 BC. Around Lake Titicaca, the Tiwanaku culture rose to prominence, and its influence is reflected today in local textile iconography. As this group collapsed, the Atacamenos dominated the desert beginning in 1000 BC through developing a system to transport goods from the coast to the Andean highland. Then, the Inca Empire absorbed this group in the 15th century.

The origin of the desert’s title, “Atacama,” remains a topic of debate. Some attribute the name to the Tacama duck, which is indigenous to northern Chile and the Peruvian coast and flaunts a black and white coat. Others trace its etymology to the indigenous Kunza language, which has a word, “Atchamar,” meaning “head of the country.” It is how the Atacamenos referred to their land.

Tales of gold somewhere south of the Incan Empire drew the first Europeans to the Atacama desert. Spanish conquistador Diego de Almagro first set food in the region, and the invasion of the Spanish led to the downfall of the Incas and Atacamenos, who resisted the European rule. The Atacamenos were massacred in large numbers before signing an agreement to remain subjects of the Spanish later in the 15th century.

Chile claimed the Atacama desert as part of its territory as a result of the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), and it labeled the indigenous groups in the area as Chilean nationals. Tribes were torn apart as the national borders between Chile, Peru and Bolivia broke ties. Many of the Atacamenos engaged in silver nitrate and copper mining in the 19th century, but the silver nitrate industry collapsed in the early 20th century and it resulted in an economic crisis. In 1933, the Chilean government finally recognized the Atacamenos as one of the nine indigenous groups in Chile. However, the state never fairly redistributed the tribe’s ancestral land, which they view as sacred.

Recently, tourism has created a new economic opportunity for the indigenous groups and other peoples in Atacama. Cultural tourism provides a viable source of income for locals in small villages that practice llama herding or mining, and some find they no longer need to migrate to larger cities like Calama to support themselves and their families.

Tips for Adjusting to the Altitude

San Pedro rests at 2,407 meters, which is just over the threshold for altitude sickness. At high altitudes, the air pressure drops, and with each breath you take, there is less oxygen than at sea level entering your blood. The effect of this reduced blood oxygen level varies depending on the person, but people commonly report symptoms of dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, headaches, tiredness and loss of appetite. Fittingly, altitude sickness has been described as being like a very bad hangover. Some people also have trouble sleeping at high altitude, due to “periodic breathing” (your body alternating between deep and shallow breaths). Your breathing might even pause completely, making you wake up with a gasp. This is called an “apnoea,” and you needn’t worry too much about it.

Your body will naturally adapt to the lower oxygen level by making more blood cells to carry oxygen around, and by taking deeper, more frequent breaths. Acclimatization typically takes three to five days, after which time you should stop feeling the effects of altitude.

The best defense against altitude sickness is a gradual ascent. If you start feeling altitude sickness the best thing to do is to descend. But if your itinerary doesn’t allow for that, stay where you are. In other words, if you start feeling any symptoms of altitude sickness, don’t climb any higher. Drinking water before and during your travel can also help. Dehydration is one of the main causes of altitude sickness. You will naturally breathe more frequently at a high altitude to get more oxygen into your blood, but because the air is also dry you will lose more water from exhaling than you’re gaining from breathing in. Aim for 2-3 liters of water a day before you travel to pre- hydrate your body. Keep this going once you’re at the high altitude. You can also ask your doctor about altitude sickness remedies. Some doctors will prescribe Diamox / Acetazolamide, which you should start taking a couple of days before arriving at altitude and continue for 48 hours after arrival. One alternative to Diamox is Exedrin Migraine, which just treats the headache side of altitude sickness. When you arrive in Atacama, eat a high-carb, low protein diet, avoid alcohol and coffee, and drink coca tea, for which you can buy the leaves in many San Pedro convenience stores. However, most people only feel the effects of altitude very mildly, so you shouldn’t let concerns about altitude ruin your upcoming trip.

Weather in San Pedro de Atacama

The sun is almost always shining on San Pedro de Atacama, and the desert experiences very little rainfall. Its warmest month is January, when temperatures reach an average high of 77 F (25 C) and a low of 46 F (8 C). Its coldest month is July, when temperatures usually remain around 70 F (11 C) during midday and drop below freezing at night. The mountainous area near El Tatio Geysers remains very cold year-round, especially in the morning, so it’s best to wear several layers. Make sure to pack a towel and warm clothes to put on after your swim.

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What Happens After I Book?

After you book your experience, you will receive a confirmation email from us confirming that your payment went through. You will then be connected directly to the tour operator, in case you have any further questions. We are also happy to answer any questions about the tour, or travel in general in your country of destination.

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