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Altiplano Lagoons, Salt Flats, & Red Rocks Atacama

On this day trip from San Pedro, you will see the stunning, bright blue high altitude lagoons, the rainbow Red Rocks, and the famous and photogenic Atacama Salt Flat, with its amazing vistas and grazing flamingos.

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USD $115.00

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Altiplano Lagoons, Salt Flats, & Red Rocks Atacama

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

Overview

The high altitude lagoons shine a stunning bright blue and are surrounded by mountain-tops and hills covered in salt and snow. The Red Rocks Atacama are a rainbow that you didn’t think was possible in a geological formation and are reflected in the pristine high altitude lake just below them. You will also see the famous and photogenic Atacama Salt Flat, which is home to flamingos and some of the best vistas you will see in the country. This day trip from San Pedro de Atacama also includes visits to the high altitude towns of Socaire and Toconao, where you will get chances to eat and explore local artisan shops.

Socaire: While this tiny town is mostly known for its proximity to the salt flats of Atacama, a brief stop here will give you a glimpse into life in the desert and the chance to buy some handmade crafts.

Altiplano Lagoons: You’ll get to see the Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons with the Miscanti hill and Miñiques volcano looming behind them. The last eruption of the Miñiques volcano is unknown, but it is believed that one long ago once formed the divide between the two lagoons.

Red Rocks: Like many landmarks of the Atacama desert, this stunning rock formation was once formed by volcanic activity in the region. This site may be named for the red rocks you’ll be walking over, but the distant landscape will enchant you just as much.

Salt Flats: The Atacama Salt Flat isn’t quite like the one of Uyuni, Bolivia. This salt flat has a rougher texture that rises out of the ground unlike the white, smooth flat in Uyuni. Though you may not be able to take crazy perspective photos, this salt flat is still quite a unique site to see. And aside from the lagoons, this is another great spot to possibly spot some flamingos.

Toconao: You’ll get to wander this town to see a lovely little square with small white bell tower, with opportunity to stop in a few more shops and maybe even see a llama up close.

Itinerary

  • Pick up at your hostel: 07:30 am-08:00 am
  • Breakfast in the town of Socaire, on the way up to the Lagoons
  • Visit the Altiplanic Lagoons Miscanti and Miñiques, at over 4,000 meters (over 13,000 feet)!
  • Visit the Red Rocks in a desolate and gorgeous Andean valley
  • Visit the Atacama Salt Flat – one of the largest salt flats in the world and home to high altitude flamingos
  • Explore the town of Toconao, where you can visit local shops, or simply enjoy the view of the valley from the town square
  • Drop-off: 18:00 pm

What’s Included

  • Transport from hotel to destination and back
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Experienced and knowledgeable bilingual guide

What’s Not Included

  • The price does not include entrance to the parks, which is $5,000 pesos (about $8 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)

Important Notes

It is recommended that you bring winter clothing and comfortable trekking shoes. Due to the high altitude it can get rather cold and much of the ground in the desert is uneven, so it is best to have enclosed, stable footwear with good traction.

Altitude: Please note that this excursion takes you to more than 4,000 meters (over 13,000 feet) above sea level, so it will be important to remain hydrated, both leading up to the tour and during the tour. It is also recommended to avoid alcoholic drinks the night before this trip. If you have clearly been drinking heavily the night before, you may be asked not to get on the tour.

If you commonly suffer from altitude sickness, we recommend taking this tour after spending a few days in Atacama in order to acclimate. This excursion is not recommended for people who suffer from high blood pressure or heart disease. Pregnant women and children younger than 4 years old should not take this tour.

Rules and Regulations in the National Park 

The Altiplano 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. IMPORTANT: In this area there is no phone reception. However, your guide will have a satellite phone for emergencies.

This tour operator offers regular tours for groups of up to 15 people. Your reservation admits you to be a part of one of these groups. If you are interested in organizing a private tour for yourself or for a group, contact us in the chat box in the bottom right corner, or send us an email at info@keteka.com!

Map

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Altiplano Lagoons

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History of the Region

The Atacama Desert has been inhabited for over 10,000 years. However, the first organized tribes only began to roam the area as hunter-gatherers about 7,000 years ago. The Loa River acts as the main water source of the desert with sustained agricultural and llama-herding villages scattered around it and San Pedro de Atacama since about 900 BC. Near Lake Titicaca, the Tiwanaku culture grew in power, and its influence is still seen today in the region’s textile iconography. As this group faded, the Atacamenos took control in the desert  in 1000 BC by developing a system to transport goods from the coast to the Andes. Then, the 15th century saw the rise of the Inca Empire.

The origin of the name, “Atacama,” is still debated. Some believe the name stems from the black-and-white-coated Tacama duck, a species that is indigenous to both northern Chile and the Peruvian coast. Others trace the name to the indigenous Kunza language, which has a word, “Atchamar”. This means “head of the country”, and it is how the Atacamenos referred to their land.

Tales of gold somewhere south of the Inca Empire it was first led Europeans to the Atacama Desert. Spanish conquistador Diego de Almagro first set foot in the region. From there, the Spanish invaded and brought the downfall of the Incas and Atacamenos, who had resisted European rule. The Atacamenos were killed in masses before they signed an agreement to remain subjects of the Spanish.

Chile claimed the Atacama Desert as part of its territory following the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), and 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 Atacamenos engaged in silver nitrate and copper mining in the 19th century until the silver nitrate industry collapsed in the early 20th century, leading to an economic crisis. In 1933, the Chilean government finally acknowledged the Atacamenos as one of nine indigenous groups in the country. However, the state never fairly redistributed the tribe’s ancestral land, which they view as sacred.

Recently, tourism has built new economic opportunities for indigenous groups and other peoples in Atacama. Cultural tourism acts as a crucial source of income for locals in tiny 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.

Weather

The Atacama Desert is much like any other desert in the sense that no matter the time of year, you’ll experience warm weather and strong sun during the day, followed by cold temperatures at night. The lack of precipitation makes it pretty easy to plan trips to San Pedro de Atacama as the only difference between the summer and winter is a greater extreme of heat during the summer. Dressing in layers is ideal for this sort of climate. That way, as the day heats you can shed clothes that you will be able to put back on as night begins to fall. And if you have a lightweight long-sleeve shirt, you can decide whether or not to keep it on to guard against the sun’s rays.

Radiation from the sun is quite high year-round. So not only should you be careful concerning the heat of the sun, but you should also seriously consider applying sunblock as it will not only protect your skin but help ward off the sun from draining your energy.

Geology of Deserts

When people think of deserts, sand is often the first thing that comes to mind. Which makes it interesting to think that much of the sand in deserts likely didn’t originate from that location. While some desert sand is formed by the erosion of rocks in the area, much of it was once brought there. It often traveled by means of water flow from sources such as a river. As deserts are now often found without bodies of water, it is believed that the sand was carried there before the area developed the arid climate that makes water scarce and transformed into the deserts we see now. Desert sand also tends to be finer than that of beaches, for example, leading it to also be blown around in the wind much easier.

Sand in the desert also heavily contributes to rock formations. The constant shifting of the sand wears away at the surfaces over time, shaping or flattening them. Rocks are mostly made up of crystals of a variety of minerals, though some can form from the remains of animals or compressed pieces of plants. Rocks are also broken up into three different types: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic.

Igneous rocks are the product of volcanoes, forming when magma crystallizes and solidifies. Granite is actually a type of igneous rock. Sedimentary rocks form from previously existing rocks (clastic sedimentary), remains of creatures (biologic sedimentary), or from chemical precipitation (chemical sedimentary). Sandstone and shale are both examples of sedimentary rocks. Metamorphic rocks aren’t quite as common on the Earth’s surface, as the process through which they are formed most commonly occurs in the Earth’s inner layer. Metamorphic rocks begin as other rocks, and adopt their name as they are transformed by conditions such as high pressure and high heat. A combination of these factors makes the formation of metamorphic rocks even more likely, which is why this tends to occur underneath the Earth’s surface where tectonic plates meet.

Sand and rocks work in a cycle of sorts that spans thousands of years, as sand can eventually transform into sedimentary rock. This happens through two joint processes called compaction and cementation, which together are called sedimentation. Compaction occurs when layer after layer of sediments pile on top of each other over an incredibly long period of time, the sediments at the bottom pressing tighter and tighter together until they eventually become sedimentary rock. Cementation contributes to sedimentation because as these sediments pack together, the minerals from them act as a sort of glue that helps fuse these particles together.

And then there are sand dunes, considered to be an icon of deserts. These are formed simply by wind blowing sand together, and this causes every sand dune to have a windward side and a slipface. The windward side is where the wind pushes up the sand while the slipface is the side without any wind. Dunes can also have multiple slipfaces. For example, star dunes are identified by having at least three slipfaces. The only dunes that don’t have a slipface are dome dunes, and those are quite rare. Other shapes of sand dunes include crescentic, linear, and parabolic.

Conservation

When on a tour through the desert, please listen carefully to your guide and respect boundaries set out in the parks. They don’t simply serve a mundane purpose. These instructions and boundaries exist for a reason, and that reason is often to preserve this beautiful landscape. In recent years, a tourist decided to climb around on the Three Marys in Moon Valley and broke part of it. It’s not only a shame to see that such damage has happened to such an icon of the park, but is also gives other travelers a bad name. Also, aside from damaging the environment, climbing these structures can also be quite dangerous. Because even though they may appear as solid rock, they often aren’t and could easily crumble, ruining the structure and putting you at risk.

  1. 5 out of 5
    Rated 5 out of 5

    (verified owner):

    Every stop on this tour was very different and so beautiful in its own way…some of the most stunning landscapes I have ever seen in my life! The day started when we were picked up at our hostel. We saw lots of wildlife on the drive, including a flock of baby rheas! We drove to the Aguas Calientes and were one of the first groups there (it was starting to get more crowded by the time we left). The day was incredibly clear, with the beautiful sight of a mountain reflecting in the water. Our guides prepared breakfast at this stop. Our next stop were the Lagoons, which were stunning. We finished the day checking out flamingoes in their reserve. Our guide was very knowledgeable and spoke in both English and Spanish, she was attentive to the dietary restrictions of one group member, and she was respectful of the reserve. I highly recommend this tour! My only advice is to eat a granola bar in the morning, as you don’t eat breakfast right away.

  2. 5 out of 5
    Rated 5 out of 5

    :

    This tour is amazing! The breakfast and lunch are delicious and all of the tour stops are beautiful. The guide was very knowledgeable and interesting, he started the tour a little earlier than most similar tours would start so we could beat the crowds of tourists. We got to see flamingos, vicunas and Andean foxes! Would definitely recommend this tour!!

  3. 5 out of 5
    Rated 5 out of 5

    :

    Tour was great! On time for both pickup and drop off, extremely informative, and very accommodating of all dietary restrictions! 10/10!

  4. 4 out of 5
    Rated 4 out of 5

    :

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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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