Comprising salt flats, azure lagoons and flocks of feeding flamingos, Los Flamencos National Reserve in the north of Chile is undoubtedly one of the region’s top destinations for tourists.
Accessible from San Pedro de Atacama, this reserve is split into seven section, all of which are easy to visit and promise a range of stunning sights.
El Valle de La Luna
El Valle de La Luna or Moon Valley is perhaps the best-known attraction in Los Flamencos National Reserve. Named after the way this ancient landscape wouldn’t look out of place on the Moon, El Valle de La Luna is a special place for watching the sunrise or sunset.
Aldea de Tulor
A short distance from Moon Valley is the Aldea de Tulor, the ruins of a village complex, parts of which date back as early as 800 BC. Explore the site by walking along the boardwalk that weaves between the mud buildings and learn about the region’s history of human settlement at the museum.
Lagunas Miscanti and Miñiques
Perhaps the most spellbinding of the many lagoons in Los Flamencos National Reserve, Miscanti and Miñiques are located around 70-miles (110km) from San Pedro de Atacama.
Here, these two high-altitude lakes shimmer in the bright sun, surrounded by a thin crust of salt and the dusty, barren desert. You can see native fauna such as the Andean fox roaming the shores, as well as flocks of all three flamingo species that inhabit the region, Andean, James’s and Chilean.
Another stunning lagoon, Chaxa is a prime destination for seeing the resident flamingo species, particularly the Andean flamingo, which uses this lake for breeding.
Walk around the lake and admire the saline waters as they merge into the crusty salt of the Salar de Atacama, another mesmerizing sight.
Salar de Tara
The least visited of all the attractions in Los Flamencos National Reserve is the Salar de Tara. As you arrive at these salt flats, a set of sheer, volcanic rocks (the Catedrales de Tara or Tara Cathedrals) rise out of the desert, set to the backdrop of the Salar de Tara, which is bordered by saline lakes and home to a small population of llamas.
You can also visit the Monejas de Pacana (the Monks of Pacana), another group of strange rock formations that stand stoically in the middle of the desert.
Tips for exploring Los Flamencos National Reserve
- Organize tours of Los Flamencos National Reserve and the Atacama Desert from San Pedro de Atacama. It’s sometimes possible to arrange a discount if you book more than one tour with the same agency.
- You can also visit the area under your own steam with a rental car. However, places such as the Salar de Tara are difficult to reach without a guide, so make sure you have a good map if you’re planning on attempting the trip alone.