In front of Laguna Miscanti
Never have we visited a place in which the landscape looked more like a beautiful painting. The Lagunas Altiplanticas were stunning to say the least. This tour was a highlight of our time in the Atacama Desert.
Panorama of the volcanoes surrounding the Laguna Meniques
The Lagunas Altiplanticas are three spectacular lakes that are located in the Los Flamingos National Reserve. The word “Altiplano” refers to the high plains region of the Andes that stretch through Chile, Bolivia, Peru, and Argentina.
The lakes we visited are Laguna Chaxa, Laguna Miscanti, and Laguna Meniques. We also made several stops to view wildlife native to the area.
This tour was an all day tour that started early in the morning. On our way to the first lake we stopped briefly at a church in the village of Toconao. This was to allow our bodies to adjust a little to the high altitude before going up. The altitude gets up there, to around 4,100 meters or around 13,451 feet. So you do not want to run, jump, or do anything to overexert yourself. The church was a nice break from the bus, but not as spectacular as the lakes. It served its purpose.
Our first lake was Laguna Chaxa. This lake looks like a giant mirror. This is where most of the flamingos migrate. It is a great place if you enjoy photography and birds! There are three species of flamingos. The Andean flamingo is identified by its black wing tips. The Puna flamingo has a yellow beak. The Chilean flamingo has bright red knees. Our guide pointed out each type of flamingo as well as several other interesting birds.
Flamingos feeding on brine shrimp
After walking around the lake we stopped for breakfast that included the horrible instant coffee Chile is known for, Coca tea, bread, jam, cookies, and fruit. There is a small picnic area at this lake. We do recommend going here early as it gets hot with the sun beating down on the salt flats. Also, even though it is still early out, put on a generous layer of sunscreen and wear a hat. I did both and still managed to turn pink.
Flamingos in flight
After a decent, but not spectacular, breakfast we headed to the next two lakes. These lakes were surrounded by amazing scenery including mountains and volcanoes. We saw herds of vicuna, relatives of llamas and alpacas, lying out in the sun, eating, and drinking.
It is difficult to explain how beautiful these lakes are. You should see them for yourself someday. If you cannot, hopefully you will enjoy our photographs and keep in mind photographs still do not do this area justice.
A high-mountain trail beckons!
You can book this tour from almost any agency in San Pedro de Atacama. It is a popular tour for good reason!
Again, be sure and layer on that sunscreen, re-apply frequently, wear a hat, sunglasses, and bring water. The conditions here are harsh.
Seriously – protect yourself from the effects of the sun and altitude!