Atacama Salt Flat is the biggest salt deposit in Chile. It has a rough white surface below which there is a large salt lake. The salt flat has a surface area of 750,000 acres (300,000 km2), which can be appreciated in its entirety thanks to the clarity of the air. However, this great visibility distorts one's perception of distance.
The lake under the salt flat has one of the largest lithium reserves in the world. This mineral is highly used in the technology industry, and it is exploited in the southern area of the flat. This salt layer has holes which have become small lagoons which are home to a number of aquatic birds, such as flamingoes, red-gartered coots, and guallatas. There are also fauna species like the Chilean and the Andean Flamingo, Puna Plover, Hudson Mohawk, Andean Seagull, Austral Negrito, Burrowing Owl, and some types of Swallow.
The surroundings of the salt flat also have a large number of attractions. On the North and West side there is the Cordillera de la Sal (Salt Mountain Range), a chain of hills with in the shape of dinosaurs located by the route connecting Calama and San Pedro de Atacama.
Chaxa Lagoon: Chaxa Lagoon is part of Los Flamencos National Reserve and it is located 56 kms south of San Pedro de Atacama. On its surface you can see floating salt pieces blocks created by the evaporation of subterranean water. There is also a varied avifauna, the main species being the flamingo. Chaxa is not apt for swimming, and its surroundings have sharp, slippery rocks, so it is recommended to wear good shoes.
The most important attraction here is the colorful sunset, a moment in which you can observe different flamingo species, such as the Parina Chica, Parina Grande, and the Andean Flamingo, as well as other birds like the Andean seagull, Chorlo de la Puna, and Playero de Baird. There are also endemic reptiles and other animals like the Andean Fox, Tuco Tuco Mouse, and Markham's Grass Mouse.
Cejar Lagoon: Cejar is also part of Los Flamencos National Reserve. Its turquoise waters contrast with the white salt that accumulates on its shores. Unlike Chaxa, this lagoon is apt for swimming, and the salt density is so high that you can float without even swimming. This is why many people have called it "The Chilean Dead Sea".
The lagoon is cold and salty, so it is recommended to bring fresh water cans to remove the salt after swimming and towels to warm yourself up. It is also important to wear sandals or shoes because its shores are covered with salt rocks. Just like in Laguna Chaxa, in Cejar you can observe various flamingoes and bird species.
Location: Región de Antofagasta, 316 km (197.5 mi) northeast of Antofagasta. San Pedro de Atacama is located approximately 55 km (34 mi) North.
When to go: Year round.
Attractions: Wildlife, picturesque route, archeological sites, lakes and lagoons.
How to get there: Santiago-Antofagasta: by airplane, public or private transportation. Antofagasta-Calama: by public or private transportation through Ruta 5 Norte, then take the Ruta 25 until reaching Calama. From Calama to San Pedro de Atacama take the Ruta 23. From San Pedro drive towards Toconao, after a while you'll be at the salt deposit.
We recommend you that you schedule your flight to Calama to arrive in the morning so you are able to participate in the scheduled activities without affecting the itinerary.
This place has a desertic weather and it’s also some meters above sea levels, which means that throughout the year there is a very large temperature oscillation between day and night. The average annual temperature is between 14° C and 3 ° C.
Many of the excursions and tours that are done include visiting places that are in the Chilean plateau, 3,500 above sea levels. This means that people may experience altitude sickness. It is important that people drink lots of water so they keep their body well hydrated. People shouldn’t make sudden or harsh movements, and let their body get used to the heights and the altitude.
There are few ATMs in San Pedro de Atacama. You have to consider that the demand for these ATMs is high, so they don’t always have money. We advise you to bring some cash with you.
Stores in rural areas are open all day, but they close between 13.00 and 15.00. We advise you to carry local currency (Chilean pesos), since it isn’t possible to pay with debit or credit cards in kiosks and rural stores.
Do not throw garbage on the beaches, parks or streets. To take care of our environment is everyone's responsibility. Avoid fines by following the rules.
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