- Atacama Desert & Altiplano
- San Pedro de Atacama
- Los Flamencos National Reserve
The Los Flamencos National Reserve houses and protects a rich diversity of flora and fauna in the middle of the Atacama Desert.
This reserve, created in 1990, consists of seven areas located in the town of San Pedro de Atacama. Each one of them has a different geography, flora, fauna and hydrography.
The Tara Salt Flat - Aguas Calientes area is five hours east of San Pedro. Here you will find attractions like: Tara lagoon and salt flat, Zapaleri river, Aguas Calientes 1 Salt Flat, and Negra Lagoon. The animals that dwell in this area are the vicuña and the Andean fox, whereas the most important flora specimens are the water tola (Baccharis tola) and the amaia.
The area of Pujsa Salt Flat is located a bit further south of Tara-Aguas Calientes. Just like the former, its relief features rolling plains with an inter-mountain depression and the hills of Negro de Pujsa and Balle. The fauna present in the area includes vizcachas, tawny tuco-tucos, flamingoes, rheas, condors and eaglets, among others.
The Lagoons Miscanti - Miñiques area is located south of Socaire, and it is remarkable for its beautiful lagoons, which give the reserve its name, as well as a rich and varied fauna with flamingoes, crested ducks, rheas, eaglets, and lesser horned owls. Its mountainous geography is made up by hills and volcanoes, reaching a maximum altitude of 5,910 meters (19,384 ft) above sea level.
There are two differente areas in the Atacama Salt Flat: Soncor and Quelana. Being part of the salt flat, the soils in this area is flat and saline, located at 2,300 meters (7,544 ft) above sea level. Several bird species dwell here, but the flamingo is the most characteristic by far. There are three lagoons: Puilar, Chaxas and Barros Negros, which form the hydric system of the reserve. Regarding glore, the most important species are the giant kelp, cachiyuyo, brea and salty distichlis spicata.
Moon Valley is also part of the reserve; the gray and South American red fox dwell here, as well as eaglets, chercans, thrushes and others. The Salt Mountain Chain is responsible for the existence of this valley, and there are no water sources in the area.
Los Flamencos National Reserve Basic Information
How to get there: Santiago - Antofagasta: public and private air and land transportation. Antofagasta - Calama: public and private land transportation by Ruta 5 Norte (Route 5 North). When reaching Carmen Alto, take the Route 25, until you get to Calama. From there, continue southeast through Route 23, until getting to San Pedro de Atacama. Leave San Pedro and take the road to Toconao, and at kilometer 33 you will meet the Area Administration.
When to go: Year round.
Climate: Given the extension of the reserve, its areas have different climates. Koepen classified them into three different type: high climate, high steppe (up to 5.200 mts), and icy (from 5.200 mts on). The rainy season occurs between December and March, and it is frequently associated to electric storms.
Services: Park ranger, environmental information center, trails.
Los Flamencos National Reserve Infrastructure and Services
Park's Administration office: The administration office is located in the Ayllu of Solor, near San Pedro de Atacama.
Park Ranger's office: In Toconao.
Environmental Information Center: There is an environmental information center next to the administration office. Phone number: 851608, cell phone: 08 248 50 00.
Other Services: Facilities for disabled people, trails, camping and picnic areas, viewpoints, fishing areas.
Attractions in Los Flamencos National Reserve
What to see:
- Tara Tara Salt Flat and the northeast area of Aguas Calientes are the most attractive places to visit in this reserve. Other interesting areas (for sightseeing and bird sighting) are Miscanti and Miñiques lagoons.
- Of course, you cannot miss the chance to go through the Atacama Salt Flat in its entirety, including the areas of Soncor and Quelana, especially at sunset and dusk.
- Moon Valley is a 500-meter depression with astonishing formations caused by the erosion in the Salt range, which have made it famous and admired throughout the world.
- Finally, Tambillo is especially attractive, especially due to its forest of Tamarugos
What to do:
- Excursions: throughout the park.
- Wildlife observation: throughout the park.
- Observation and cultural tours: the areas of Tara salt flat, Miscanti and Miñiques lagoons, and Moon Valley.
- ‘La Duna’ Trail: with an extension of 900 meters (2,952 ft), it can be covered in about two hours. It is an informal path that stretches from the road that crosses the Moon Valley up to the sand covered slopes. Visitors are asked not to enter with vehicles to the base of the dune, but use the existing path. Along the way it is possible to observe geologic formations unique in Chile, and the forms of erosion that give the valley its name. It is recommended to carry a lot of liquid and sun block.
- Moon Valley Trail: with a stretch of 8 to 12 kilometers (5 to 7.5 mi), and taking around 4 hours to hike, the path runs parallel to the road that crosses the Moon Valley. This gives you a full view of the landscape's beauty and the erosion forms derived from a more humid climate than the present one. It is recommended to bring protection against the wind, take a lot of liquid, and sunscreen lotion.
- Tara Salt Flat Trail: this trail takes you through the north border of the Tara Salt Flat up to the mouth of Zapalén; it has an extension of 8 to 10 kilometers (5 to 6 mi). It allows you to observe the breathtaking forms of erosion, along with the wildlife (flamingoes and vicuñas).The walk is carried out over a plateau located 4,300 meters (14,104 ft) above sea level. Due to the lack of oxygen, the visitor should walk slowly and wear warm clothes (high mountain). In summer, you should hike during the first hours of the morning, because after noon, electric storms are common.
- Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoon Network Trail: it has an extension of 8 to 12 kilometers (5 to 7.5 mi), which can be hiked in 3-4 hours. It allows you to admire the shores of Miscanti and Miñiques lagoons as the mountain chain dominates the background (volcanoes). A variety of bird fauna lives in the area (mainly horny coots, Andean seagulls, caitis, blanquillos and flamingoes). Difficulty level: The lagoons are located at 4.300 mts, forcing visitors to walk slowly and wear warm clothers due to the altitude. In summer, you should hike during the first hours of the morning, because after 12:00 pm electric storms are common.
- Soncor Trail: it has an extension of 4 to 5 kilometers (2.5 to 3 mi), and it takes about 3 hours to tour. The visitor can explore the ‘San Luis’ bridge and its surroundings, taking in the view of the lagoons and watching the fauna. Among the animal life that stands out are the Andean, Chilean and James flamingoes, Baird birds, caitis, and Andean seagulls. It is very important that the visitor use sun block to protect against UV rays and drink a lot of liquid.
Los Flamencos National Reserve Natural Heritage
This reserve is located in the province of Loa, district of San Pedro de Atacama. One of the main features of Los Flamencos is that it is made up by seven areas located in different places of the district. Each one of those areas has a different relief, hydrography, flora, and fauna.
Tara Salt Flat-Aguas Calientes:
It is located east of San Pedro de Atacama, in the middle of the Andes. With a maximum height of 4,860 meters m.s.l. (15,940 ft), it features volcanic structures and rolling plains with eroded slopes situated east of Tara Salt flat, and volcanic columns northeast of Aguas Calientes Salt Flat.
There are also several lagoons in this area, the largest one being Tara. The water in this salt flat comes from Zapaleri river and various other streams originated in Poquis Snowcapped Mountains. Aguas Calientes 1 Salt Flat, located southeast of Tara, gets water from intermittent streams that drain the hills of La Pacana and Aguas Calientes. Laguna Negra is located southwest of this area.
Several lagoons nourish the local flora and fauna. Vicunas, andean foxes, rheas, puna tinamous, and tawny tuco-tucos inhabit the hills and plains. Other species like James's flamingo, Chilean flamingo, andean avocet, andean gull, puna plover, Wilson's pharalope, crested duck, puna miner, and eaglets live in meadows and water mirrors.
The water tola and the amaia tola are some of the vegetal species present in this area, not only in flat and rolling soils, but also on the slopes of volcanoes and hills.
Pujsa Salt Flat:
The most characteristic features of the Pujsa Salt flat are its rolling plains, its intermontane depression, and its two volcanic structures: Puja Black Hill and Balle hill. The reserve's maximum height is 4,585 meters (15,038 ft) above sea level. The intermontane basin receives the water of streams Quepiaco and Alitar, which banks grow considerably between December and March. There are some small lagoons on the north side of the salt flat.
In Pujsa, as in Tara-Aguas Calientes salt flat, you can also find flora species like water and amaia tolas in the flat and rolling terrains. Vicunas, chulos and red foxes dwell among rocky areas and plateaus. Regarding birdlife, Chilean, James and Andean flamingoes, caitis, baird birds, plovers of the puna, Andean gulls and juarjual ducks live near ponds, springs and rivers. Eaglets, tucuquers, burrowing owls and condors live near hills and scrublands.
Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons:
This area is characterized by its volcanoes and mountainous geography. The highest peaks are hills Miñiques and Miscanti, with 5,910 meters (19,384 ft) and 5,622m (18,440 ft) respectively. Some lagoons are located over 4,000 mts (13,120 ft) m.s.l., with the same bird species found in the Pujsa salt deposit, save the Andean flamingo, the Andean gull, the sea chick and the condor. Vicunas, red foxes and leaf-eared mice are some of the mammals that also inhabit this area.
Miscanti lagoon has a surface area of 15 km2, while Miñiques covers 21 km2
Soncor and Quelana:
Two areas of this reserve are located within the territory of Atacama Salt Flat: Soncor and Quelana. They include some of the lagoons in Atacama Salt Flat, a vast salt crust located at 2.305 mts m.s.l.
Set in the great endorheic basin of Atacama Salt Flat, Socor has three lagoons connected by Burro Muerto River: from norht to south, they are Byrro Muerto, Chaxas and Barros Negros.
Despite the harsh weather conditions, there is a number of species living in the area: flamingoes (Andean and Chilean), Andean gulls, puna plovers, bairds, school birds, burrowing owls, black-breasted swallows, and tricolor sea chicks abound in lagoons, channels and riverside areas.
Quelana features a group of superficial lakes connected through channels. Their water comes from 5 intermittent streams: Allana, Camar, Cucula, El Toro and Cordonquis.
The vegetation in these areas is found alongside water bodies, and is typically salty grama, brea, cachiyuyo and Ephedra breana.
It is the most famous area in this reserve. It contains the Salt mountain range, which highest altitude reaches 2624 mts. The mountain chain originated from the successive folds on the bottom of an old superficial lake.
This area is inhabited by grey and red foxes, chululos, eaglets, chercans, tijerals, black thrushes, crown sparrows and ringdoves. Vegetation is typically salty grama, brea, cachiyuyo, Baccharis petiolata and Frankenia meyenianna, located near the Tulor area.
This area is set on the way to Toconao, in fact, the road crosses the area from one end to the other, and part of its surface belongs to the Atacama Salt Flat. Its main characteristic is the existence of mesquite trees, with a forest of 370 hectares (814 acres).
The fauna of the sector includes burrowing owls, black-breasted swallows, crow sparrows, hunting falcons, grey foxes and chululos.
There are several archaeological sites in the north area of Tara Salt Flat and in the surroundings of Miscanti and Miñiques lagoons.
It is worth mentioning the importance of Tulor, an archaeological site in Moon Valley. It is a small village made up by mud huts with circular bases. A great part of it is buried under the sand, but in a nearby excavation there is a replica of the huts.
Also, traditional livestock activities are carried out in Miscanti and Miñiques lagoons, especially in Socaire.
For more information about prices press the next link. http://www.conaf.cl/parques/reserva-nacional-los-flamencos/
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.