After days of hanging out in San Pedro de Atacama with little to see or do besides eat an over-priced meal, I was thrilled when I found out that Cosmo Andino Expediciones was offering a private excursion to Salar de Tara.

What is the Salar de Tara?

Who cares!!

It has to be better than hanging around this flooded town with all the other stranded tourists.

I want to see something beautiful, something that will make my jaw drop.

I am tired of taking photos of adobe-stained houses.

The Salar de Tara made my jaw drop.

 

About 12 times.

 

The Journey

But we have to first start with the journey.

We were told that no one had taken this mountain pass yet since the rains started, so there was a chance we might not be able to cross due to snow.

There was certainly some snow on the way.

It was a little odd to see flamingos chilling in this pond in the middle of a snow-dusted landscape.

But the road was fine.  We went to a pretty high altitude (which I forgot to write in my notes), and I did get a bit of a headache.


Salar de Tara and Aguas Calientes

We actually saw two salt flats.  The Salar de Tara and Salar de Aguas Calientes are located within Los Flamencos National Reserve, which is an area that covers 740 square kilometers and also includes the more well-known Salar de Atacama.

If this is the lesser-known part of the Atacama Desert, I cannot even imagine how amazing the other sites are. 

And I got photos unlike most from this region because of the clouds.

Ivan told us that there are never clouds like this here.

Here are my favorite photos from this excursion.

These rock formations are from years of erosion due to wind and rain. They are actually connected to the ground, not just large rocks sitting on top of the ground. One day, they will be gone.

Although this tour was not cheap, I was happy to be with a small group and able to stop and take photos at any time.

Our guide Ivan is a true mountain man, pioneering many of the routes he takes for private, guided tours.  He already knows the best places to get photos.

Ivan is a highly skilled driver, and I felt safe with him as he tried to follow the tracks through this vast area where each site is a bumpy, far drive from the previous. When we got to this spot, he stopped and said,

Welcome to Mars.

He told us we could either walk down or stay in the SUV with him. I had to think hard about it because this passage is steeper and more rocky than it looks in the photo. In the end, I trusted Ivan and became even more confident in his driving skills.

The Salar de Tara is different than what I was expecting of a salt flat. It is a lake with a fairly low percentage of salt. It is at a higher elevation, and the water travels underground to other salt flats. During this movement, the salt becomes more concentrated, making the lakes that it feeds a higher concentration of salt.

We drove all the way to the edge of the Salar de Tara where we had a picnic lunch and watched the llamas, vicuñas, and flamingos.

Yep, those are all flamingos in the distance.

I was happy to get this one beautiful day in the Atacama Desert.

Check out more photos from the Salar de Tara.