Our morning started with a visit into the heart of the Salar de Atacama, or the Atacama salt flat. Salt flat is a bit of a misnomer as the area gets almost no rain in the year and as a result, the salt crystals grow upward and look more like sharp spikes in some places. The flat areas are where underground water has created a lagoon and flattened the salt out, but in most of the Salar, the area is very rough and spiky. The lagoons in the area are home to Flamingoes, we visited the Los Flamencos National Reserve and there are 2 different types of Flamingoes there. When we were there, most had migrated, so we only saw a few. In winter is when they are in the area. The Salar de Atacama is the 3rd largest salt flat in the world, second only to Salt Lake city in the USA, the biggest is literally over the hill in Bolivia, call Uyuni Salt Flats. Salar de Atacama is 3000 square km in size, it is MASSIVE, and you cant quite comprehend it until you see it from the hills in the Andes. It is in a depression in the Andes and it is quite a site to behold.
As you look out from the salt flats, you can see the big volcanoes in the area. As I did this, I saw that there was some smoke coming from one of the volcanoes on the horizon. Casually I asked our guide (almost jokingly) if the smoke was coming from the volcano or if it was a fire. “Aaaah” he remarked, “that’s Lascar Volcano , it erupts every 2 years or so, and it smokes often from the crater” He assured us not to worry, Lascar Volcano wasn’t about to erupt, it was just letting off some steam. “You must only worry when the smoke is going straight up, then it’s a problem.” So glad we cleared that up!!! Sheesh, so Lascar smokes quite regularly and erupts every 2 years, in fact it is the most active volcano in the Andes. When did she last erupt you ask, in 2008, almost time again….
We then moved on to the High Altitude Lagoons, Miscanti and Miniques, these lagoons are situated at 4300m above sea level and are really spectacular in their setting. The surrounding mountains seem to hold them there and the area is rugged and beautiful. There are two lagoons up there, Miscanti and Minques and we were fortunate to see both of them..
After that we went into the town of Tocanao and the nearby oasis of the Jere Ravine. It is amazing to see how life proliferates with dome fresh water, this was a true oasis in a desert and for a little while you forgot you were in the driest place on Earth.