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Salar de Tara: Landscapes of the Atacama Desert

A small salt flat

Taking a coffee break at a small salt flat on the drive to Salar de Tara

[L]ocated a few hours east of San Pedro de Atacama, the Los Flamencos National Reserve in northern Chile encompasses 740 square kilometers near the Bolivian border.

From San Pedro, it's easy to do a full day tour to visit the Salar de Tara (salt flats) located within the reserve.

I paid $88 for my tour, which included a picnic lunch of rice and chicken.

During the bumpy drive out to the salt flats, you make several stops to take photos, and explore the amazing geology of the region.

These stops also help you acclimatize, as altitudes in the region can reach up to 4,860 meters (16,000 feet) above sea level.

Despite the harsh environment, small tufts of grass manage to grow in the Atacama Desert. Closer to the road, you can still see some snow.

Despite the harsh environment, small tufts of grass manage to grow in the Atacama Desert. Closer to the road, you can still see some snow.

Rock spire

Rock spire. Can anyone guess how it was formed?

To get a sense of scale, I'm standing on the rock formation, while another person looks up at it.

To get a sense of scale, I'm standing on the rock formation, while another person looks up at it.

Looking down at our tour van from atop a rocky outcropping.

Looking down at our tour van from atop a rocky outcropping.

Snow-capped mountains, jagged rock formations, and a whole lot of desert.

Snow-capped mountains, jagged rock formations, and a whole lot of desert.

Our first view of Salar de Tara (the Tara salt flats).

Our first view of Salar de Tara (the Tara salt flats).

Llamas grazing by the water

Llamas grazing by the water

The water offers a perfect reflection of the nearby mountains

The water offers a perfect reflection of the nearby mountains

A lone flamingo feeds at the water's edge

A lone flamingo feeds at the water's edge

The view of Salar de Tara from where we ate our picnic lunch.

The view of Salar de Tara from where we ate our picnic lunch.

Taking a moment to appreciate the raw beauty of the Atacama Desert.

Taking a moment to appreciate the raw beauty of the Atacama Desert.

It's amazing llamas, flamingos, or any animal can live in a desert environment 4,000 meters above sea level.

It's amazing llamas, flamingos, or any animal can live in a desert environment 4,000 meters above sea level.

How does one pose in the desert? Here, I try to convey the vast expanse of space using only my arms.

How does one pose in the desert? Here, I try to convey the vast expanse of space using only my arms.

A herd of vicuñas graze on the little grass there is to be found in the desert.

A herd of vicuñas graze on the little grass there is to be found in the desert.

Posing by the entrance sign to Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos on our way back to San Pedro de Atacama.

Posing by the entrance sign to Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos on our way back to San Pedro de Atacama.

 

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Sam Desautels

Tuesday 24th of February 2015

Hey!

I loved the post and the pictures. If you wouldn't mind, can you tell me which agency you went on the trip with?

-Thanks

Dave

Thursday 26th of February 2015

Thanks. I'm afraid I don't remember as it was a few years ago now. San Pedro is so small, it's not hard to find a tour company that offers these trips. I doubt there's much difference in quality.

David Blatt

Thursday 31st of July 2014

To answer the question under one of your stunning photos...Wind! I believe the incredible shapes of those giant rock formations are created by the wind, which at 12,500 feet above level is surprisingly and consistently strong. The other paradox I discovered was..all that wind, but very little air! I'd always though difficulty to breathe was a myth until I tried to sleep in one of those hostels at -14*. Had to remain sitting up all night.

Jessica

Wednesday 28th of August 2013

WOW, these photos are incredible, have yet to travel there but would really love to visit some time soon!

jhon smith

Wednesday 21st of August 2013

Dave those are really best shots i ever seen of this desert...You rock man.

Thomas

Friday 16th of August 2013

Nice photos Dave and a great place to go take a break. Never thought a desert would look so wonderful and peaceful. What type of camera are you using?

Dave

Friday 16th of August 2013

Thanks Thomas. I was and still am using a Canon S100. I edited them a little with Lightroom 4 too.

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