Located in the country’s far southwestern reaches, the reserve packs a phenomenal variety of landscapes into the confines of its 2,760 square miles (7,147sq km): high desert plains, rugged mountain peaks that top nearly 6,000m (19,600ft), and a red lake –yes, red— that’s home to rare flamingo breeds.
The first set of images below are from Laguna Colorada, a shallow 60-square kilometer (23sq mi) lake whose rusty blood red hues come from the reddish algae and sediment found in it. It’s also home to a large population of the rare James’s Flamingo which can bee seen wading and walking across much of it as they feed on the algae that gives the lake its name.
The next set are from Laguna Verde, a 1700-hectare salt lake beautifully set with the 5,868m (19,252ft) Licancabur volcano as a backdrop. Its color, shades of green that range from emerald to turquoise, is attributed to the high levels of arsenic and other minerals in contains. Drinking, touching or wading is not advisable.
The third set includes some general landscapes, the road we traveled, and a portrait of the woman operating a small thermal pool near Laguna Verde; I’ve already forgotten the pool but will never forget her confident smile.
The vast majority of those who visit the park – some 60,000 annually—do so at the beginning or end of a three or four day excursion to the Salar de Uyuni, the planet’s largest salt flat located east of the reserve. My visit began in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, so these are all part of the first day’s itinerary.
From the moment you begin your ascent towards the Bolivian border post at Portezuelo del Cajón –here’s a previous post on the check point; what you’ll find there will surprise you— you’ll be at altitudes above 4,200m (13,800ft). You’ll feel it, so it’s wise to spend a couple days in San Pedro de Atacama to the west or Uyuni to the northeast to acclimatize.