Red Rocks, Lagoons & Saltflats

From San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, we went on a trip to see the Red Rocks (Piedras Rojas), High Plateau Lagoons (Altiplanic Lagoons: Miscanti and Miniques) and the Atacama Salt flat (Salar de Atacama).

As soon as we got picked up and introduced to our German guide Gaston, we knew this was going to be a great day. Gaston is a very knowledgeable, funny and personable guy who made this already incredible experience even better.

Even though we would be steadily gaining altitude during our journey, the road has no death-defying drops, just endless spectacular scenery. It’s the type of journey that is so enjoyable that you forget that you’re going somewhere and on arriving, you can’t believe you’re there. Or that these places exist.

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Our first stop was in a remote village where we learnt a bit about cacti, llamas and life in the village.

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However, throughout the day I was unable to tear my eyes away from the surreal mountains that can always be seen. With nothing to stand in their way, we are all dwarfed by them and I am spellbound.

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We continue our journey, my eyes still staring in disbelief at this barren, yet full landscape. Out the minibus we jump, like children seeing snow for the first time. We are getting closer to the mountains – their majesty grows and their breath swells.

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With increasing height, the cold is more readily felt and the earth takes on a thicker snow jacket. The sun still fiercely glows, but offers little warmth, especially when competing with a forceful, freezing wind.

Being here is all consuming, a sensual arrangement resulting in pure joy. The lake was frozen and beckoned to be slid on – so thick was the ice, we didn’t fear the freezing, clear-turquoise water below. With no shelter from the wind, it howled its way through our bodies and deafened us.

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The Red Rocks are a huge and densely connected surface area that surround the water. Permanently exposed to the elements they have a pitted surface with deep cracks and they are beautiful.

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Back in the minibus, our next stop was to see Miscanti and Miniques, two lagoons at over 4,000 ft. The snow was pure white and covered everything in a thick cotton-like blanket. In the water, flamingos and small black birds went about their lives, seemingly oblivious to the biting wind.

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Being in the snow-capped mountains is so peaceful and breathing in the fresh air is cleansing – I am still bewitched by their magnificence.

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We made our way back the way we came and stopped at the driver’s tiny hamlet for lunch. Here we had a set local lunch of soup, rice based main and jelly – simple and hearty.

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Last stop: Salar de Atacama, the largest salt flat in Chile. For as far as the eye can see the ground looked like churned up soil broken up with stunning salt lakes. The water reflects a deep, dark blue – the sky pales in comparison. The light pink flamingos are in abundance, but are sparsely spread across this vast-open space.

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With the sun fading, the water is brighter, but the backdrop is pale. Beyond the salt flat, I stare at the mountains in admiration.

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