Surrounded by the low vegetation typical of the Atacama Desert, the lagoons known as Miscanti and Miñiques look like paintings. Keep an eye out for the vicuñas (relatives of alpacas and llamas) that usually appear there (and the birds that come to steal your food). The tour also includes Piedras Rojas, a region with – yes, you guessed right – red rocks and a light-green lagoon.
This tour is the main attraction to the Cordillera de la Sal, a mountain range filled with gypsum outcrops and other minerals located by the desert. Visitors go up a huge dune to observe the region and explore a salt cave. It’s a good option for a first tour, to get used to the higher altitudes.
This tour isn’t offered by many agencies (Lickan Antay, budget, and Flavia Bia Expediciones, more luxurious, are good options), but it’s worth taking. The route includes seven lagoons which look like the Caribbean Sea in the middle of one of the salt flats in the Atacama. You can take a dip in the last one and have fun floating around – the high concentration of salt prevents you from sinking.
The activity itself is not complex – what makes it difficult is the altitude. The car, which leaves from San Pedro de Atacama in the early morning hours, goes up to an altitude of 14,110 feet [4,300 m] above sea level, and the temperatures get colder. But arriving at the geometric field is rewarding: the steam rises from the ground at the same time as the first sunrays start to appear, spurting boiling water to a height of up to 40 feet [12 m].
One of the attractions most distant from the base city, San Pedro de Atacama, Salar de Tara is also challenging due to its altitude (a little higher than the geysers) and the cold winds. But it features unparalleled beauty. During the day, you can see flamingos, rocky cliffs and multi-colored landscapes.
Climbing to the top of the imposing Licancabur, at an altitude of 19,360 feet [5,900 m], is the dream of any mountain climber. Skilled beginners can try to climb the Láscar Volcano, 985 feet [300 m] shorter but still challenging. The agency Vulcano Expediciones has experienced guides and provides tourists with adequate equipment.
LATAM has direct flights to Calama departing from Santiago and La Serena.