Taking a tour of the Altiplanic lagoons in the Atacama Highlands

There are few places around the world that truly take your breath away, but the Atacama Highlands is one of those places that’ll leave you breathless… and that’s not just because of the high altitude.

Dotted around the Atacama Highlands are three main lagoons that people visit – Chaxa Lagoon, Miscanti Lagoon and Miñiques Lagoon, and after seeing the arid landscape the day before at the El Tatio geysers and the Valle de la Luna, water was a welcome sight.

Mirror reflections of the mountains in the Altiplanic lagoons

Unlike the Atacama Desert, the Atacama Highlands actually sees a fair amount of rainfall, and this is one of the reasons why the scenery is so different here.

These lagoons are like finding sapphires on a beach, their bright blue colour in stark contrast to the orange and browns of the desert landscape surrounding them.

Looming large in the background are the ever-present mountains and volcanoes that the Atacama Highlands have become famous for, and the scenery really is spectacular here.

Pink flamingo at Chaxa Lagoon, Chile

Our first stop of the day was at Chaxa Lagoon, home to the Andean flamingos.

Located in the middle of the Atacama salt flat (not to be confused with the one in Bolivia), a shallow body of water can be found here. With the high water temperatures and high salt content, Chaxa Lagoon is the perfect breeding ground for a small type of shrimp.

Now, not many things eat these shrimp, which is why they’re able to thrive here, but Andean flamingos do. They go to town on them like they’re a donar kebab to a pisshead at 2am in the morning. If you come here, you’re almost guaranteed to see flamingos because they eat for about 20 hours of the day. For the other four hours of the day they sleep, standing up, so you’ve got a good chance of seeing them then as well.

One of the best things about seeing the flamingos at Chaxa Lagoon is the fact that the water’s only about half a foot deep meaning you get the perfect mirror reflections of the birds as they eat with the mountains in the background. Once again I found it very hard not to take thousands of photos!

Mirror reflection of pink flamingo at Chaxa Lagoon, Chile

Taking photos of a pink flamingo

From Chaxa Lagoon we drove an hour to Miscanti Lagoon. Up in the highlands, this lagoon couldn’t be more different.

As you’re driving with desert on each side around you, it’s hard to think that there’s any lagoons in the area at all, but as you climb higher and higher towards the mountains you start to see a slight change in colour; green interspersed with the orange.

Then, as you crest around a corner you finally see it, Miscanti Lagoon.

Miscanti Lagoon, Chile

This lagoon is massive, much bigger than I expected, and it’s framed perfectly with the mountains a close presence in the background.

From the car park there’s a path that takes you on a nice loop around Miscanti Lagoon, but I my only wish was to get closer to the water’s edge.

View of Miscanti Lagoon, Chile

Looking at Miscanti Lagoon, Chile

A little further on from Miscanti Lagoon is Miñiques Lagoon. Even though this is quite similar, it’s a lot smaller and shaped in a perfect oval. Because it’s smaller, it seems so much more beautiful than Miñiques Lagoon.

It’s so peaceful spending the final part of the day here. I guess that’s why they leave it till the end, but it really is stunning in every sense of the word.

Miñiques Lagoon, Chile

One of the best things about visiting the Altiplanic lagoons compared to the El Tatio geysers and the Valle de la Luna is there’s about a tenth of the people there, so when you’re walking around you really do feel like you’ve got the place to yourself.

Honestly, it’s places like these lagoons that make the Atacama Desert and the Atacama Highlands such an amazing place to travel to, and they really will take your breath away.

A tour to the Altiplanic lagoons in the Atacama Highlands with Viator costs £56 ($74) and includes all transport costs and lunch. Make sure you bring sunblock as it is very easy to burn at high altitude and lots of water.

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Macca Sherifi is a presenter, photographer and videographer who has worked in the travel industry for the past six years. He has travelled to over 75 countries, volunteered in Bangladesh and worked in both China and Australia.

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