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Atacama Desert Tours: Exploring the Lagoons of the Atacama Desert

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With so many Atacama desert tours to choose from, exploring the lagoons of the Atacama desert is a must on any trip to Chile.

The Lagoons of the Atacama Highlands

Atacama desert tours are two a penny in San Pedro de Atacama.

You can choose from taking a tour of the El Tatio geysers are sunrise, watching the sunset over the Valle de la Luna, go stargazing under the night sky, and that’s all in one day!

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

Dotted around the Atacama desert are three main lagoons that people visit – Chaxa Lagoon, Miscanti Lagoon and Miñiques Lagoon.

After seeing the arid landscape at the El Tatio geysers and the Valle de la Luna, water was a very welcome sight for me.

Atacama Desert Tours: Exploring the Lagoons of the Atacama Desert
Atacama Desert Tours: Exploring the Lagoons of the Atacama Desert

Does it rain in the Atamaca desert?

Unlike the El Tatio geysers and the Valle de la Luna, the Atacama lagoons actually sees a fair amount of rainfall. This is because of their altitude and it 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 desert has become famous for. The scenery really is spectacular here.

Our Atacama desert tour of the lagoons

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!

Taking photos of a pink flamingo

Miscanti Lagoon in the Atacama desert

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.

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.

Miñiques Lagoon in the Atacama desert

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. This is a real highlight on the Atacama desert tours.

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.

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. They really will take your breath away.

How much does an Atacama desert tour cost?

Atacama desert tours of Chaxa Lagoon, Miscanti Lagoon and Miñiques Lagoon with Viator costs £52 ($70) 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.

Are you planning on travelling around Chile? Then make sure you check out my guides to hiking Volcano Villarrica, hiking Parque Nacional la Campana, seeing street art in Valparaiso and discovering the best wineries in Chile. Also, if you’re heading from Santiago to Calama (which is the entry to the Atacama Desert) then I’ve got the perfect guide for you.

Have you ever been on Atacama desert tours before? If so, what is your favourite tour? Make sure you let me know in the comment box below!

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Atacama Desert Tours

About the Author

  • Macca Sherifi

    Macca Sherifi is the founder of the multiple award-winning blogs An Adventurous World and the Great British Bucket List. Every month he inspires over 200,000 avid readers to travel the world.

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