Named for the three species of flamingos the area protects, the National Flamingo Reserve consists of seven sectors. All are located in the vicinity of the oasis village of San Pedro de Atacama, a popular destination for people whose travel to Chile takes them to the eastern side of this desert. Each of the sectors contains salt flats, one of the world’s most unusual wildlife habitats. Protecting portions of the country’s salt flats prevents the economic exploitation of the minerals they contain, preserving the habitat of flamingos as well as other resident and migratory bird species. Their diet of krill, diatom and other organisms live in the brackish lagoons of the flats that have formed from breaks in the deposits, with water flowing in but having no outlet.
The granddaddy of them all, Chile’s largest salt flat, comprises most of the reserve’s largest sector. Located thirty-four miles south of San Pedro de Atacama, vast Salar de Atacama encompasses an area of 1,800 square miles. It contains several lagoons, the largest of which is Chaxa Lagoon, a bird magnet, where many people go to photograph flamingos during their travel to Chile. The lake receives most of its water from the San Pedro River. It is an awe-inspiring sight for photographers, definitely, and anyone else on Chile tours.
The most northerly sector of the reserve contains some of the region’s top sights, the ancient ruins of Tulor and the Valley of the Moon, a photogenic landscape, despite its name. Another sector contains an area around the village of Tambillo that protects the amazing tamarugo tree, a species endemic to northern Chile that needs only a bit of moisture to survive. The most easterly sectors contain the salars of Talar and Pujsa, both of which have been declared wetlands of international significance under the Ramsar convention.
Another popular sight that no one misses during their Chile tours to San Pedro de Atacama is contained in the reserve’s most southerly sector, fifty miles southeast of San Pedro de Atacama. The Lagunas Miscanti and Miniques are a draw for nature photographers because of their serene azure waters, set off by volcanoes and a cloudless sky.
Southern Explorations takes passengers to San Pedro de Atacama on one of its many tour extensions offered for travel to Chile. These four days of Chile tours include some of the sights of the National Flamingo Reserve.