Quick Spanish lesson: Salar is Spanish for “salt flat”
While spending time in Chile, we wanted to see as much of the Atacama area as possible. One day, we booked an excursion for a sunset tour of the Salar de Atacama. Located in the Northern half of Chile, the Salar de Atacama is an enclosed basin without drainage. The Salar de Atacama is one of the driest places on Earth with no historical record of rainfall in parts of the salt flats. The Salar de Atacama is also the largest salt flat in Chile.
After what seemed to be an hour drive to the middle of nowhere, we finally arrived to our destination. As we stepped out of the van, the smell of salt was in the air. We were excited to start exploring the Salar de Atacama!
The Salar de Atacama is formed by water that flows down from the Andes Mountains. Because the water is unable to escape the basin, it is forced to evaporate resulting in salt deposits being left behind. The color of the salt flats are white, but not as bright white as you would expect. Because of the rich mineral deposits, there is more of a light gray color with large chunks of salt and sharp edges. Overall, the Salar de Atacama salt flats are the third largest salt flats in the world.
Below the surface, the grounds are rich with lithium salts. Salar de Atacama is the largest and purest active lithium source in the world. Lithium is essential for batteries and medicine.
It is very easy to navigate the salt flats. It seems that for safety reasons and general upkeep, there are areas/paths zoned off to guide visitors throughout the park. The paths guide you around some of the areas so you are able to make the most of your visit. The flat surfaces provide perfect walking grounds for all types of people and abilities.
While walking around, you will notice signs that provide detailed information about the history of Salar de Atacama and the surrounding area. Signs are in English and Spanish. They are spaced out along the trails to read about what you are currently viewing. These were very helpful to have better understanding of the Salar de Atacama.
We discovered many small ponds and lakes. The larger lakes seemed to host the large amount of flamingos that were snacking on the brine shrimp in the waters. The waters are all very clear and clean. The shrimp are visible to the eye as you look into the waters. No wonder the Chilean flamingos are hanging out all day here!
As we roamed the grounds on our own, we found many places to take pictures while soaking in the beauty of the Salar de Atacama. It was a very peaceful place to spend the evening strolling the grounds while waiting for the sunset.
It was great to look out at the amazing landscape of the Salar de Atacama. As far as the eye can see, there are salt flats in view. As you gaze at the horizon, mountains and volcanos dominate the skyline as you imagine water running down them and flowing toward the place you are standing.
Right before we grabbed a table to watch the sunset, our guide asked us to join him by the van. As we walked toward our parking spot, we noticed a table of snacks and beverages had been laid out for us. As you can see, it was a pretty nice spread of sandwiches, nuts, fruit, candy and beverages. It was a great way to spend time having a snack and looking out over the beautiful landscape.
Be sure to find a good spot to watch the sunset. There are an amazing array of colors that come out and every evening is different. The park has a few tables available to sit. Bring a few snacks of your own while you watch the show!
Traveler Tip: The bathrooms are very basic here so be sure to take your own supplies!
Have you been to Salar de Atacama?
Have you been to another salt flat?
Let us know in the comments! We look forward to hearing from you!
Pin the graphic below for future reference!