The Sala de Tara

San Pedro de Atacama Travel Blog

 › entry 14 of 19 › view all entries
I´d read about the Sala de Tara. It was supposed to be the jewel of the altiplano lakes. A difficult 1 day journey requiring a 4 wheel drive jeep. So 2 days ago we had begun hunting around for an agency to take us there. There were not many agencies offering this trip and each asked for 4 passengers. At one agency we happened to bump into a Belgian lady named Christine. She was also looking to do a trip to the Sala de Tara. So we harranged the agent and he agreed to do a trip for the 3 of us.
The journey began at 8am when we were picked up by Ivan. He was our driver and guide for the day and hails from Calama. His whole family (brothers and father) are all involved in the mine and so was he initially  but he moved to san pedro, learnt english from tourists and became a guide himself.
As we drove up to the altiplanico, we discussed the formation of the rocks and what minerals were found in these deserts. 200 yrs ago San Pedro de Atacama was actually part of Bolivia. There was a war between Chile on one side and Bolivia and Peru on the other. Even though the Chileans were outnumbered their superior training lead to a great victory that left Bolivia without access to the sea and the mineral deposits found in the Atacama desert.
Initially, nitrate was the main mineral collected and this was useful in agriculture eg fertilizers. But later on mining moved on to copper and also lithium. In fact, the sala de Atacama contains 40% of the worlds lithium deposits. Lithium is used from rechargeble batteries to medications for bipolar disorders.

Our first stop was an altaplanico lake. Due to its mineral composition it is blue in the morning and green in the afternoon.
The next was the sala de Pujsa to see flamingos. There were thousands of red flamingos up here at more than 4000m. Their colour was supposed derived from the tiny shrimp that they consume up here in the altiplanico salt lakes. It was difficult to get close to them as they would take flight whenever we tried to get nearer.
We travelled on and over a pass to an area known as the monks. These are large rock formations left free standing. Millions of years ago there was awhole lot more volcanic activity in the region. Different materials were deposited and as the wind and rains caused erosion all that was left was the material that resisted such erosions.
This led to these rock formations of basalt.
We took a couple of pictures and drove on and were brought to another location covered with obsedian. This was supposed deposited by volcanic activity. Obsedian was used by the ancient tribes of the area to fashion arrow heads, spears etc as it could be chipped to create sharp edges.
We also reached the border between chile and bolivia. It was marked with a cement stone. Talking with Ivan I came to realise that he did not have a good view of Bolivians or Peruvians at all. He considered them all corrupt. I wondered if this was just an isolated feeling or a general feeling among Chileans. After all Chile is pretty well developed compared to most of South America. The buses usually run on time, the roads are good and it is relatively safe.

The road we travelled on I was to find out later led to Argentina and onwards to Uraguay. What is the significance you might ask?
Well have you ever considered where all our used cars go to? It seems that many are exported to South America via the ports in Chile. They are recofigured from right to left hand drive and sent via large trucks to Uraguay.
Unfortunately driving this route is not without risk to life and limb as evidenced by the many makeshift memorials set up along side the road to a driver who had lost his life.

We carried on into the desert where there were no roads and finally reached the canyon that was to lead to the sala de tara. Our guide dropped us off so that we could walk down through the canyon to the sala where he would prepare our lunch for us.

The walk was easy but hot in the blinding sun. As we turned a bend we saw the Sala. A large expanse of crystalised salt that reflected the rays of the sun with small lagoons where more flamingos rested. There were areas of green vegetation where small streams flowed into the sala feedings the lagoons.
We had a simple lunch of grilled chicken with a salad and bread while looking across the sala. It was quiet except for the wind which occasionally carried with it the squaks of the flamingos.
There were only 2 groups at the salar. Us and a group of people from a hotel known as the Explora. The Explora is a all inclusive hotel set up in 3 locations. The torres del paine, san pedro de atacama and easter Island. They provide beautiful rooms with amazing rooms and each room has it´s own jacuzzi. All meals are provided and guides are provided each day to bring you to different locations of interest.
All too soon it was time to leave the Salar and we spent most of the afternoon driving back to San Pedro de Atacama.
That evening we had dinner with Christine at a vegetarian place and she told us more about her travels through Africa. Guess that´s another continent I´ll have to visit. It really sounds like an amazing place.
Tomorrow we would visit the Tatio Geysers and also the Valle de Lune
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the chilean/bolivian border
the chilean/bolivian border