September 29, 2015
The van from the Latchir tour company picked us up on schedule just after 8AM for the all day excursion to Salar de Tara or Tara Salt Lake. We had booked the group tour in town the day before. One couple was already in the van and we stopped to pick up two other couples for a total of 8 persons – 4 Brazilians, 2 Spanish speaking and us.
Our guide, Hector, spoke clear Spanish as well as good English. He was accompanied by David, our driver. Both men were courteous and professional.
The tour climbs up out of San Pedro de Atacama to an elevation of over 4000 meters/ 13,000ft.
Our first stop, about an a hour and half in, was a coffee break at the Quepiaco River, a wetland that is supposed to have good wildlife sightings. On a pretty morning the stark colorful desert is a magnificent backdrop, however, there was no wildlife this early at the river.
We drove another half hour or so on good road before descending down a valley with many wind eroded rock formations. From the van it is next to impossible to get a good photo of the valley.
The tour focuses on the iconic lone formation that is taller than the others with the salt lake in the distance. According to Hector the formations are made of compressed ash.
We then travel overland, following tire marks through the desolate landscape, barren except for a few vicuñas.
The brochure describes this part of the road as “a real rally, there is not trail, the car jumps with every rock, slides, moves from side to side and everything inside vibrates as if we were racing in the Dakar.” This is a gross exaggeration. For the most part crossing the roadless desert remained relatively smooth.
More photo ops at some colorful formations.
Then on to the Salar de Tara (Tara Salt Lake). The van let us off at the Tara Cathedrals, another rock formation, and gave us the opportunity to walk down to the lake. At this hour the sun is on the wrong side of Tara Cathedrals for good photos of the ridge.
It’s a pleasant walk along the lake with flamingos in the distance.
Lunch at the lake was a nice spread including a flavorful pasta salad, sliced cucumbers, tomato and avocado, cold chicken breast and a choice of wine or juice.
The drive back to town took a little longer than usual as the van stopped a couple of times to help another vehicle with radiator problems. We arrived back to the hotel around 4PM.
Overall it’s an interesting trip in a dramatic stark landscape, but not so different from the landscape that you see on similar Altiplano tours.