The Awesome Altiplano

Getting There

San Pedro de Atacama is located 106km southeast of Calama (the nearest airport; a city in the Antofagasta region of Chile) via the paved Chile 23. Regular buses ply this small town to the rest of Chile, as well as to Salta and Jujuy in Argentina.

“Altiplano” is simply “High Plain” in Spanish. Perched at 4,000 metres above sea level, sits Altiplanic Lagoons (Lagunas Altiplanicas), and getting here is just a 90k drive from the tourist centre of San Perdo De Atacama.  Spotting wildlife in the Chilean Altiplano is not hard because all you need is a sharp eye and a sense of curiosity. 

Culpeo – Andean Fox or Wolf

Don’t snub the flat, scrub-covered desert is devoid of life. In fact, it is home to the culpeo (Andean Fox or Wolf) which drinks water from the high-altitude lakes. These foxes sport a reddish-brown coat and long bushy tail. They are also spotted along roads that meander through the plains as they constantly look out for roadkill. 

Camelids

They are known as Llamas, and the smaller-sized alpacas can often be spotted wandering as herds through the desert scrubland. If you’re a driver, you can also spot them crossing the road so be on the alert. These two animals have been domesticated by the Incas for thousands of years. However, vicuna’s are the most prized of the camelids as their wool is of the highest quality and are revered by the textile industry. These timid creatures only produce about 0.5kg of wool per animal per year, and the wool can only be shorn once every three years. 

Fancy Flamingos

From San Pedro de Atacama and the Chilean Altiplano, the main transport route to Bolivia will require you to cross the Andes mountain range, taking you some 5,700 metres, therefore, it pays to keep warm with proper winter wear. Many travellers come here to take in the sights of the Salar de Uyuni – the world’s largest salt flat where flamingo populations thrive. They are clearly the wildlife stars thanks to their bright pink plumage. They can be found around the Laguna Colorada (Red Lagoon), and in fact, three of the six species of flamingos make their home here. Interestingly, Laguna Colorado is located within the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve and is a RAMSAR (i.e. The Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources) wetland-listed lagoon.  Obviously, flamingos outnumber humans and these birds are not afraid of the occasional wildlife photographer that comes up to photograph them. 

Did you know?

The driest non-polar desert in the world covering 1,000km of land sandwiched by the Pacific Coast and Andes mountains is the Atacama Desert in Chile. 

NASA uses this area to test instruments for future Mars missions!

This area attracts man astrologers who are keen to view the skies for astronomical wonders at night. Nature lovers imbibe the desert’s beauty of fauna and flora. 

Those who love scenery, check out Valle de la Luna, Valle de la Muerte, El Tatio Geysers, to name a few.

Cute and Cuddly

They resemble bunnies but are in the family order of chinchillas – viscacha. These cute rodents love to have fun on the rocky outcrops in the flat desert. If you have a guide, he or she will bring fresh vegetable leaves for the critters to feast so you can snap a photo. If you happen to view them up close, you’ll notice their bushy brown coats and coiled tails. The build complex underground homes and most of the time they spend on the rocks sunbathing or the feed on moss and lichen which grow abundantly. 

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