For a region so lacking in rainfall and vegetation, it’s more than a little surprising to see a vision of blue water stretching before our eyes. We’re not far east of Chile’s Atacama Desert, the driest non-polar desert on Earth. Here, it’s not quite so arid as the driest parts of the Atacama, and that allows for the brackish lagoons dotted among ancient volcanos and immense salt flats.
The lagoons attract large numbers of birds, including Chilean, Andean, and James’s flamingos, whose pink feathers stand out against the stark landscape. In fact, our vivid scene here is within Los Flamencos National Reserve, a nature reserve that protects the habitat of its namesake birds as well as other species. As you head down this well-maintained trail, you’ll be walking toward Cerro Miscanti, a volcano rising more than 19,000 feet above sea level. Traveler’s tip: Don’t forget the sunscreen.