Coca reveals the real Northern Chile

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Day 359: Huarango, Chile

I didn’t write much about Iquique, mostly because there wasn’t anything to say. It was a beach town where I caught up on my tan, read a book and drank too much red wine.

I left for Huarango to visit parents of a friend in Toronto. They own El Huarango, an amazing campsite where you can either do luxury camping on beds in tents or traditional camping.

Huarango and its surrounding area is a salt flat oasis in the middle of the desert. Smack in the middle of miles of sand there is a patch of dry, arid land where salt thrives. But the trees and plants are so strong that their roots are able to reach beyond the salt cracked earth to the water below.

I am overwhelmed by the beauty of this land.

Coca and Marco used to lived in Lima, Peru but moved to the area because they loved the land. The best way they know to protect it from development is to create a campsite for travelers, ensuring the land remains untouched.

It was incredible to be meet people so passionate about the environment they were taking its future into their own hands.

Coca scoffed at learning that I had only been on the beach in Iquique and wanted to show me the area. She allowed me one day to adjust to the desert air but the next day we were going out to see the land.

I like Coca a lot.

She’s passionate, feisty, and I know I won’t have to make many decisions because she’ll be making them all for me.

Salar Llamara

We visited Salar de Llamara, which she told me was very special to her. There is a lagoon in the area, which is unimaginable for me as the Atacama desert is one of the driest places on earth.

The salt flats were formed by the water evaporating from the land. You can see many of them throughout Northern Chile, but Salar de Llamara is particularly important as it’s one of 4 areas in the world where you can find organisms and living fossils from prehistoric times.

Rightfully so, the area is protected and ecologists and environmentalists are studying the land.

It was like being on another planet.

While the area is well-studied, tourism isn’t encouraged and there are no tours or mentions in guide books. Coca disagrees with this because she believes that if people see and fall in love with an area they will want to protect it.

This is so important because due to its special qualities it’s ideal for mining, but that would threaten the lagoon.

For now it remains protected and I hope it stays that way.

Join the Conversation

  1. jill- Jack and Jill Travel The World says:

    It looks beautiful. I love the smell and the dry heat of the desert. Is that a salt rock you’re holding in your hand?

  2. Adventurous Kate says:

    That’s one of the most unique landscapes I’ve ever seen. Beautiful photos, Ayngelina!

  3. Camels & Chocolate says:

    That place is spectacular! It truly is like being on the moon…only brighter (from what I would imagine) =)

  4. I’ve always been in love with desert landscapes. While it can be ugly to some, the simplicity and textures of it get my creative mind going.

    So your friend’s parents own this camp?

  5. Katherina says:

    I’ve fallen in love with this part of Chile… Good friends of mine went on a Latinamerican trip for 4 months after graduation, they had something around 5,000 pictures – but these, from Salar de Llamara were my favorites out of all!

    Great post – really makes me want to pack my things and go (again!)

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I didn’t even know this part of Chile existed. I feel so fortunate that Santiago told me about his father’s site so I could meet them.

  6. Beautiful, gorgeous land! Your photos of this place are breathtaking.

    It’s a huge relief to know that people are taking the future of this gorgeous oasis and desert into their own hands and trying to protect it. I hope it will continue to stay protected.

    Warm regards to Coca!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I hope so, we always think about big developments hurting land but here’s it’s small stuff that comes along with progress.

  7. Wow, what a beautiful place! I am so glad to hear that it’s protected and I hope it stays that way too!

    The campsite sounds like a very good idea as well!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      The campsite is very cool. You can do the regular camping stuff or if you’re a wuss like me they have beds in tents. They are also adding some rooms as well and the walls are made from the salt crusted earth, it’s really amazing to see.

  8. Deserts are such interesting places, some people find them boring but not me. The Gobi and Atacama desert are two of them that I really love to visit one day.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Now that I’ve seen Atacama I’m definitely interested in the Gobi.

  9. Deserts are such interesting places, some people find them boring but not me. The Atacama desert is one of them that I really love to visit one day.

  10. Gorgeous photos, you’re right, truly overwhelming landscape.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Also loved the photos from your recent desert post. I think deserts may be my favourite landscape now.

  11. Adrian B. says:

    It looks like a silent and relaxing place – which would not be if too many people would fall in love with it.
    Unfortunately, people tend to unwittingly alter things they love too much.

  12. Very beautiful place, and you got some great pictures. It reminds me of parts of the Salar de Uyuni tour in Bolivia, which I know is in pretty close proximity. I don’t know how many times we said the same thing about feeling like we were on another planet. Simply gorgeous!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I haven’t made it to Bolivia yet, looks like it will have to be next round as I didn’t want to rush through a country so many people love.

  13. South America ME says:

    Finding hidden gems like this is a magical part of travel.
    Rob W.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Agreed and I feel so fortunate to have found this one.

  14. Just gorgeous! And I agree, getting to see something so rare and special is quite magical. Thanks for sharing these amazing photos!

  15. Great shots! You don’t get to see a vision like this everyday…thanks for sharing Ayngelina…

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I’ve been to many places but nothing so different as a lagoon in the middle of a salt flat in the middle of a desert!

  16. Wanderingtrader says:

    You think that is crazy wait until you see the death valley and the valley of the moon. Right before you enter death valley there are rock formations that look like dinosaurs.. incredible place

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Well I’ve definitely fallen in love with the desert so I’m sure it will be amazing.

  17. I’ve never heard of the place, and I live in Chile – what a great opportunity to be able to see something different. It looks gorgeous, and I totally agree that there’s something otherworldly about the north of Chile.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I know I’m rather sad to take a detour to Argentina because I’d love to see more of the landscape.

  18. It’s so beautiful, I love that shot where you pick up the flat salt in your hand. How does it feel like? Just solid salt? I always want to see them when I saw the Brendan’s photos on he’s blog. Now looking at your photo makes this one of bucket list.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Yep a big rock of salt but Coca warned me not to eat it, I guess if you eat it unprocessed it gives you some stomach disease.

  19. Dalene - Hecktic Travels says:

    I thought this was going to be a post about how you are now chewing coca leaves on a regular basis… 🙂

    Beautiful photos, and yes, very reminiscent of parts of Bolivia. I wish Coca was right in saying that people would fall in love with it and protect it…sadly, that’s not usually the case. A big huge kudos to them for doing their part – hopefully it does stay that way!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Coca was awesome, I heard her explain her name to someone on the phone as Coca sin Cola

  20. that is something unique to look for in Chile

  21. Incredible! I love these photos, they really do look otherworldly.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I am a bit spoiled in Canada as the land is so diverse that when I see mountains or coastal life I’m not really that impressed, but this blew me away.

  22. I like Coca’s argument, about tourism encouraging environmental protection. I agree! Love those shots.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I have been battling the role of tourism but in some cases it really can save an area from over development.

  23. Nice, I never heard of it before! All I knew was that Chile robbed Atacama from Bolivia haha.

    I was thinking the other day about how much you like trains: did you know that you can go by train to Buenos Aires from Cordoba or from Tucumán (23 hours)

    I’m really curious about your plans here in Argentina!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Really? Is it expensive because I’d love to go from Cordoba to Buenos Aires by train.

      1. From Cordoba to Retiro (Buenos Aires) the cheapest is 30 pesos, the most expensive (private cabin with breakfast 300). So I would say, no, it’s not expensive.

        But watch out, they only leave on wednesday or sunday, and I would try to book my ticket on time (or at least inform if there is need to it)

        The trip takes 15 hours (so it takes more time than by bus)

        Here you should find all the information you need (in Spansh, if you need any help, let me know)

        1. Ayngelina Author says:

          You are an angel, I can absolutely do 30, or maybe a bit more 🙂

  24. It’s always nice when you get to visit a place that not too many other people have seen and especially with a blog, then get to share it with all of us. From all the pictures, I will have to add this to our list for SA.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Definitely put it on your list Jade, you’ll love it.

  25. Cathy Sweeney says:

    This is a place I would love to see. I’ve been in awe of the salt flats in Utah — can’t imagine how I’d feel being where you are.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      There are salt flats in Utah too? wow

      1. They are right next to the pepper flats…

        1. Cathy Sweeney says:

          You’re hilarious Raymond. Ayngelina — they’re the Bonneville Salt Flats in Western Utah.

          1. Ayngelina Author says:

            North America has so much that we know so little about!

  26. Jozef @ Where Now says:

    This is so great, we are heading to chile in four days time from Peru, so you are showing all the great places to go at just the right time!!


    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I’ll be in Argentina in April and Chile in May, if you’re around keep in touch and maybe we can meet up.

  27. What a cool place. It kind of reminds of San Ignacio in Baja California Sur. In addition to being an excellent spot for whale watching, the area also has the salt thing going on, so much so that Mitsubishi wanted to build a salt plant there. Luckily, the land is protected so the project failed.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Wow I had no idea there was one in California either. North America is really so diverse and we really don’t appreciate it.

  28. Alisha - Small World Pursuits says:

    This was one of my favorite parts of Chile. I got some of the most amazing photos being in the salt flats. Aren’t they just breathtaking!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Definitely the most beautiful landscape I’ve been to all year.

  29. WOW. It does look like another planet!
    Every time I see your pics, I think “damn I have to go back to South America and do it the slow travel way”.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Come on back, I’ll be here!

  30. Magical, indeed!!

  31. I love the colours of salt lakes. And great to hear you’re getting off the banana pancake trail…

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It makes me wonder what I would have missed if I hadn’t met Coca and Marco.

  32. There are also interesting salt flats in the Sahara, like Chott-el-Djerid in Tunisia.

  33. jamie - cloud people adventures says:

    wow, incredible shots. you are super lucky to have seen stuff like this with no one there! san pedro is cool, but just overflowing with tourism.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Yeah I’ve heard it’s touristy but beautiful, interesting combination.

  34. Bluegreen Krik says:

    Sometimes its best to keep the hidden hidden! Some may think its so beautiful the they want to live there and build things. Love the photos.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It’s definitely a balance of development and protection and hopefully they’ll get it right here.

  35. CRAZY! I have lived in Chile for seven years and have never even heard of that area. If it came up in the news, I’d be like WHERE? I think Coca’s on to something, if people went there, fell in love and knew of it’s beauty, they’d be a lot more willing to fight to protect it.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I completely agree, when you hear of some far off place it’s hard to be passionate about saving it.

  36. I echo Kyle and Emily, I had no idea this existed, and I live here! Your pictures are amazing. I hope it remains protected too. The worst thing ever would be if the mining industry got in there.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I think this area may remain off limits due to it being only one of few around the world, if only more of the area could be protected…

  37. Austin Yoder says:

    Wow… these are some seriously gorgeous pictures. I would love to get to a salt flat one of these days…

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Thanks Austin, I think it could very well be my favourite type of landscape – above beach.

  38. Michael Figueiredo says:

    This looks like a really remarkable place, Ayngelina. Beautiful photos too (as always!)

  39. Nice shots! Will have to add this place to my must see list.

  40. Stephanie says:

    Beautiful photography. I’ve added this place to my travel list for Chile (seems to be growing exponentially).

    Thanks for sharing such a great find with all of us.

  41. Pingback: Travel Blog Roundup (April 7) | Budget Your Trip
  42. Gorgeous lagoon photos! How nice to have Coca to show you a place you never would have seen and take a break from making decisions for a couple of days 🙂

  43. KatieAnna says:

    What an amazing place

  44. Reminds me of the salt marshes somewhere in France.

  45. Wow, those pictures were gorgeous. What an incredible place. It’s such a shame that too many natural beauties like this get destroyed by man.

  46. Justin Hamlin says:

    Gorgeous. Definitely a beautiful part of the world that goes unexplored. I tend to agree, it might be for the best…

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