Los Flamencos National Reserve is a nature reserve located in the commune of San Pedro de Atacama, Antofagasta Region of northern Chile. The reserve has a desert climate and is divided into seven areas/sections, each having a different geography, flora, fauna and hydrography.
Los Flamencos National Reserve is a nature reserve located in the commune of San Pedro de Atacama, Antofagasta Region of northern Chile. The reserve covers a total area of 740 sq km (286 sq mi) or 73,986 ha (182,823 acres) in the Central Andean dry puna ecoregion.
The reserve has a desert climate with the temperature varying dramatically between day and night. Rain is more frequent in summer, with an average total rainfall of 3 mm (.12 in). The average high temperature is 24.5°C (76°F) and the average low is 17.1°C (63°F).
The reserve, created in 1990, is divided into seven areas/sections: Tara Salar, Aguas Calientes Salar, Puisa Salar, Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons, Soncor area, Aguas de Quelana Lagoon (Atacama Salar), Moon Valley and Tambillo. Each one of them has a different geography, flora, fauna and hydrography.
Salar de Tara - Salar de Aguas Calientes: This area is made up of two salt flats: Tara, located 120 km (75 miles) east of San Pedro de Atacama and 440 km (273 miles) northeast of Antofagasta, and Aguas Calientes, reaching an altitude of up to 4,860 m (15,944 ft) above sea level.
In 1996, Salar de Tara (Tara Salt Flat) was designated a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention. It features both permanent and seasonal lakes. The largest of these is Tara Lake, which is fed by the Zapaleri River.
The flora is characterized by the presence of bofedales, a kind of high altitude wetland, as well as yellow straw, broom sedge, tola de agua and tola amaia (two species of parastrephia lepidophylla), and coirón (Festuca gracillima), which can be observed on flat and hilly terrain and on the slopes of volcanoes and hills.
Salar de Tara provides a habitat for various rare and endangered species of wildlife. Some, like the southern viscacha, vicuña and Darwin's rhea, are classified as endangered species. Others, such as Andean goose, horned coot, Andean gull, puna tinamou and the three flamingo species inhabiting in Chile (Andean flamingo, Chilean flamingo, and James's flamingo) are considered vulnerable. The conservation status of the tawny tuco-tuco and the Andean fox is unknown. The latter lives in all the sections of the reserve.
Salar de Pujsa: The Salar de Pujsa area is a salt flat southwest of Salar de Tara, 83 km (52 miles) from San Pedro de Atacama, and northeast of Acamarachi volcano. With a maximum altitude of 4,585 m (15,042 ft) above sea level, Pujsa is considered the most isolated section in the reserve. The salt flat receives the waters of the Quepiaco and Alitar creeks and was listed as a Ramsar site in 2009. Notable wind erosion occurs in this area.
Birds that migrate across the hemispheres use the salt flat and surrounding land as a staging area, including the Wilson's phalarope.
The flora found here is similar to that found in the Tara and Aguas Calientes areas, characterized by bofedales, yellow straw, broom sedge, tola de agua and tola amaia (two species of parastrephia lepidophylla), and coirón (Festuca gracillima), which can be observed on flat and hilly terrain.
The fauna includes vizcachas, chululos, Andean foxes, cuyos, Andean flamingos, Chilean flamingos, ñandúes, Andean condors and eagles, among others.
Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons: A lava flow from an eruption of Miñiques volcano separated Laguna Miscanti from Laguna Miñiques. Located 25 km (16 miles) south of Socaire, 115 km (71 miles) southeast of San Pedro de Atacama and 431 km (268 miles) east of Antofagasta, this area comprises Miscanti Lagoon and Miñiques Lagoon, situated in the foothills of Cerro Miscanti and the Miñiques Volcano. The lagoons have an altitude of between 4,100 m (13,451 ft) and 4,350 m (14,272 ft) above sea level. This section is close to Salar de Talar and Laguna Lejía.
This portion of the reserve is home to a variety of birds, including the Andean flamingo, Chilean flamingo, horned coot, silvery grebe, Andean gull and greenish yellow finch. Mammals include the vicuña, Andean fox, and Darwin's leaf-eared mouse.
Salar de Atacama: This area is formed by two sub-sections, Soncor and Quelana. Both comprise lagoons lying over the Salar de Atacama, the largest salt flat in Chile at an altitude of 2,305 m (7,562 ft) with an extensive salt crust.
- Soncor section: The Soncor section includes the Chaxa, Puilar and Barros Negros lagoons. Despite the extreme conditions, the Salar de Atacama sustains a wide variety of species including Chilean and Andean flamingos (the latter using it as an important nesting site), the Andean avocet, the yellow-billed teal, the crested duck, the puna plover and Baird's sandpiper. Various plant species ground around the edges of the lagoons, such as Distichlis spicata, Ephedra and cachiyuyo (a species of the genus Atriplex), among others. The Sistema hidrológico de Soncor (Soncor hydrological system), like the Salar de Tara, is a Ramsar protected site. It comprises four shallow salt lakes.
- Quelana section: Located 10 km (6 miles) from the path to Chaxa lagoon, the Quelana section features extensive salt crust and saline mud. The terrain is flat with an average altitude of 2,300 m (7,546 ft).
Valle de la Luna: This area includes archaeological sites such as the village of Tulor as well as the Cordillera de la Sal mountain range, which reaches altitudes of 2,624 m (8,609 ft). The range was formed by the sequential folding of an old salt lake that eventually dried and was forced upwards by the movement of tectonic plates. White-bellied fat-tailed mouse opossums can be found in this area.
Tambillo: This area is nearest to San Pedro de Atacama and is characterized by an extended Tamarugo forest (Prosopis tamarugo) of 370 ha (914 acres), which is unique in this region. Tambillo contains similar fauna to the other sections of the reserve, including the Andean flamingo, Chilean flamingo, horned coot, silvery grebe, Andean gull, greenish yellow finch, grey fox, Andean fox, chincol (Zonotrichia capensis), swallows, and falcons.