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A volcano and three salt flats A volcano and three salt flats A volcano and three salt flats

A volcano and three salt flats

The Licancabur is a volcano with a curious characteristic: one of its sides belongs to Bolivia and the other to Chile. In this way, its perfect peak dominates two of the most beautiful landscapes of South America: Sur Lipez and the Atacama Desert.
The history divided into two this small portion of land.
Not far from there, in straight line, the Argentinean Puna offers an absolutely magnificent view.

Once upon a time, there was a desert region in which nobody was interested, not even the Spanish conquerors. So they traced the borders carelessly between Perú, Chile and the present-day Bolivia. But one day, at the end of the 19th century, the saltpeter (niter) was discovered and so they started to fight for that arid portion of land.
This war has a nice name, "War of the Pacific" or "Saltpeter War", but that was not enough to make it nice in the eyes of the Peruvians or Bolivians who left some feathers there: Tarapaca and the coastal region became part of Chile, thus Bolivia lost every possible access to the sea.
So one morning of 1881, the volcano Licancabur and its neighbour, the volcano Ollagüe, woke up with one foot in Bolivia and the other in Chile. The Atacama Desert became part of Chile and the Sur Lipez of Bolivia.
Nowadays, the region remains desert, wild and hard-to-reach, which, in fact, is a myth to the tourists. The on-going development of the region was reflected in the two neighbouring cities: Uyuni in Bolivia and San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. Located at 3,600mts high, Uyuni is by far the most austere. A stiffening glacial cold and strong winds that sweep away the dusty streets…a far-west atmosphere. All this comes as a preparation for the Sur Lipez, that is higher and where is possible to find a lot of small hotels with a bad heating and open to the air currents...

Volcano and 3 Salars
Traces of former lakes, the salt flats flourish in the region, but the Uyuni salt flat goes beyond imagination. It boasts about being the largest salt desert in the world, with a surface of 11,520 km2, which is approximately the same as two French provinces! This salt flat is as vast and flat as an oil sea, and when you look towards the horizon you can see the rounded shape of the Earth. The sunsets are unforgettable, as the nights that follow them, since it is possible to sleep in salt hotels that are more original that comfortable.
With its houses made of adobe and its classy town centre, San Pedro appears as the most enchanting. As an irony of the destiny, Chilean San Pedro is the closest to the treasures of the Sur Lipez.
In a way, the surroundings of San Pedro of Atacama resemble wonderland.
Being the third largest salt flat in the world, the Atacama Salt flat, almost completely white, is worthy of a deviation in order to appreciate its richness as regards ornithology and specially its flamingo reserve.
The road that connects Chile and Argentina through the Paso de Jama is between 2,500 and 4,800 m high, crossing landscapes similar to its neighbour, Lipez. Not far from there we find the Arizaro Salt flat, the largest salt flat in Argentina, located in the province of Salta. The Arizaro Salt flat is rich not only in regular salt but also in iron, copper, marble and onyx. With a surface of more than 1,500 km², it is the largest salt flat in the Argentine Puna. To the west and northeast, it is surrounded by an amazing chain of volcanoes, near the Chilean border, that includes the Llullaillaco volcano (6,739 m), the Socompa (6,031 m) that dominates the Paso Socompa, the Aracar (6,095 m), the Arizaro (5,774 m) and the stratum volcanoes of Lastarria (5,706m) and of the Cordon Azufre.
The "Ojos del Mar" is a curious geologic formation within the salt flat...
Of course, I will mention the famous "Arita cone": a small and perfect black cone placed in the middle of the white immensity of the Arizano Salt flat. It resembles the lighthouse for a shipwrecked in the salt deserts. Among the three salt flats, this is the less visited, being far from the traditional touristic itineraries.

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