The Huasco Salt Flat National Park is located in the commune of Pica, 180 km from Iquique. Declared a “Nature Sanctuary” in 2004, and also protected by an international treaty called “Ramsar”, that is, by the “Convention on Wetlands of International Importance”.
Its surface varies according to its protected area: 6,000 hectares are protected by Ramsar, 9,950 hectares are part of the Nature Sanctuary, and 110,962.46 hectares are National Park. Can you imagine 110,962 hectares? .. It is equivalent to 1,789 National Stadiums !!
If you come from the city of Iquique you must take route A-16 to route 5 heading south, and 1 kilometer before Pozo Almonte you must turn right onto route A-65 (it is the one that leads to Collahuasi). When you reach Kilometer 97, you must turn left onto route A-675 that will take you directly to the Salar.
All roads are paved and in good condition, and you can get there by private vehicle or with “Green Desert Expeditions”. Entrance to the Park is Free !!
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR WHEN YOU VISIT THE PARK
- The ideal time to visit the Park is at noon and between the months of April and November, since there is a lot of wind in the afternoons, and during the Summer it rains a lot due to the so-called “Highlands Winter”.
- It is very important to go prepared to the Salar, since it is at a high altitude, so that during the way or in the park itself you may feel somewhat dizzy (pointed). To prevent it, you have to eat lightly the day before, hydrate well and do not make sudden movements such as running, jumping or using a lot of force.
RECOGNIZING THE GROUND
The Huasco Salt Flat is home to endangered species, and is classified as a continental wetland corresponding to intermittent brackish lagoons.
The Salar del Huasco has several interior lagoons that receive water from small springs. It is located at 3,800 m.a.s.l. What influences that the solar radiation is stronger, that the temperatures change abruptly during the day and between the seasons, that the atmospheric pressure is low, which is why when we walk we tire faster than normal. Rainfall is scarce and is concentrated in the summer “Highlands winter”.
On the way to the Salar, the panorama is transformed before your eyes, more and more plants and some camelids (llamas, alpacas) appear, attentive to the visitors.
The relief of the Salar stands out for the presence of high peaks and volcanoes. These mountainous forms, composed of igneous and sedimentary rocks, form closed basins and valleys through which the Collacagua River runs.
In Geology three types of rock are distinguished: igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks, whose formation is explained by their cycle. This process starts from magma (molten rock under the surface of the earth). When magma solidifies, igneous rocks are formed, which are disintegrated and decomposed by the environment and become smaller particles called sediments, which can accumulate and be compacted, and thus become sedimentary rocks. Finally, if the sedimentary rocks are exposed to great heat, they will become metamorphic rocks, which when receiving even more heat and pressure, can become magma, starting the cycle again.
During your visit to the Salar you can find different species of flora and fauna: some endemic, some threatened in their conservation and others that you would not imagine finding in this place. In the Salar there are herbivores, rodents, mammals, birds, amphibians and fish.
Among the birds there are three types of flamingos: the Chilean flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis), the James flamingo or small parina (Phoenicoparrus Jamesí), and the Andean flamingo or large parina (Phoenicoparrus andinus), all Vulnerable species. For these aquatic birds, the Salar plays a fundamental role as it is one of the way stations on their migration route; There they rest and nest, then going on to visit other salt flats in Bolivia, Argentina and Peru.
There is also the Suri or ñandú, the guayata and the Andean gull, the condor, the giant tagua, the puna partridge and the Andean goose. The basin is also home to the vizcacha, vicuña, the Peruvian toad, the tuco tuco and other endangered species. In addition to domestic animals such as llamas, sheep, goats, alpacas, which are the livestock of the local communities.
Quirquincho: In danger of extinction, especially for its use in the manufacture of musical instruments, its activity is nocturnal in summer and in winter it is diurnal.
- Puma: The largest feline in Chile, with a solitary and territorial behavior.
- Andean cat: Called “titi” in Aymara or “chinchay” in Quechua. In the Andean culture it is considered sacred.
- Culpeo fox: It is the largest species of fox in the country, with reddish-brown and gray fur.
- Guanaco: It differs from llamas by having a darker face and shorter fur. They are group animals dominated by a male and accompanied by several females.
- Vicuña: It is similar to the guanaco and has light brown fur, they are wild and or domesticable.
Flamingos are not born pink! Their striking color is acquired thanks to their diet that contains this pigment, a crustacean called artemia. In the case of the Chilean flamingo, it is the males who have the most showy pink color, and are also larger than the females.
In addition to being differentiated by their legs and beak, one way to differentiate them is by their size: the largest is the large or Andean parina, followed by the Chilean, and finally the James.
At the beginning of the adventure you found large trees such as carob and tamarugos in Pozo Almonte, and as you got closer to the Salar the vegetation became smaller or lower, and similar to a cushion or pasture. These contrasts are due to various factors: climate, soil quality, rainfall and altitude variation.
In the Salar del Huasco, due to the extreme conditions, the plants have acquired three forms: cushion plants, hard grasses or coirones and low shrubs with reduced foliage. In addition, in this sector four typical formations of highland environments are identified: bofedales, meadows, pajonales and tolares.
Among the plants to be found are: the Llareta, the tall queñoa, the tola, the wild straw and the salty grass or grass.
Queñoa is used as a natural medicine to relieve asthma and strengthen the heart, also for wood such as firewood and to build houses and corrals, to make handicrafts and to dye wool. Other species are used as fodder for animals, such as tola, grass or wild straw; The latter is also used to make roofs in homes.
Among the ceremonies carried out by the communities of the Huasco Salt Flat, there is the prayer of rain or tatai wanquina (in Aymara), a ritual that consists of mixing sea water with water from the springs, asking the Pachamama for permission and forgiveness for their faults . The ritual is directed to a Yatiri who performs the wilancha, an act in which a llama is sacrificed, and which ends when the Yatiri reads the Inka, a book to see if it will rain or not, ending with the ritual in gratitude to the Pachamama.
THE LEGEND TELLS THAT THERE IS A “DOOR” THAT TRANSPORTS TO ANOTHER DIMENSION IN INCA CULTURE, AND ALSO TALES THAT WARN ABOUT THE PRESENCE OF THE DEVIL IN THE DEVIL MARK SECTOR. THEY SAY THAT WHEN YOU ARE IN THE SECTOR, THE VISITORS GET DISORIENTED AND LOST, AND NEVER APPEAR AGAIN.