Safari in San Pedro de Atacama: wildlife in the world's driest desert


A herd of vicuņas in the Atacama desert
A herd of vicuņas in the Atacama desert
Northern Chile is best known for its landscape, and understandably so with the vast salt planes, high volcanoes, canyons and geysers. However, this otherworldly terrain is inhabited by a wonderful range of animals, including the following -
Vischacha: Like super-size rabbits but with long curly tails, viscachas belong to the chinchilla family. They live on rocks in the Atacama Desert and are often seen near the Tatio Geysers or up on the Altiplano. Native to South America, they are found in Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador and Paraguay.
Gray Fox: These charming little foxes are often spotted trotting around in pairs. Endemic to South America, they are most often found on either side of the Andes Mountains in Argentina and Chile. Physical markers include bushy grey tails with black tips. Their main source of prey is small rodents.
Llama: Llamas are domesticated camelids, unlike vicuñas (see below). They typically live for 20 years, but some survive as many as 30 years. Herd animals, they are very social and live in large groups – it is not uncommon to see herds of up to 100 llamas around Salar de Tara. Sometimes their ears are decorated with flowers and colourful ribbons, since their owners believe these adornments encourage fertility.
Vicuña: Although also South American camelids, vicuñas are one of only two wild camelids that live in the Andes (the other being guanacos which surround our lodge in Southern Chile, Awasi Patagonia). They are the wildest and most timid camelid, sadly at risk of extinction and difficult to spot below 4,000 meters. Smaller than llamas, vicuñas measure around three feet in height (around 80cm) and have very fine wool which is very expensive since they can only be shorn once every few years. It is said that in Inca times, it was illegal for anyone but royalty to wear garments made from vicuña wool.
Flamingo: These elegant birds with their uncannily pink feathers are mainly seen feeding in the lakes around San Pedro de Atacama, both on the Salt Flat (at Los Flamencos National Reserve on Salar de Atacama) and up on the Altiplanic Lakes (especially around Salar de Tara and Pujsa). Chile plays host to three of the world’s five species of flamingos - Andean, Chilean and James’s - and they are often seen together in one flock, distinguished by their varying pink feathers. Put simply, the Andean flamingo is the largest, the Chilean has the longest legs and the James flamingo is the smallest.
All these animals can be seen on excursions with Awasi Atacama, the only hotel in South America where each room is given a private guide and 4WD. Forget being restricted by larger groups and timetables, at Awasi tours are tailor-made meaning you can go where you want for as long as you want – this is great for anyone who loves photography and wants to spend as long as it takes to get that shot!
We are waiting for you to set off on a South American safari…



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