Salar de Surire

Vicuñas at Salar de Surire, Chile

Stocked up with spare tanks of gas and plenty of water, we headed south from Lauca National Park through Las Vicuñas National Reserve, which gets its name from the many herds of wild vicuñas that roam the desolate landscape. Vicuñas are related to guanacos, llamas, and alpacas, though they are smaller and much cuter!

vicuña, Salar de Surire, Chile

The scenery along the bumpy dirt road through Las Vicuñas National Reserve is constantly exciting, with colorful mountains, steaming volcanoes, isolated sun-baked villages, oasis riverbeds, and the ever present herds of vicuñas everywhere you look.

Polloquere hot springs, Chile

We drove to the Salar de Surire, a large salt flat sitting in a broad basin surrounded by colorful but barren peaks. The first thing we did was to go straight to the Polloquere hot springs at the far end of the salar. This hot spring is a nearly scalding hot sulfur-smelling turquoise lake, which we enjoyed for as long as we could bear!

Salar de Surire, dusk, Chile

Surire Dusk : Prints Available

Intense dusk colors in the sky over Salar de Surire.

Salar de Surire, flamingos, sunrise

Icy Flamingo Sunrise : Prints Available

Salar de Surire is a wildlife photographer’s paradise, with large herds of vicuñas and huge flocks of flamingos. One thing I realized for sure, however, is that I am not much of a wildlife photographer! First of all, I need a longer lens – 200mm just doesn’t cut it! Secondly, I think I’m too lazy to properly stalk the animals, and I usually just end up scaring them away and then feeling bad about that.

Flamingos are especially difficult to photograph, as they are very wary of humans and must have good eyesight because they fly away when you even begin to approach them hundreds of meters away. I quickly gave up trying that – until the next morning at sunrise when I found them standing with their legs frozen into the lake! Since they were trapped in the ice I finally had a chance to get within suitable photo range from the side of the lake. They must have still been sleepy – or resigned to their predicament – because they didn’t seem to mind my presence then. Once the sun rises higher and the air warms up enough, they are able to kick their legs out of the ice and continue on with their day.

Isluga, Northern Chile, Iglesia, church, altiplano

Isluga Iglesia : Prints Available

Though the wildlife is surprisingly abundant in this desolate high altitude region, people are hard to find. We passed through a number of old villages along the way, including the village of Isluga which has a particularly photogenic 16th or 17th century iglesia. We stopped for a while to admire it and take some photos, but we didn’t see a soul there. Desolate…

9 thoughts on “Salar de Surire

  1. Wow great pictures. Thanks for reminding me that there’s a world out there, I’ve been stuck in the city for way too long now..

    1. Thanks Chris! No the church and town is not abandoned, it’s just that there was nobody out on the streets at all. Not sure where they all were, but it felt almost like a ghost town. Most of the other little villages we went through were the same way. The church looked like it hadn’t been used in a long time!

  2. Jack, I actually laughed out loud about the flamingos being frozen in the ice. Great pictures. Looks like you guys are having a great time.

  3. Great shots Jack. Reminded me of our trip and the drive through the Salar de Surire. Made exactly the same experience with the Flamingoes 🙂 – just not my type of photography. Did you stay in the Salar de Surire overnight? Polloquere hot springs is about a 3hour drive away from Putre. I wouldn’t necessarily do that drive at night time…


    1. Thanks Andre! Yes we stayed the night at Salar de Surire. We tried to camp but it was too damn cold and windy, so we ended up sleeping in the truck (which was a common scenario during our travels in north Chile).

      Sweet photos on your site, btw!

      1. Thanks. Hearing that from a full-time professional means a lot to me. Big fan of your work though. Looking at the date, we missed each other by about 1 week. My wife was in the same spot yours is about a week earlier. Oct. 18, 2011 to be exact.

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