The van careened around the sharp turn on the bumpy dirt road, the wheels tracing the edge like a five-year-old trying to stay in the lines. I glanced out the window to my left and quickly looked forward again.
I pinched myself. Nope, this wasn’t a dream. I couldn’t wait for the bumpy ride to be over, so I put my head down to wait.
But, just like that, the van stopped, and the doors opened.
We climbed out, rubbed our eyes and looked around. And, spread out before us in all directions was the beautiful Laguna de Salinas.
Laguna de Salinas
As travelers in South America head south of Peru searching for Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia or day hike Colca Canyon outside Arequipa, they skip right past this postcard in waiting.
But, there are many salt flats in Peru (or salt deserts in Peru). A lesser-known Peru salt flat is Laguna de Salinas.
Salinas y Aguada Blanca National Reserve — where Laguna de Salinas lies — was officially established in 1979 before becoming a Ramsar site in 2003.
To become a Ramsar site, an area must be a rare wetland that sustains threatened species and ecological communities. And rare describes Laguna de Salinas perfectly.
It’s located in the Cordillera Occidental region near the famous Cordillera Blancas, Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu.
Almost 40 miles outside Arequipa, Salinas — which dries up into crusty salt flats during the dry season — stretches over 15,000 acres.
Despite the high altitude (14,000+ feet above sea level), the volcanoes Pichu Pichu and Ubinas still dominate the landscape like bouncers deciding if you get into a club.
When the water level is right in the Laguna, salt and water reflect the mountains and clouds across the surface.
And this is why many flock to the area, but it’s not just tourists flocking to the laguna in Peru.
Laguna de Salinas is an important salt lake in Peru. Inside this reserve, rare flamingoes and camels live in safety. The small salt ponds attract the flamingoes during the proper seasons.
The water is tempting for birds and humans alike.
You slip off your shoes, and the sandpaper-like ground rubs against your feet. But, as you enter the frosty waters, it becomes a slimy mixture that feels like a quicksand trap.
Yet, the water level only rises to about four inches, providing your closest Jesus impression as you appear to walk on water.
Like other salt flats, tourists love these sites for the visual effects.
You get the reflective effect of the waters, and the salt allows for some fascinating perspective play.
Have your photographer lie flat on the salt and position an object in front of the camera — a bottle, another person, or a toy dinosaur (one of the most popular).
You should stand far back from the object (have the photographer help position you).
It will look like you’re standing next to the object, except you’re now a tiny version of yourself and the object seems gigantic.
Have fun with this effect and get creative!
Lojen Hot Springs
Not far from Laguna de Salinas, you’ll find the Lojen Hot Springs — a set of natural thermal baths to relax in after the bumpy ride to the lake.
Locals sit outside the entrance, selling souvenirs, food, and drinks. So, if you’re hungry or thirsty, you have options here.
After that, you can enter the Salinas hot springs for a small entrance fee — 5 soles.
The water temperature sits around 86 °F, which is excellent for preparing yourself for your bouncing commute back to Arequipa.
If you came to the reserve yourself, check out the Sumbay Caves if you have time. Ancient cave paintings are waiting for you to see. This wasn’t a part of our tour, so we didn’t get this option.
Getting to Laguna de Salinas
In the city of Arequipa, tours are more common than house cats.
Head to Plaza de Armas and stroll the streets surrounding it, where you’ll find all the tour operators lined up next to each other.
If you can’t find them, just listen. You’ll hear the employees calling you, beckoning you inside to sign up for one of their many tours.
I recommend Sky Viajes. This is the operator I went with; it was one of the best tours I’ve taken. The tour cost only $30 and lasted around 11-12 hours.
If you can, ask for Mario. He was our travel guide and made the entire trip fun and insightful.
His knowledge of the flats, the surrounding ecosystem, and the area’s history was unprecedented. He can provide Spanish, English, and Italian tours and loves connecting with the travelers on the tour.
You can rent a car and drive if you want to get there yourself. No public transportation will take you all the way there.
You head east out of Arequipa, taking Route 34C toward Chiguata. I’ll warn you, though. A few miles past Chiguata, the road turns into a rocky dirt road.
And these roads eat normal-sized cars for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
If you’re not driving a truck or an SUV, I’d suggest booking a tour, as the terrain is brutal on most vehicles.
As I returned to my Airbnb, I reviewed the pictures from the day. I couldn’t help but smile at how enjoyable the entire trip was — even with the death-defying drive.
It had been one of the best day trips I’d had in my entire time traveling, and I wouldn’t hesitate to visit again.
The only thing I’d change? I’d add a blindfold to my list of packing items for the ride there.
As they say, ignorance is bliss.
If you’re thinking of visiting Peru, be sure to check out Laguna Humantay to experience some true beauty! Or, if Incan Ruins are more your thing, then you’ll want to see how to visit four sets of Incan ruins in one day!