Hidden within this parched patch of earth is a series of vividly blue-green lakes. But these mesmerizingly colorful pools aren’t places a desert traveler would want to quench their thirst.
The Atacama Desert is an arid landscape created by tectonic shift. Over time, the geological activity caused an ocean to form in the mountains, where the salty water remained trapped for millions of years. Much of this water has since evaporated. The remaining water is incredibly salty—its salinity is so high, it’s sometimes even saltier than the Dead Sea.
The Lagunas Escondidas de Baltinache (Hidden Lagoons of Baltinache) are a relatively unknown spot near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Reaching them requires driving nearly 25 miles (40 kilometers) on curvy, unpaved roads through an area dubbed the “valley of patience.” You’ll soon see why it has this name—you have to watch your speed or risk losing a tire, or worse. Punctured tires litter the side of the roads, and shrines to those who died dot its edge.
Once safely at the lagoons, you’ll find a series of dazzling blue lakes surrounded by shimmering crystals of salt. You can swim in a couple of the lakes, though the rest are off-limits for research and conservation purposes. The water is relatively cold, at about 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius), but in the burning desert Sun, it feels refreshing.