Surrealism in the middle of the desert is the best way to describe Laguna Roja ("Red Lagoon"), one of the most extraordinary places in Chile. Its intense red colored waters are like blood, and the water streams that originate from it resemble authentic veins that cover the earth. It is located in a desolate place, until recently completely unknown except for the Aimara community that live in the region, whose legends impregnate the place with an aura of mysticism and mystery. This is a natural wonder and one of the most incredible sights in the world.Share this destination:
Red: Road to Laguna Roja
Blue: Detour to Gigante de Atacama
AccessThe lagoon is accesible from the cities of Arica and Iquique (both cities with daily flights to and from Santiago), although the access conditions from the second one are far superior. It is located on an isolated place, with a road in poor conditions where it is only posible to reach in a 4x4 vehicle.Private vehicle: The first section of the road starts in Iquique and finishes in the town of Camiña, 200 km northeast of Iquique (2,5 hrs). The journey advances over Route 5, then over Route A-45 to the east heading to Camiña. The road to this locality is paved. The second section is Camiña-Laguna Roja, covering a distance of 65 km and an expected time of 3 hrs. The road is a dirt road many times in bad conditions, hence it is necessary to go in a 4x4 vehicle, going slow and carefully. There is no infrastructure nor signals along the way, bringing a GPS is a good option. After crossing the Caritaya river you have to continue to a country house where you can park your vehicle and walk 2 km to the lagoon or, if the road conditions allow it, continue further to the lagoon in your vehicle.It is recommended to consult the local police officers in Camiña about the state of the road to the lagoon, which depending on weather conditions might be impassable.Renting a 4x4 vehicle in Iquique has a cost of around CLP 80.000 a day, and the cost in diesel of the trip is around CLP 20.000 (price of reference CLP 400 per litre).Public transport: There is no public transport to the lagoon. It is possible to take buses from Iquique to Camiña (around CLP 4.000 one-way), where you can hitchhike or negotiate with the locals for a visit to the lagoon. The vehicular flow to the lagoon is not high, which has to be taken into consideration if you plan to hitchhike.Paid tour: Tourist agencies in Iquique offer tours to Laguna Roja. Prices vary a lot, depending on the tour's duration (1 or 2 days) and the places which are visited in addition to the lagoon. Prices vary between CLP 80.000 to CLP 120.000 per person.Food and AccommodationCamiña is a small locality, but there you can find hostels for travelers. The cost of spending a night in Camiña is around CLP 10.000 per person. You can find places to eat good and cheap as well (around CLP 5.000). The city of Iquique has a wide offer of accommodation and gastronomy.
The LagoonLaguna Roja, located 3.700 meters above sea level, is a place that stands out not only for its red waters. The temperature of the lagoon is always high (40 - 50 ºC) and the terrain that surrounds it is tinted red as well. If this wasn't unusual enough next to Laguna Roja there are two smaller lagoons, the "twin lagoons", one colored yellow and the other green. Studies never have been made to explain the color of the lagoons. The reason for their color and their depth remain unknown.The locals attribute them supernatural and dark powers. One of the local legends tells that centuries ago, during a severe drought, 3 virgins were offered as a sacrifice to the gods to end the desperate situation. They were tied and abandoned, and each of them cried tears of a different color, giving birth to the lagoons. It is told that so many tears were shed by the virgins in their desperation that they effectively managed to return water to the region, but brought with it a curse: anyone who dared bathing in the lagoons would disappear or would suffer severe disgraces.Scientists believe the red color of the lagoon is due to an algae and certain sediments dissolved in the water. Regardless of one's beliefs, it is important to visit this place with care and respect for the locals' beliefs.
The JourneyThe road to the lagoon is an attraction in itself. It is not necessary to do the whole journey of more than 5 hrs in a single trip, since there are interesting spots along the way. You can visit the Gigante de Atacama ("Atacama Giant") by taking a small detour in Route 5 (blue on the map). This is an enormous geoglyph drawn over a hillside, 15 km from the locality of Huara. This geoglyph has been the focus of different legends and stories, from UFO interventions to the representation of the Andean deity Tunupa-Tarapacá.Another point of interest is the valley of the Gorge of Tana, where the locality of Camiña is located. This is a green and fertile valley in the middle of the desert, bordered by high cliffs. Agriculture is the main activity here, with numerous plantations and small villages that characterize the road to Camiña. In this valley you can enjoy amazing views as well as several petroglyph sites, being the most notorious the petroglyphs of Chillaiza.
Precautions and Recommendations
1. Best season: Throughout the year except for the months of January and February, period when there's the risk of altiplanic winter rains deteriorating the road, to the point of making it impassable.2. Guides: The road to the lagoon is usually in bad conditions. Many times it is necessary to park your vehicle and continue on foot. It is possible to hire the service of a local guide in the localities of Camiña or Nama. Bringing a GPS is also an option.3. Clothing: This is an area of strong thermal oscillation, with hot days and cold nights. Therefore it is recommended to bring light and warm clothing.4. Altitude sickness: The lagoon and the locality of Camiña are below 4.000 masl, altitude sickness shouldn't be a problem.5. Respect: Laguna Roja is an important place for the local community. It is important to visit it always with care and respect for others' beliefs.6. Trash: DO NOT leave any trash. This is a place of spiritual importance for many people, as well as being a natural wonder. Return with all your trash in bags and don't leave wastes or garbage in the lagoon and its surroundings. Be a responsible backpacker!