The Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve, located between the departments of Arequipa and Moquegua, is a tourist attraction where nature and captivating landscapes are showcased in all their splendor. Volcanoes, fauna, flora and water resources combine perfectly in this Reserve, which encompasses an area of more than 900,000 acres and reaches heights between 11,500 and 19,700 feet above sea level.
It was established in 1979 to protect the habitat of the vicuña, an emblematic animal of Peru that even appears on Peru's National Coat of Arms. At present, it also represents the main water reserve in this region of the country.
The thermal mountain range
To the southwest of the Reserve lies one of its greatest charms: the volcanic mountain range. It is composed of the El Misti and Ubinas volcanoes, which are active, as well as Pichupichu and Chachani, the latter being the largest among them. The first on the list, El Misti, is best known as the symbol of Arequipa and for being the only mountain with an almost perfect peak, as can be seen on postcards. All of them can be observed from various strategic points across the natural area.
For that reason, it is not uncommon to find thermal springs nearby. The Umaluso hot springs are located behind the Chachani volcano and north of El Misti, and are one of the most popular hot springs among locals and visitors. Other tourist attractions include the Puruña stone forest and the Sumbay caves, where 500 rock art figures are preserved which date back some 8,000 years.
The home of the vicuña
The Reserve holds a mega diversity of fauna. Other than reptile, amphibian and fish species, there are 207 vertebrate species, of which 158 are birds and 37 mammals. Among the latter are the South American camelids: llama, alpaca, guanaco and the vicuña, which is the queen of the house. These animals live alongside one another in the highest areas of the mountains.
The status of the vicuña has been quite an achievement. Thanks to the commitment of local communities, it was possible to recover the vicuña from the brink of extinction. From a population of just 5,000 in 1967, it grew to 12,129 by 2016, according to the National Service of Natural Areas Protected by the State (Sernanp). This conservation process has gone hand-in-hand with the formal use by inhabitants of its fine fibers for commercial activities.
The magic of nature
The flora also stands out in this Reserve, where we can appreciate 358 species of plants. Herbaceous plants and shrubs are the most abundant and play a fundamental role in obtaining water resources. Yareta forests, queñua forests and scrubland have the capacity to retain the water that falls from the precipitation of rain, hail and snow. In addition to the subsoil, the liquid is stored in the bofedales (wetlands) and lagoons that also make the area beautiful and are the habitat of stunning birds such as flamingos and crested ducks.
Did you know?
- The Reserve offers visitors various activities such as cycling, hiking, trout fishing in season and authorized places for bird watching. All of them fall under restricted measures for the care of natural resources. For adventure lovers, it is possible to go mountaineering in the area of the volcanoes.
- The recommended season to enjoy this tourist site is between April and December, due to the absence of rain. It is important to wear appropriate clothing as the annual temperature ranges from 28 ºF to 46 ºF.
Sources: Sernanp/ Universidad Nacional de San Agustín/ Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos/ Andina/ El Comercio/ Diario Correo