The salt flat of Uyuni should not be the last place for us to explore in the Southwest of Bolivia. We went on a two-day tour through the desert and mountain range that forms the border between Bolivia and Chile. The landscapes we passed were breathtaking and fast-changing as we drove further into the “nothing”. It began with volcano stone formations for as far as you could tell, llama herds and sandy terrain and ended with massive snow-tipped volcanoes behind colorful lagoons that were home to three distinct types of flamingos. We let ourselves amaze by a field of geysers at almost 5,000 m during sunrise and jumped in pleasant hot springs to unfreeze afterwards. Excellent scenery for stunning pictures – see for yourself!
(Click on the pictures to see bigger versions of them!)
After sleeping in a small and freezing cold altiplano village with stinky pillows and questionable sanitary facilities we made our way into one of the biggest and highest deserts on earth. First stop was a never-ending landscape of volcano stones which formed thousands of years ago. You could walk and climb around and feel tiny, surrounded by massive blocks, cliffs and towers of stone. All the way you could locate a few mighty nevados – snowy mountains – in the background. Later on we passed a bunch of llamas that posed for us in a professional manner.
A big part of the tour were the different types of high-altitude lagoons we visited. The different kinds of fauna you can spot here is mind-blowing, not to say incredible, considering the poor vegetation and the harsh conditions animals have to face at this altitude. Despite this we saw lots of flamingos, vicuñas – wild alpaca-like animals – , different species of birds and in the far distance even a distinct species of ostrich that only lives in the Andes. The lagoons themselves offered fantastic views and reflections of the mountains and made you feel like being on a different planet.
The most exceptional high altitude lagoon was the Laguna Colorada. Like the name reveals, it is a red lagoon getting its color from microorganisms in the water. Another lagoon had a high concentration of sulfur and different minerals and therefor is called the “stinky” lagoon. The laguna verde – green lagoon – was actually more blue but you know. ;-) All these lagoons are located above 4.000 m sea level. Crazy, isn’t it?
One famous picture you might as well know is The Stone Tree. That’s where we stumbled upon at another “stone forest” in the desert of Salvador Dalí. The desert has got its name because of a scenery that looks like one of Dalí’s work. Dalí has actually never been to Bolivia to be inspired, but it was the other way around. I am still amazed how a bunch of rocks just appeared on this otherwise completely sandy terrain.
The second night we slept really close to the red lagoon on about 4.290 m. The accommodation was pretty basic. Instead of having a wooden bed or something alike we were given a stone block with a mattress to sleep on. Surprisingly it wasn’t all that uncomfortable as we thought it would be. We were able to catch the sunset, but as soon as the sun was gone it was freezing and the strong winds made it even colder.
The next morning was only something of the tough ones. Getting up at 4 am we quickly had breakfast and then sat in the half-frozen SUV to warm us up from the -15° outside. Perfectly in time for sunrise we reached a big field of geysers at about 5.000 m above sea level. If we didn’t doubt that we were on earth but on the Mars or the moon until then, well then at the latest when we saw the steam and the one or the other little fountain going up in the air surrounded by rocks and sandy ground. The chilly temperatures approved our theory. But our tour guide told us that in their winter it would actually get much colder than that during the night.
Luckily, our next stop were some natural hot springs to jump into for a couple of minutes. After that I could feel my fingers and toes again, what a relieve! From the tiny pool – that was definitely too small for all the people that wanted to get in – we had an extraordinary view of a warm lagoon. We couldn’t resist but get some pictures of it with the rising sun behind us and wait until it was possible to enter the pool without touching strangers.
Our last stop was the Chilean border where we were dropped off and had to say Good bye to some amazing people we met during this tour. I personally didn’t expect a lot of the days in the desert of Uyuni and was more excited about the salt flats that we visited before but to my surprise constantly we happened to see completely different landscapes, animals and lagoons in such a short time. I know, most people come to Uyuni mainly for the salt flat but I would recommend anyone highly to also tour the rest of the desert. It is simply amazing what world we live in!
Have a good week! :-)