Salar de Uyuni and Reserva Nacional Eduardo Avaroa

Uyuni Travel Blog

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Mountain scenery near our first night's stop
For the four day three night trip to Uyuni I was the fifth person in a group consisting of an American and Canadian couple that are both sailors and had met somewhere along the way of their sailing adventures. The Toyota Landcruiser that we were in was not too packed with the five of us, the driver and the cook, although with a sixth person it would have been pretty tight in the backseat. The vehicle was in pretty good condition so the ride wasn't too bad.
 
Out of Tupiza the road climbed up through the canyons to the west of town with some nice views of the gnarled desert hillsides eroded by years of rains.
Another Landcruiser approaching at dawn
As we continued through barren mountains we passed through a few isolated villages where the people work mining silver, antimony, copper, and supposedly lead, as well as keeping llamas. These people live in such an isolated area that we were all amazed at how and why they could live out there. Then our guide told us, how could they live in the city, they have everything here with the open space and fresh air, an interesting point of view.
 
We had lunch at some dry riverbed and continued on our way passing several other small desert villages and in one we gave a kid a ride to the next village so he could attend school the next day since his village only had a school for the first few years. As we began to get higher and higher we began to see lots of ice on the few rivers and wet spots.
The rock formations in the Dali Desert
One of the rivers that we had to cross had ice that was almost an inch thick on it, and the older jeep in front of us had some trouble getting out of the river, probably because the tires were pretty bald. Our vehicle had no problem and after crossing the river it was another hour or so drive to the little village at almost 4300m where we spent the first night. The village had about 200 people and the people did some small scale gold mining and tended llamas. At night, the temperatures drop down to around -20C, or about -4F. It was very cold.
 
After a suprisingly good dinner we wandered outside to see the stars and it nothing short of spectacular. The thin and clear air from the altitude and the extreme isolation and lack of outside light had the whole sky filled with stars, so many that it was hard to pick out constellations like the Southern Cross.
Laguna Verde and Volcano Licancabur
Even the two couples that have been sailing and spent many nights out on the open ocean agreed that it was most amazing sky they had seen. Not only could you clearly see the Milky Way but you could see other galaxies as well. Simply amazing.
 
The morning of the second day we were up bright and early before dawn to head out for a long day of driving. After the sun rose we arrived at a vantage point with expansive views over a small salt lake. We continued through two villages that were so isolated that you couldn't even consider them to be in the middle of nowhere, they were on the far side of nowhere. Past these we reached the entrance to the Reserva Nacional Eduardo Avaroa which contains Laguna Verde and Laguna Colorado and stretches all the way to the Chilean border.
The bright red Laguna Colorado and a lone flamingo
Inside the reserve our first stop was at the thermal baths overlooking a salt plain. The water was fairly warm but I only put my feet in as I didn't want to have to get out of the warm water into the cold air.
 
After lunch we continued south to the Dali Desert, a collection of Dali-esque rock formations perforating the desert sand and rising upward in strange shapes, some resembling buildings. Further on we reached Laguna Verde at the foot of Volcano Licancabur which sits on the Chile-Bolivia border. The vivid green of the aptly named Laguna Verde was stunning and is the result of various minerals such as copper that are present in the water. When I was in San Pedro de Atacama, about an hour away across the border I had seen the same volcano and it looked much more impressive with its peak covered in snow, but from the Bolivian side the intense heat of the sun must melt all snow that forms.
The rock tree in complete isolation
Unfortunately it was very windy and the surface of the lake was rippled with small waves so you couldn't get a clear shot of the water. From Laguna Verde we backtracked to the thermal baths and then continued in a different direction towards Laguna Colorado. The second night was spent at a slightly higher altitude about 5km from the shores of Laguna Colorado. It was bitterly cold yet again and since this place is on the main route from Uyuni we were joined by many other groups in this basic hotel and after dinner we retreated to the warmth of the multitude of covers on our beds and got to an early sleep.
 
The third day we began with spectacular views of Laguna Colorado, a brightly red colored lake resulting from the algae and clay that inhabit the lake.
The geothermal area and the geysers at 5000m
In the slightly warmer summer months there are hundreds of flamingos but now at the dawn of winter many had migrated to other locations. There were a few flamingos still hanging around the lake and we were able to get some good photos of them in the water. The bright red lake is also bordered by some bright white salt flats and ringed by towering mountains creating an almost surreal atmosphere. North of the Laguna Colorado we reached what is known as the Rock Tree, a strangely tree-shaped rock formation nearby some other rock groups that tower up out of the sandy ground. Further on there was another rock group where we stopped for lunch that showcased the bright green algae or moss that grows on top of some of the rocks forming a stark color contrast amidst the desert.
 
We passed a series of four or so lakes and salt flats with one salt flat where the gusting wind was driving the salt dust high into the air forming towering white clouds over the white ground.
The Salar de Uyuni at dawn
There was also the viewpoint to Volcan Ollague with a height of about 6000m that also sits near the Chilean border. Our third and final night was spent on the edge of the Salar de Uyuni, not quite as cold as the previous two as we had descended about a thousand feet or so.
 
We arose before sunrise and drove out into the Salar de Uyuni. As the sun slowly began to come up it illuminated the vast white expanse of the salt flats and showcased the strange somewhat hexagonal patterns that formed on the surface. After the sunrise we drove out to Isla de Pesca, a fish shaped rocky island in the middle of the salt flats that is covered with cactus and coral resulting from the areas time underwater some 10,000 years ago. There is even a coral arch in the middle of the island with impressive views out to the white salt flats.
A view of the Salar de Uyuni from Isla de Pescador
The contrast of the cactus with the white of the salt was impressive. I took about fifteen to twenty minutes to walk out onto the salt flat and was amazed at the stark nothingness that existed out there, definitely an inhospitable land. As far as you could see the white expanse of the dried salt stretched out to the horizon with mountains and volcanoes looming in most every direction. We crossed the Salar de Uyuni and on the edge we stopped in a little village where they mine the salt. This part was also the first stop for tours heading out of Uyuni, of which there are about 25 Landcruisers a day in the low season and up to 50 per day in the high season, not exactly off the beaten track anymore. Uyuni itself was not far from the edges of the Salar de Uyuni.
 
The town itself has absolutely nothing to offer except to serve as a staging post for the trips.
A "road" across the salt flat
The only interesting thing of merit is the train cemetary on the outskirts of town, which all the tour operators include, consisting of the rusting wreckage of Bolivia's first trains the from the early 1900s, many of which are covered in graffiti. And the whole surrounding area is just littered with plastic bags and bottles and other garbage, strung up on all the bushes as if they were decorating for the holidays. A different and interesting, but slightly disappointing ending to such a brilliant trip. The scenery that we saw from this region of the southwest of Bolivia was certainly unique and the others concurred that it is perhaps the most beautiful and impressive scenery that any of us had seen, anywhere in the world.
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Mountain scenery near our first ni…
Mountain scenery near our first n…
Another Landcruiser approaching at…
Another Landcruiser approaching a…
The rock formations in the Dali De…
The rock formations in the Dali D…
Laguna Verde and Volcano Licancabur
Laguna Verde and Volcano Licancabur
The bright red Laguna Colorado and…
The bright red Laguna Colorado an…
The rock tree in complete isolation
The rock tree in complete isolation
The geothermal area and the geyser…
The geothermal area and the geyse…
The Salar de Uyuni at dawn
The Salar de Uyuni at dawn
A view of the Salar de Uyuni from …
A view of the Salar de Uyuni from…
A road across the salt flat
A "road" across the salt flat
Our landcruiser in the center of t…
Our landcruiser in the center of …
The eroded desert hillsides out of…
The eroded desert hillsides out o…
Another turning point, a fork stuc…
Another turning point, a fork stu…
Algae growing on rocks in the high…
Algae growing on rocks in the hig…
The now in-operative Salt Hotel
The now in-operative Salt Hotel
Workers mining salt on the edge of…
Workers mining salt on the edge o…
The army of Landcruisers heading o…
The army of Landcruisers heading …
The train cemetary of Bolivias fi…
The train cemetary of Bolivia's f…
In the midst of the Salar de Uyun…
Uyuni
photo by: razorriome