In the Bolivian Altiplano, there are a lot of places that can dazzle you with their beauty. The Salar de Uyuni is, certainly, the most famous among them. Yet, it is not the sole attraction that draws the hordes of travelers to the region. In my post about the Salt Flats Salar de Uyuni: Where Heaven and Earth Meet I mentioned that your Salar de Uyuni tour would not be complete without seeing a few other local gems such as, for example, the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve.
What to see in Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve
Visiting the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve is a must if you love nature. This national park is a rare jewel. Or, rather, it is a whole box of jewels, replete with surreal desert landscapes, towering mountain peaks, awe-inspiring volcanos, smoking geysers, and multi-colored lagoons that stand out as a vibrant counterpoint to the immaculate whiteness of the Salt Flats. Now, let us have a closer look at all of them.
Laguna Colorada (or Red Lagoon)
Laguna Colorada will, probably, leave the most lasting impression on you.
First of all, this saline lake is known for the large colonies of James’s flamingos that nest in its shallow water. The shimmering surface of the lake reflects a variety of tints, producing a stunning kaleidoscopic effect.
The presence of red algae at the bottom explains the name of the lagoon and its dominant color. Depending on the part of the day and the lighting, the water changes from soft pink tones in the morning to bright warm orange shades in the afternoon and deep vinous hues in the evening.
The borax islands are scattered in the middle of the lagoon. They create a striking white contrast to the blood-colored surface of the lake, beset by green and yellowish swampy grass on its banks. Add the ice-topped volcano in the background, dozens of chirping flamingos resting in the lake, and a few sauntering alpacas in the foreground, and you have a view to die for.
Laguna Verde (or Green Lagoon)
Laguna Verde is a salt lake sitting at the foot of the spectacular Licancabur volcano. It contains a lot of arsenic that tints its water into beautiful shades of green: from light turquoise to dark emerald. Compared to a more animated Laguna Colorada, this lagoon looks incredibly serene and peaceful. There are no large flocks of flamingos here but you can still spot a few of them now and then.
Laguna Blanca (or White Lagoon)
Laguna Blanca lies next to Laguna Verde. A very narrow stretch of land separates one from another. Just like its neighbor, the White lagoon is a salt lake. The mineral sediments at the bottom give the water its characteristic white color. In the bright sun, the milky surface of the lake shimmers with some bluish and pinkish tints and resembles a painter’s palette.
Polques Hot Springs
The Polques Hot Springs are known, first of all, for the two natural thermal pools that were formed as a result of geological activity from the nearby Polques volcano. It can be very relaxing to swim in the springs after a long trip provided they are not overcrowded with other fellow-travelers. The minerals contained in the water are even believed to relieve the symptoms of arthritis and rheumatism.
However, it is recommended to spend no more than 15 minutes inside the springs. Otherwise, it can have negative effects on your health. Also, in stark contrast to the hot bath, the air temperature can be very low around 0 - +5 C. So you have to be quite cold-resistant to change into your swimsuit in this weather.
Never mind if you are not brave enough to take a hot bath in the freezing cold. You can simply take a walk around the neighboring Chalviri Lake. The serene surface of the lagoon glitters in various shades of orange, yellow, and violet. The views that open to your eyes are just magical.
Geysers Sol de Mañana
Sol de Mañana is a picturesque spot that has an outlandish feel. It is full of puffing geysers and bubbling craters that make the whole area look like a colorful lunar surface. It’s a great opportunity for photographers to capture a few cosmic landscapes. Yet, watch out while walking around the field to avoid falling into one of those boiling pots or getting scorched by their occasional mud-spitting.
Salvador Dali Desert
Desierto Salvador Dali, also known as Dali Valley, is an arid plain inside the reserve. It resembles surrealist landscapes from Dali paintings. In my opinion, it was not as impressive as the other places that we visited during the tour. You are not allowed to get close enough to the rocks that draw comparisons to the famous artwork, and you cannot see much from afar.
What Else to See on the Salar de Uyuni Tour
In fact, the scenic mountain lagoons are not limited solely to the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve. They are spread all around the Bolivian Altiplano. For example, the so-called Ruta de las Joyas Altoandinas, or Route of the Jewels in the High Andes in English, is also included in the Salar de Uyuni Tour. It is most often referred to as the Lagunas Route and covers three lagoons: Honda, Hedionda, and Cañapa.
Laguna Honda lies next to the Volcano Cerro Araral, not far from the Salar de Uyuni. It is, probably, not as remarkable as the other lagoons. Yet, it has its own discreet charm. After walking along its banks for about 30 minutes, you can reach the second lake, Laguna Hedionda.
Laguna Hedionda is home to large flocks of white and pink flamingos. This lagoon is also rich in sulfur. Hence, the specific odor and its Spanish name that literally translates as “stinking lake”. Yet, set against the backdrop of Cañapa volcano, this lagoon is stunning in its own right thanks to the graceful birds that animate its surface.
Laguna Cañapa also sits next to the Cañapa Volcano. The lake is tinted in various shades of blue and hosts its own colonies of beautiful flamingos. You can even approach the birds if you do it discreetly. This lagoon is the closest to the Salt Flats. That is why it is usually the first one to be visited on the way to the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve.
However, the lagoon that really stood out for me during the entire trip was Laguna Turquiri, also known as the Black Lagoon. Unfortunately, it lies outside of the standard itinerary. The guides take you there only when the classic Salar de Uyuni route is inaccessible because of the floods.
The lake has a beautiful deep blue surface with a contrasting golden rim made of yellow algae. This view can keep you spellbound for a long time. Besides, the huge rocks that lie nearby are also fascinating.
Siloli desert and Arbol de Piedra
The Siloli desert is a vast arid plain amidst the Andes Mountains. It looks completely barren but for a few natural rocks that were sculpted into unusual shapes by strong local winds. Arbol de Piedra, or Stone Tree, is the most famous among them. But it reminds me more of a giant mushroom.
Valle de las Rocas
Valle de las Rocas, or Valley of the Rocks, is pretty much the same thing as the Siloli desert. There, you can climb a lot of different oddly-shaped stones to make pretty cool photos.
Colchani Train Cemetry
The Train Cemetery, or Cementario de Trenes, is located in a small village of Colchani, just 3 km away from Uyuni. It harbors nearly 100 remains of old train carriages and locomotives from the beginning of the 20th century. Uyuni was an important transportation hub until 1940s when the Bolivian mining industry collapsed. As a result the trains that used to transport minerals were left to rot in the middle of the desert. 70 years later, they still lie there, having become a major tourist attraction. The rusting skeletons of the trains look almost phantasmagoric amidst the arid wasteland and serve as a favorite photography spot for visiting travellers.
I cannot help mentioning the magnificent Licancabur Volcano. Its snow-capped peak is visible everywhere in the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve.
The volcano lies on the border between Bolivia and Chile. Since pre-historic times, it has been considered a holy mountain by Atacameno people. Archeologists discovered a few ancient ruins on its slopes. You can even see the remnants of what might have been a watchtower at the summit. The 400-m lake, hidden inside the crater, crowns the volcano. At the altitude of 5916 m, this lake is one of the highest in the world.
You cannot visit Licancabur during the Salar de Uyuni tour. However, you can go on an excursion to the volcano and climb to its top from the Chilean side if you spend a few days in San Pedro de Atacama.
Of course, the list of interesting spots in the Bolivian Altiplano can be extended. For example, I have not talked about the coral islands such as Incahuasi or Isla del Pescado because I did not have a chance to visit them.
I have also heard that there are ancient caves with centuries-old mummies in the area.
However, I have covered the most visited sites that are usually included in the Salar de Uyuni tour. One way or another, there is one thing you can be sure of. The Bolivian Altiplano will always have a lot of surprises for you.
How to Visit Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve
You can visit the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve and the other places mentioned above as part of your 3- or 4-day Salar de Uyuni tour. Check my detailed guide to visiting the Uyuni Salt Flats and the national park in my post Salar de Uyuni: Where Heaven and Earth Meet.
I strongly recommend you to include the Bolivian Altiplano on your must-see list. Of course, take into account that you will venture into the complete wilderness, hardly touched by human progress. You will have to put up with certain discomfort and harsh living conditions for a few days. However, what you will get in exchange is an unforgettable adventure in a fairy-tale place. You will also have a rare chance to enjoy the austere beauty of nature that so far has escaped the impact of modern civilization. Few regions like this are left in the world today. So hurry up to visit them before they are gone.