The Bolivian Altiplano has been on my radar ever since I first heard of the place, when I was travelling in the neighboring Peru 10 years ago. Little did I know though that it would be the lagoons, volcanoes and the emptiness filling the spaces between them that would end up mesmerizing me far more than the great white salt flats.
The area is really high up and you’ll definitely feel it, as you constantly move between 3600m and 5000m. It’s wise to first spend some time acclimatizing before setting off, since altitude sickness is no joke as I found out a week later while climbing Lascar volcano in Chile. I experienced mild headaches every night and sometimes felt kind of dizzy, however I drank huge amounts of water as it is known to help a great deal.
One of my favorite sights and among the best places to visit in South America was definitely Laguna Colorada with its orange-red colored water, derived from the certain algae which inhabits the lagoon. Flamingos usually flock to the area in vast numbers, however our guide told us that sadly their numbers have been diminishing with each passing year.
This moss looking plant actually isn’t moss at all and is hard to the touch. It’s bright green color really stood out in the grayish colors of the desert surrounding it. Apparently it only grows around 1.5cm a year and many of the plants that can be seen are more than 1,000 years old.
The evening sky often turns the landscape into a dreamy Daliesque painting and I just loved strolling around in the evening chill every day.
Salar de Uyuni is the poster child of the Bolivian Altiplano and the emptiness indeed has its charm. We unfortunately visited in probably the least appropriate time in December, as that’s when the desert is actually the “dirtiest” as dust settles on it and it’s more grey than white. Was still quite an experience.
Another breathtaking lagoon we visited, but I’ve forgotten what it’s called.
This small thermal pool couldn’t have had a better location to relax and admire the spectacular landscape around me.
Settled beneath the mighty Licancabur volcano, the Laguna Verde is one of the star attractions of any trip to this area.
You might as well just walk it like a girl from our group did, however if I remember correctly we probably pissed her off and she was trying to run away from the 4 guys she had to share the car with for 4 days.
The so called mushroom stone was battered into its form by the elements across time.
Practical information for visiting the Bolivian Altiplano
By far the easiest way to see the area is by signing up on an organized 3-5 days tour. Most of them depart from a town named Uyuni, however Tupiza is increasingly becoming a popular departure point as well. I chose the latter, since I was arriving from North Argentina and it was on my way.
Most of the time on this trip is actually spent in the car, looking out at the surreal landscape around you. The accommodations are basic and there is no hot water in some areas. Meals are prepared by the cook who travels with the group and ours was a real superstar. His creations were by far the best food I’ve had in my 3 months of travelling in South America!
Having read up on tour operators online a bit before joining, I knew the importance of going with a reputable agency and not trying to find the absolute cheapest option out there, which seemed the goal of some of my travel companions at the time. In the end I found common ground with another traveler named Cody and we opted for Tupiza Tours, which came recommended on Trip Advisor.
The most common complaints by travelers usually revolve around drunk and irresponsible drivers and it seems that there are plenty of those to go around. Do yourself a favor, choose an agency with good reviews and pay a few ten dollars more, even the pricier agencies still have amazingly cheap offers when you put things in perspective.
Since the drive from Tupiza to the main area of interest takes longer than from Uyuni, we decided for a 4 day trip, instead of the more common 3 days people usually go for. We only negotiated a bit on the price, as we found it very fair to start off with in any case, so we ended up paying 167$ per person in a group of 5 people.