10 Reasons To Visit Bolivia's Stunning Salt Flats
Magical lagoons, floating salt islands and lunar landscapes are just a few of the otherworldly sights you'll glimpse on this incredible journey through Bolivia that we seriously recommend you to add to your 2018 travel bucket list.
Scroll below for a visual journey through the fascinating Latin American country:
Exploring the desolate expanse of the Bolivian Altiplano, one wouldn't expect to see much life. At more than 4,000 metres above sea level, the plateau’s desert environment seems too hostile. Yet here we are on the shore of Laguna Colorada, and it’s teeming with flamingos. More astonishing is the setting, a saltwater lake dyed a startling vermilion by algae, giving it the nickname "Red Lagoon."
2/10Marvel of nature
Nearby are other remarkable lagoons, the most spectacular of which is Laguna Verde, a marvel of nature that, thanks to its high mineral content, changes colour from brilliant aqua to sparkling turquoise or dazzling emerald when the wind blows. Serving as backdrop is Licancabur, a majestic 5,900-metre volcano that straddles Bolivia and Chile.
These wonders are in the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve in Bolivia’s southwest, where vicuña and alpaca roam freely. Covering more than 7,000 square kilometres, it is the country’s most visited national park, sandwiched between the Cordillera Occidental to the west and Cordillera Oriental to the east, two branches of the longest mountain range in the world, the Andes.
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4/10An otherwordly experience
Over four days, crossing the country in a 4x4 with my guide and driver, we travel for hours without encountering another soul and witness otherworldly landscapes that challenge what is real and possible.
We see smoke pouring out of fumaroles, mountains polished smooth by the elements, craters the colour and texture of marble, valleys strewn with giant boulders, rocks that look like trees, plants that look like rocks, miles of barren plains and hauntingly, staggeringly beautiful emptiness.
Jose Cortes, the co-founder of Latin America and Africa travel specialist A2A Journeys, whose stunning photos inspired me to book this trip, told us about his attraction to Bolivia.
“I love the Altiplano’s layers of colours, from pastels to striking reds and greens and whites,” says Jose, adding, “it feels like you are driving across a huge impressionist painting, with softer Monet or Degas hues in one valley, then angry Van Gogh colours in the next.”
6/10Salt of the earth
We set off for the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. Covering some 12,000 square kilometres, it is Bolivia’s star tourist attraction, its fame rising in recent years thanks to social media. Not only is it incredibly photogenic, it is a unique, blindingly white sea of salt that transforms into the world’s largest mirror during the rainy season, creating a mind-boggling reflection of heaven on earth.
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It’s dry season when I visit, and no less spectacular for it, with polygonal veins of salt spreading into the distance. As we hurtle along the salar, we could be driving on snow or ice. Islands appear to float on the shimmering horizon.
Climbing to the top of Incahuasi, a rocky, cactus-covered aberration hosting the only life amid a sea of salt, we notice lacerating outcrops of fossilised coral, evidence that this part of the world was once under the ocean. Now it’s 3,600 metres above sea level, and centuries-old cacti tower up to nine metres above us.
9/10In the Air
On my final night, we stay in a vintage-style Airstream camper, but this is caravanning with a difference. Forget trailer trash; the Airstream is as exclusive as it gets, the only accommodation on the salt pans. Although compact, it comes with a hot shower, flushing toilet, air con, heating, pillow-top mattress, high-thread-count sheets, complete privacy, and your own staff.
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After dinner we brave the bitter cold one last time, lying on a bed of salt and gazing at a million pinpricks twinkling in the sky, smudges of white marking the Milky Way, and a lone shooting star streaking across the blackness.
I make a wish, that others should be so fortunate to see what I have seen, that there is magic in this world, and that we must do everything we can to preserve it.
Discover more about A2A's journeys through Latin America on a2asafaris.com