Southwestern Bolivia, stretching from the mining centre of Oruro to the borders of Chile and Argentina, is home to some of the greatest visual delights Bolivia has to offer. Here are magnificent shimmering salt-flats, coloured lakes filled with flamingos, surrealistic rock formations, geysers, and snow-capped volcanoes, all surrounded by vast expanses of high desert.
The region has one of Bolivia’s finest protected natural areas. Reserva Eduardo Avaroa has a unique landscape of eroded rock formations interrupted by sparkling soda lakes of jade, blue and scarlet; home to three species of flamingo and many other birds. Between these two protected areas lies the magical salar of Uyuni, an inconceivably vast expanse of blinding white salt-flats.
The Salar de Uyuni is the highest and largest salt lake in the world at an altitude of 3653 m and covering about 12,000 sq km, making it twice as big as the Great Salt Lake in the United States. Driving across a salar is one of the strangest and most fantastic experiences anywhere on the continent, at any time of the year. When it is dry, the surface is covered in pentagonal and hexagonal shapes that appear to have been hand-carved, and bright blue skies contrast with the blinding-white salt crust. During the rainy season the salt is covered by water which adds to the surreal experience, it feels a bit like being a tiny ant on a giant mirror.
The remarkable landscapes don’t stop at the salares, it is well worth visiting the areas to the south, the Lípez region and the Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa (REA), with magnificent coloured lakes of which the bright red Laguna Colorada and jade-green Laguna Verde are best known. These spectacular soda lakes, rich in bird-life including three species of flamingos, lie 350 km southwest of Uyuni, across a surreal desert landscape, and over unmarked, rugged truck tracks.