Driving Across the Bolivian Altiplano

On January 1st (Happy New Year!) we embarked on a three day road trip from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile to Uyuni, Bolivia. After busing out to the very non-official looking border outpost, we got our passport stamps and hopped into a Toyota Land Cruiser with three others and set out for the Bolivian altiplano.

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Border post Chile/Bolivia

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Our ride

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Colorful Bolivian altiplano lagunas: Laguna Colorada, Laguna Blanca, and Laguna Verde

We started our journey by entering Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, which sits between 4,200 m (13,800 ft) and 5,400 m (17,700 ft). The lagunas of the altiplano are known for their vivid colors. Laguna Blanca, our first stop, owes its white hue to the abundant amount of the mineral borax in the lake.

Laguna Verde resides at the base of the volcano Licancabur. When we arrived, the water was a brownish color which made us wonder why this was called the “Green Lake.” As the wind picked up and swept down the mountains and across the lake, the lake transformed and displayed it’s namesake color. Our guide informed us the the wind disrupts copper minerals in the lake causing the change in color.

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The brilliant colors of the Bolivian Altiplano

In the afternoon we drove to the Sol de Mañana geothermal field and reached the highest point on our trip, 5000 m (16,400 ft)! The day ended at Laguna Colorada, a vibrant red-colored lake which is home to hundreds of flamingos.

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Llamas at our home for the night

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Flamingos at Laguna Colorada

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The rust-red color of the lake is due to a certain type of algae that lives in the water

Our second day began with a search for viscachas, a type of chinchilla that looks like a mix between rabbit and a raccoon that hops like a kangaroo. We spotted several throughout the day and one even bounded right next to our car.

Animals of the Bolivian Altiplano: viscacha, rhea, and vicuñas

We ate lunch at Laguna Honda, a yellowish-green lake that derives its color from the high amounts sulfur in the area. This laguna, like Laguna Colorada, was filled with flamingos.

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Flamingos at Laguna Honda

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Laguna Honda

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Laguna Cañapa

After visiting, Laguna Cañapa, the last laguna on our trip, we entered into the Siloli Desert. In the heart of the Siloli Desert the Árbol de Piedra, a famous rock formation, projects out of the sand. Wind has shaped this rock into a shape reminiscent of a teetering tree (hence the name, Tree Rock).

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Árbol de Piedra

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Nettie in the Siloli Desert

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Attempting to make some llama friends

The highlight of the trip came on day three as we entered the Uyuni Salt Flats. At 12,000 feet above sea level, the Salar de Uyuni is the world’s highest and largest salt flat. It’s over 4,000 square miles! Because the Salar is completely flat and brilliantly white, distance is difficult to perceive, making it an ideal spot to have some fun with photography.

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Playing with perspective at the Salar de Uyuni

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Early morning at the Salar de Uyuni

Hexagonal tiles of crystalline salt stretch to the horizion at the Salar. As we continued to drive through the salt flat a small “island” appeared in the distance. Isla Incahuasi juts out of the Salar and is covered with Cardón cacti, a species of cactus native to  Chile, Argentina and Bolivia.

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Isla Incahuasi

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The Salar de Uyuni is part of the Dakar Rally, an 8,500 kilometer off-road race in South America

Just outside of the town of Uyuni, lies the Train Cemetery. Rail lines were constructed in the late 1800’s to carry minerals from the Andes Mountains to Pacific Ocean ports. During the 1940’s the mining industry collapsed and many of the trains were abandoned.

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Having fun in the Uyuni Train Cemetery

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Downtown Uyuni

Our trip ended in the small town of Uyuni. From here we jumped on an overnight bus bound for La Paz. For highlights from the road trip watch the video below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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