Salt-flats and coloured lakes

South of the Altiplano and wedged between the Cordillera Occidental to the west and the Cordilleras de Chichas and Lípez to the east lies one of the most scenic regions of Bolivia. A land of enormous salt pans, volcanoes, geothermal activity, deserts, rock formations, and lakes of many colours. The gateways to this region are Oruro, Uyuni and Tupiza.

The Salar de Uyuni or Salar de Tunupa 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. North of Uyuni is another impressive salt pan, the Salar de Coipasa, Bolivia's second largest, to the west is the Salar de Empexa, and to the south are smaller ones like Chiguana and Chalviri. Driving across a salaris 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. I there is too much water, it is not possible to drive on the salares; however, the views of the mountains, reflected in the lake, make the trip along the edge just as rewarding.

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.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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