Reserva Eduardo Avaroa and Los Lípez
The region to the south of the Salar de Uyuni as far as the borders with Chile and Argentina is known as the Mancomunidad de Los Lípez and it includes the Reserva Eduardo Avaroa. It is a beautiful area of two ranges of high mountains and lakes to the west and east, separated by shrub-covered Altiplano in the centre. All tours that go beyond the salargo through this area and it is well worth the trip. Like in the salares, climatic conditions are extreme and travellers should be prepared for cold and high altitude. Quetena Chico (4150 m) and Quetena Grande (oddly, the smaller of the two) are Quechua villages at the northern edge of the REA. The former, 44 km from Alota, has alojamientos and the interesting park visitor centre . In addition to tourism, locals pan for gold in the Río Quetena.
Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa (REA), is a 714,745-ha wildlife reserve founded in 1973, to protect endemic species including the vicuña and the nesting grounds of flamingos and other birds. This semi-desert region boasts some of the most beautiful and unusual landscapes in Bolivia. Ninety-six species of fauna have been recorded in the reserve, including 69 species of bird. Most notable are three species of flamingos, a couple of species of coots and the suri(rhea). The birdlife is best seen during the southern summer, November to January. An illustrated guide (in Spanish) is Aves de la Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroaby Omar Rocha and Carmen Quiroga (Museo Nacional de Historia Natural, La Paz 1996, available in La Paz, at the museum). Among the mammals are the vicuña and the titi(Andean cat). The flora includes a few stands of queñua(polylepis) trees, yaretacushion plants and tholar, an aromatic shrub which covers the puna.
The REA is part of the Municipality of San Pedro de Lípez and the communities which lie within the reserve get part of the park entry fees and are allowed to operate lodgings. The village of Quetena Chico, to the east of Laguna Colorada. runs alojamientosat Huallajara, near Laguna Colorada, while Quetena Grande runs La Cabañanear Laguna Verde. Tourism is growing steadily, in 2007 there were 67,575 visitors, six times as many as in 1997. The reserve faces many conservation challenges and visitors must help preserve this magnificent place. Insist that your guide and group packs out all trash, encourage your driver to stay on the roads and not to go cross-country (creating new tracks and damaging the fragile landscape). Do not climb on fragile rock formations.
SERNAP park headquarters, www.bolivia-rea.com.
Laguna Colorada, at 4278 m, 346 km southwest of Uyuni, is a definite highlight and the reserve's best known attraction. Its shores and shallows encrusted with borax and salt, an arctic white counterpoint to the flaming red, algae-coloured waters in which the rare James flamingos, along with the more common Chilean and Andean flamingos, breed and live. This is Bolivia's first Ramsar site.
To the north of Laguna Colorada, in the Pampas de Siloli, is the Arbol de Piedra, a large rock sculpted by the wind into the shape of a tree. Don't contribute to its destruction by trying to climb on it, it is only a matter of time before it collapses. Further north along the road to San Juan are a chain of five picturesque lakes dotted with flamingos, including Lagunas Hedionda and Chiar Khota. Further on is a lookout to Volcán Ollagüe, and beyond, the Salar de Chiguana. Along a parallel road to the north which leads to Alota is Valle de las Rocas, a large area with interesting eroded rock formations.
To the south of Laguna Colorada is Sol de Mañana, an area of geothermal activity with boiling mud-holes and fumaroles. A strong stench of sulphur when combined with the 5000-m altitude, can make some people feel ill. Sadly, there is a geothermal electricity generating project planned for this area, which may destroy its natural beauty.
At the southwestern edge of the park is another gem, the sparkling jade Laguna Verde (lifeless because it is laden with arsenic) at 4400 m and its neighbour Laguna Blanca, near the Chilean border. These are at the foot of Volcán Licancabur, 5900 m, near the summit is an emerald green lake around which NASA has performed experiments to prepare for future missions to Mars. There is a shelter and good climbing and hiking in the area with outstanding views. You must register at the ranger station before heading out and they may insist that you take a guide.
North of Laguna Verde in the desert of Pampa Jara is the Valle de Dalí, a surrealistic collection of rocks, against the backdrop of eroded cliffs. There are thermal poolsat Polques, on the shores of Río Amargo/Laguna Salada by the Salar de Chalviri. At 28-30 degrees C, the water is wonderful, getting out in the cold wind however, is a challenge. The community has built a complex with a dining area, changing rooms and toilets. Further northeast, near Quetena Chico is Volcán Uturuncu, at 6008 m the highest point in the area; a road climbs to an old sulphur mine at 5800 m facilitating access to the summit. Nearby are the lovely Laguna Celeste, surrounded by brushy vegetation, a good place to see birds; also Laguna Negraand other lakes. This area may be included in tours from Tupiza.
Because of the long distances between Uyuni or Tupiza and the REA, all tours stop overnight at one of the towns along the way. Some operators have their own hostels, others use hospedajesrun by local families. At busy times, there is a a race between some of the jeeps to arrive first at the preferred lodgings. We mention some of the more important towns, below. Further information in Spanish is available at http://delipez.org/turismo.
Chuvica, on the south shore of the Salar de Uyuni, is a small agricultural settlement and one of the access points to the salt lake.
San Juan(3660 m), is a quinua farming community with a number of alojamientos. Outside town is the Necrópolis de los Señoríos de Lípez, a pre-Inca cemetery where mummies where found in beehive-like towers made with rocks. They correspond to the Aymara kingdom period, about 1250 AC. In town is the Museo Kusaywasi, 'house of life' in Quechua, stone objects, ceramics and clothing from 800 BC to AD 1540.
The original village of San Cristóbal, 120 km southwest of Uyuni, was relocated in 2002 to make way for a Canadian-owned open-pit mine, said to be one of the largest silver deposits in South America. The colonial church (1650) had been declared a national monument and was therefore rebuilt in its entirety. Ask at the Fundación San Cristóbal Office for the church to be opened as the interior artwork, restored by Italian techniques, is worth seeing. The fiesta is 27-28 July. San Cristóbal and other towns in the area, eg Alota and Culpina K, were offered tourism projects by the company in exchange for permission to allow the mine to proceed. Dubbed pueblos auténticos(authentic towns), they have yet to escape the look of the new money spent on them.
The region to the south of the Salar de Uyuni as far as the borders with Chile and Argentina is known as the Mancomunidad de Los Lípez and it includes the Reserva Eduardo Avaroa. It is a beautiful area of two ranges of high mountains and lakes to the west and east, separated by shrub-covered Altiplano in the centre. All tours that go beyond the salargo through this area and it is well worth the trip. Like in the salares, climatic conditions are extreme and travellers should be prepared for cold and high altitude.
Quetena Chico (4150 m) and Quetena Grande (oddly, the smaller of the two) are Quechua villages at the northern edge of the REA. The former, 44 km from Alota, has alojamientos and the interesting park visitor centre . In addition to tourism, locals pan for gold in the Río Quetena.