We started the day by enjoying sunrise over a much needed Hot coffee! After visiting the magnificent Salar de Uyuni the previous day, it was time to continue our journey onwards into the Bolivian Altiplano region. The terrain was more challenging, gradually gaining altitude as the day progressed.
The Altiplano region is a high plateau in the Andes mountain range, semi-arid to arid, stretching across Peru, Bolivia and Chile. Our first stop for the day was unplanned as the other 4×4 suffered a puncture.
We moved on without much delay and stopped at a beautiful valley where Llamas were grazing.
After close encounter with the Llamas, we moved on. Around lunch time, we arrived at this vast plain with thousands of boulders surrounded by mountains. All the mountains were ancient extinct volcanoes, and the boulders cooled down mega-eruption. After solidification, they were sculpted to strange shapes by wind and sand.
After the tasty picnic lunch in the middle of the boulder field, we started our ascent. The vegetation disappeared, air became colder, drier and thinner! Soon we came across the first Altiplano lake – a mineral rich salt lake inhabited by flock of flamingoes. We couldn’t believe the birds could survive in this harsh climate!
There major species of Flamingos found here are Andean Flamingos and James’s Flamingos. They get their distinct pink colour from eating the algae in the lake.
We made our next stop at Árbol de Piedra or stone tree. An isolated stone formation in the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve. Again, this rock formation is a result of constant erosion over the centuries by strong winds that also carries sand particles.
The last stop was the most dramatic for the day – Laguna Colorada or the Red Lagoon! As the name suggests, the lake here is Red in colour, with white borax islands. The red colour is due to red pigments and algae that feed on them.
The last stop for the day was an active geothermal field at 4900m! The temperature by this time had dropped to 5ºC. The area had distinct sulphur smell with fumes rising steadily into the air.
After this we continued our journey to the small lodge in the middle of nowhere! While the last night’s place had steady electricity and running water throughout the night, this one had it only till 10.30pm. We had read online that it is best to freshen up at night when water is running, as the toilets would be unbearable next morning – and it was true! There was a ‘hot spring’ near by, to which our fellow travellers eagerly rushed to for a dip. By hot they meant 15ºC! Our priority was to just survive the night! Fortunately, the thick blankets provided helped us scrape through the night as the mercury hit sub-zero!
The last day of the tour consisted of just two stops. First was Desierto de Dalí or Salvador Dalí Desert. It is a barren landscape with rock formations that resemble Dalí’s art.
The final stop was yet another beautiful lagoon – Laguna Verde or Green Lagoon. A stunning green salt lake, at the foot of the extinct Volcano Licancabur.
On the other side of Licancabur Volcano above lay Chile. As we had opted for drop at San Pedro de Atacama, we said bye to our fellow travellers and alighted at the Bolivian border post. The last 3 days gave us an adventure of a lifetime, and we highly recommend you to take this tour if ever in Bolivia/Chile! But this trips requires some preparation – read this article for our tips.