Because the guide convinced us to change the plan a little bit, we had whole two days on the Altiplano and we have spent the night in the middle of nowhere called Villa Mar, I think. We did have a local guide who has joined us to let us know more about the area we were travelling through. Sadly, as he didn’t speak English and our guide didn’t speak any Spanish, it was me who was translating in the end and so I didn’t have the opportunity to take any notes (yes, I do take notes sometimes). So, this is all I remember.
Altiplano itself stretches over Bolivia, Peru and a bit of Chile. In Spanish it means “high plane” and indeed its altitude averages on about 3750m above sea level. Huge part of the route between Uyuni and San Pedro de Atacama is covered by the Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa and that is the area we ventured into.
We made the first stop at some crazy rock formations. They had volcanic origin apparently and indeed they had a very unique colour and texture. On some rocks there was this weird moss growing, I’m describing it as weird because it felt very hard when you touched it, unlike any moss I have ever seen before. The locals use it to burn in their houses for heat.
Next stop was close to a bunch of flamingos in one of the lakes. And I found out that they are not naturally pink! Imagine the shock! It turned out they are pink because of their diet. In lower attitudes they sometimes turn back to sort of dirty white if they are not fed properly.
Late afternoon we got to Villa Mar and I regretted a bit saying yes to the overnight stay there. The walls had nothing on them, and by nothing, I mean not even that layer that goes under the paint. It was just bunch of big grey bricks stacked on top of each other. Which made the stay freezing as hell. One toilet for about twenty people aside.
A very nice thing we have done before dinner was a hike up a hill. The path wasn’t too long however a bit steep and on altitude of 4200m above sea level. So, we had to stop every 5 minutes to catch our breaths. The view from above was stunning and definitely worth the effort. You can also see remains of a small plane that crashed there in the 70s.
Next day has brought even more beautiful landscapes and never-ending blue sky. We have stopped at a place where the road hits 5020m above sea level. You can hardly breathe. Getting off and back on the bus again feels like mission impossible.
Some of the more dramatic sceneries were Laguna Blanca and Laguna Verde surrounded by classic cone shaped volcanoes. Apparently, Laguna Verde attributes its unusual green colour (and name) to high arsenic content.
What took me a bit by surprise were borax fields. I had no idea how it was mined before. It’s collected just like salt in Uyuni, with shovels onto a truck. They move it then to a refinery, where it comes out as boric acid and it’s exported worldwide.
A bizarre trivia: a large rock formation we drove by in the middle of nowhere appeared on Salvador Dali’s painting, although he has never been here. As per the legend he saw it in one of his crazy dreams and was compelled to put it on canvas right after he woke up. It looked eerie even without knowing the story. A paradise for a photographer but unfortunately, we didn’t stop there.
Surprisingly there were also some geysers in the area. The smell of sulphur took me back to Iceland straight away, it was exactly the same, although they looked completely different. No big water eruptions, just the hot vapour coming out of holes in the ground and some bubbling mud puddles.
The last thing I saw in Bolivia was a perfect shaped volcano right on the border with Chile and it was time to drive on to San Pedro de Atacama. Click here to see more of my images from the Bolivian Altiplano.