While we spent the first 2 days of the tour exploring the Salar itself and being blinded by its incredible whiteness, the last 2 days were actually spent south of the Salar visiting incredible lakes and marveling at the altiplano landscapes that I love so much. This part of the world really is incredibly beautiful!
We were going to drive straight through Julaca until I realised that I’d passed through here back in 2001 and I took this amazing picture of a railway water pump with massive icicles hanging off of it. No icicles this day – but I had to get out and take a piccy 🙂
We passed by some amazing bofadels
all of which had llamas grazing.
The first lake was a little off the beaten path and most tours don’t go there so we ended up having it all to ourselves 🙂
It was quite close to the active Ollagüe volcano that sits on the border with Chile. My most touch-and-go travel moment to date was my encounter with 6 men with guns as I was driving alone on the Chilean side of the border out to the town of Ollagüe that sits at the base of this volcano. It was all good once I realised they were Chilean narcotics police, but when they first blocked my way and got out of the car with their guns drawn – I was panicking to put it mildly! Apparently the policeman at the checkpoint about 20km from the border thought me driving to the border for lunch was suspicious activity so called them out to intercept me on my way back…
Lunch was at another lake – Laguna Hedionda – and once again we decided to avoid the other tourists and instead pulled up at a different part of the lake shore. Very much prefer to have just our little group for lunch, as well as our flamingo companions 🙂
Called in at the famous “Arbol de Piedra” (Stone Tree), but the site has been very much ruined by tourism unfortunately. Lots of tracks between the stone formations, and what bright spark thought painting a massive “baños” sign on one of the most picturesque formations was a good idea? It was quite clear where the toilets were, and, unfortunately, they were some of the most disgusting toilets I’ve encountered in 10 months 🙁 None of us were willing to brave them!
Last stop for the day was Laguna Colorada, which, as the name suggests, is a very vibrantly coloured lake in the Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve. The pink colour is caused by the cyanophyte algae in the lake, and it is an absolute haven for the 3 types of flamingo found in the Salar de Uyuni / Bolivian altiplano region – the Chilean Flamingo, Andean Flamingo and the James Flamingo.
When I visited this area last time, we actually stopped on the other side of the lake, not this side. And one of the most noticeable changes since 2001 is that there are now a lot more restrictions on where you can and cannot drive/walk. For example – in order to protect the flamingos, you cannot walk down to the lake from this viewpoint. This is absolutely necessary of course given the massive growth in the number of tourists visiting, but it’s always a disappointment when you’ve visited somewhere 15 years ago and had free reign, but are now severely restricted in what you can do. Have a similar frustration when visiting San Pedro de Atacama these days. I remember back in the good old days….
Still – it is an absolutely gorgeous setting and loved sitting there soaking in the view 🙂