While the Andean mountains are renowned for their spectacular beauty and multiple touristic attractions throughout the entire range, there is one place that really stands out for me and is, undoubtedly, nature’s real masterpiece. It is Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve in Bolivia. With its diverse and out-of-this-world landscapes composed of rugged mountain peaks, high altitude deserts, weird stone formations, and multi-colored lagoons, this stunningly beautiful park will surely be one of the most remarkable highlights of your South American adventure.
Situated at an altitude between 4200 and 5400m in the Southwestern part of Bolivia next to the border with Chile and Argentina the Reserve covers a huge area of 7,147 sq km and protects a variety of natural sights such as volcanos, geysers, hot springs, salt lakes populated by three different types of flamingos and, of course, the surrounding mountains.
What to see
Laguna Colorada (or Red Lagoon)
Laguna Colorada will probably leave the most indelible impression on you for the variety of colors reflecting on its surface and the vast flocks of flamingos that nest in its shallow waters. Depending on the part of the day and the lighting the water changes from soft pink tones in the morning to bright warm orange shades in the afternoon to deep vinous hues in the evening. The presence of red algae explains the coloration of the water. The borax islands in the middle of the lagoon create a striking white contrast to its blood-colored surface beset by the green and yellowish swampy grass on the banks. Add the ice-topped volcano in the background, dozens of chirping flamingos resting in the lake and a few sauntering alpacas in the foreground and you have a view to die for.
Laguna Colorada, Bolivia
Laguna Verde (or Green Lagoon)
Laguna Verde is a salt lake sitting at the foot of the spectacular Licancabur volcano. It contains arsenic, magnesium and other minerals that tint its water into the beautiful shades of green: from light turquoise to dark emerald. Compared to a more animated Laguna Colorada this lake looks incredibly serene and peaceful. Flamingos are less numerous here but you can still spot a few of them now and then.
Laguna Verde, Bolivia
Laguna Blanca (or White Lagoon)
Laguna Blanca is separated from Laguna Verde by a very narrow stretch of land. Just like its neighbor, it is a salt lake containing lots of minerals that give the water its characteristic white color. In the bright sun, the milky surface of the lake shimmers with some bluish and pinkish tints resembling a painter’s palette.
Laguna Blanca, Bolivia
Polques Hot Springs
Polques Hot Springs are touted, first of all, as a place to swim in thermal waters. They are an excellent way to relax after a long trip and even help to relieve the symptoms of arthritis and rheumatism. However, if taking a hot bath when the air temperature is around 0 C is not your thing, a simple walk around the neighboring Chalviri lake will reward you with some magical views and a few memorable photos.
Polques Hot Springs, Bolivia
Geysers Sol de Mañana
Sol de Manana is another picturesque spot full of smoking geysers and bubbling craters that make the whole area look like a colorful lunar surface. It’s a great opportunity for amateur photographers to capture a few cosmic-looking landscapes. Yet, be very careful while walking around the field to avoid falling into one of those boiling pots or getting scorched by their occasional mud-spitting.
Geysers Sol de Manana, Bolivia
Siloli desert and Arbol de Piedra
Siloli desert is mostly known for the Arbol de Piedra which is an unusually-shaped stone that looks like a tree or a giant mushroom, for that matter. However, you can see a lot of other different oddly-shaped rock formations in this place.
Arbol de Piedra, Siloli Desert, Bolivia
There are many other beautiful lagoons that your tour operator can take you to. For example, Laguna Honda, Laguna Cañapa, etc.. But the one that really stood out for me was Laguna Turquiri, also known as the Black Lagoon. Unfortunately, it lies a bit outside of the park and the guides take you there when the standard Salar de Uyuni route is inaccessible because of the floods. But its deep blue, almost pitch-dark surface with a contrasting golden rim made of yellow algae will leave you spellbound for some time. Besides, the huge bizarre-looking rocks that lie next to the lake are no less fascinating than the ones you can see in Siloli desert or Valle de las Rocas nearby.
Laguna Turquiri, Bolivia
How to get there
Usually, the park is visited as part of Salar de Uyuni 3 or 4-day tour with departures from Uyuni, Bolivia, or San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. It is also possible to reach it from the Argentinian town of Salta by taking a bus to Tupiza, Bolivia, and getting a tour from there. Even though the general name of all the tours on offer is Salar de Uyuni, the famous Salt Flats are not part of Eduardo Abaroa National Reserve. Therefore, make sure with your tour operator that the visit to the park is included in the trip you have booked. Usually, the short 1 or 2-day tours include only the Salt Flats that themselves look like a marvel. However, it’s better to plan for a combined 3 or 4-day tour comprising a visit to the reserve. The itineraries offered by most travel agents are pretty similar but can vary slightly depending on the season, the weather conditions and a particular company. So once again it is useful to check the final route with your tour operator before you go on a trip. Or, if you are adventurous enough you can rent a 4×4 car and drive through the reserve on your own. This will give you more flexibility in terms of planning your trip. However, remember that the route lies through the complete wilderness. There are no roads or traffic signs. And the surface composed of mixed sand and rocks gets at times so rough that even the most reliable cross-country jeep breaks down now and then. So having some skills in car mechanics might be a big advantage, if not a necessity.
What to prepare for
Firstly, the altitude!
If you are not used to living above 3000 m, then going up above 4000 m for several days straight away might be a challenge as your lungs will have much less oxygen to inhale than usual. This might cause an altitude sickness. The best advice to avoid its effects is to ascend gradually and to spend a few extra days in San Pedro de Atacama, La Paz or Uyuni to let your body get used to the high altitude before the tour. The next best advice is to drink a lot of water (at least 2l per day) to prevent dehydration during the trip.
The living conditions during the trip can be pretty harsh with no electricity or hot water supply. You find yourself in the middle of the mountainous desert far away from all modern conveniences. Depending on the season the temperatures can also bite, particularly, in winter (from May to September). So don’t expect any luxury and bring with you more warm clothes! However, do not let all this scare you away! The severity of the climate and the lack of civilization will be vastly compensated with breathtaking views of pristine nature and an incredible splash of colors that will please your eyes and awaken your artistic senses.