When I decided to visit the southwest of Bolivia, I did so because I wanted to see the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world. When I studied the options a little better, I quickly discovered that there was much more to see in this corner of the landlocked Andean country. After hiking near Tupiza, I started a four-day tour of the south west, which eventually would take me to Salar de Uyuni. The hike turned out to be the perfect warming-up for all the landscapes I was going to see. Soon after leaving town, we start climbing, and make our first stop when we reach El Sillar, a mountain pass with spectacular views of the rugged landscape below us, with brown-red rock formations. We continue driving the altiplano, the highlands of Bolivia, noticeably higher than Tupiza, between 3500 and 4000m. We soon spot our first llamas, and stop to see them walk. Our guide warns us that we will see so many, we will get tired of them, which seems impossible for now. We stop several more times, for seeing vicuñas, the more elegant version of the llama, a group of condors, and snow-capped mountains in the distance, before the driver parks the car in a tiny village where we would have lunch.
We continue driving through empty landscapes, with herds of llamas, our first rheas, or ñandús as they are locally called, and more tiny villages consisting of not much more than a few stone houses. The horizon is always defined by high-altitude mountains, always around 6000m, with snow to make them stand out against the blue sky. Heavy clouds are rolling into the landscape, blocking the bright light, until we see near-black clouds hanging above us, eventually driving into snow showers: we are at one of the highest points of our tour at around 4800m. The next day, we wake up under a bright blue sky, and soon after leaving our basic accommodation, drive through an abundantly green area with water south of Quetena Grande. In an environment that is mostly red-brown-grey-white, the vibrant colour comes as a surprise. As soon as it came, it lies behind us. We are back at the wide views of the plains with extreme mountains defining the horizon. We start to see lagoons teeming with birds. Further towards the southwest, we see the Salvador Dalí desert, named after surrealist painting of the Spanish painter. Yet, this barren landscape of gently sloping mountains with rock formations seemingly haphazardly dotting the landscape is very real. The mountains around us are just stunning, perhaps even more so when dark shadows of clouds sailing through the sky slowly move over them, and away.
After a dip in the hot water baths at Chalviri, we head north. There are the geysers of Sol de Mañana, and more impressive mountain landscapes as we drive towards Laguna Colorada and beyond. We stop often, walk, explore, and continue. Further north, we stop at a higher elevation with great views. In the west, the Andes mountains rise to around 6000m altitude, and mark the border with Chile. We are surrounded by other mountains in a landscape that looks very empty. Ah - how much would I want to climb those mountains to see the landscape from a different perspective! Not long after the viewpoint, we drive into a canyon, and walk much of it while the 4WD drives on. I can now finally climb the side of the canyon, through which a trickle of water runs. We see several viscachas, the Andean rabbit-like rodents, and realise once again that while these landcapes look lifeless to us, they are actually full of all kinds of creatures. Still further north, we see more rock formations near Laguna Turquín and the Valle de las Rocas with more shape, some of which are inevitably named after the animals or human figures they look alike. After having enjoyed the great landscapes of southwest Bolivia, we are ready to finally see the most famous feature of the region: the Salar de Uyuni.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Southwest Bolivia landscapes (Bolivia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Southwest Bolivia landscapes. Read more about this site.