Bolivia is a country full of incredible nature, rich culture and daring adventure, however there is one highlight that stands out and that is a road trip around the Altiplano. Altiplano is a high altitude plateau that covers the divide between the eastern and western Andes Mountain, sitting at elevation of over 3700m and stretching for over 800km.
Touted as one of the most incredible road trip in the world. The Bolivian Altiplano is an ethereal world of colours and contours, of dramatic scenery and rugged horizons. This remote piece of the country is difficult to reach, but worth the journey. The combination of beautiful nature and amazing wildlife will simply take your breath away. The sunsets will leave you speechless. The horizons seem never ending and ever-changing, framed by the snow-capped peaks of the Andes. All in one place you can see volcanoes, sulfuric lakes, iridescent lagoons, impressive geysers, multi-hued deserts, night sky beaming with stars and rare species only to be found here. All here in the Altiplano.
The journey to Altiplano will you see content with extreme weather without any proper amenities. But that’s the price you have to pay to see this stunning region.
Here are some of the highlights other than the Salt Flats
- Laguna Colorada and Laguna Verde: These two lakes are absolutely beautiful. Laguna Verde is known for its green color and is located at the feet of two volcanoes. In contrast, Laguna Colorada is known for its beautiful red colors and flamingo colony. Both are must see portions of your journey to the Altiplano and I will let the pictures do the talking.
- Catal Canyon: The Catal Canyon is a rare piece of greenery in the midst of a rather red and brown portion of the country. Here you can find llamas, and the lovely rivers that bring them water.
- Sol de Mañana Geyser: This area is out of this world. It is surrounded by heavy volcanic activity and you can find mud lakes and steam pools with boiling mud here within the sulphur springs field.
- Hot Springs: There is nothing like jumping into a warm, thermal bath in the freezing conditions, while surrounded by the other-worldly expanse of Bolivia’s landscape. Truly. Don’t forget to see the hot springs before you go!
My experience in Altiplano
I have been to many beautiful places but very few come close to this whole region. I certainly will come back here and spend more time exploring the region. The wonders of the region are just incredible and leaves you speechless at almost every turn you take. The beauty sometimes is almost incomprehensible and truly does not feel like a part of this world. The trip started for me in the famous salt pans, where no words are truly enough to explain this phenomena. Witnessing the endless white glistening speck of the salt pan that dominates the horizon is an evocative and eerie sight. You might feel like you are the only person on a foreign planet- just you and the large expanse of white ground and the blue sky above you. The stillness and calmness of the salt pan is therapeutic much like the entire region. You can see why this a photographers paradise and I never had so much fun while taking photos than at the salt pan. As we commenced on the trip, the hard part really started. Remember that this region for all its beauty is extreme and the weather can change at any moment. Although primarily a desert, it often snows in the region during the winter and we were stuck in a snow storm as we were ascending higher up. The journey was already adventurous, but the weather took it to the next level. Since we were driving essentially over mountains, the snow storm caused a lot of problems. We regularly had to go out and dig out snow when the temperature was about -20 because our car would get stuck. We had to also stop and look over the desert to see which route we could take so that we wouldn’t get stuck. However at one point we almost gave up and rescind to the fact that we’ll have to spend a night in the middle of nowhere. But somehow we managed to find a way and get out of the desert and reach roads. A journey that takes 8 hours, took us 16 hours and we reached our guesthouse at 3 am completely shaking because of the cold. The amenities in such a place are going to be as basic as it comes and there was of course no central heating. We had to endure a very arduous night, with everyone not being able to deal with the cold. We slept with many layers on and even used our sleeping bags. At that point I had for a moment stopped enjoying where I was. However as we started the next morning, the weather improved and as we started our journey it was easy to enjoy the place once again. I will never forget the next two days of the journey. Even to this day I dream about this place. There’s something truly magical about the region. It is one of the last wilderness that is present on earth. Nothing can prepare you for the incredible things you see on the journey and will forever leave a mark on you. We even braved the bitter cold on the next two days to enjoy out of this world sunsets and the night sky that is famous for being one of the best in the world to see the stars.
Important things to know–
The best option to see Salar de Uyuni is on a 3-day tour. Staying overnight at Salar De Uyuni is highly recommended so that you can enjoy the sunset and sunrise. The other two days take you to some of most stunning sights you will likely ever see. The tour starts in Uyuni and does a loop around South Bolivia eventually ending at Uyuni. If you are going to Chile, the tour operators can arrange for transportation to San Pedro De Attacama.
The tours generally cost about $200-250 and includes a 4×4 vehicle, an English-speaking guide, meals and an oxygen tank (remember, you will go as high at 5000 m).
Entrance fees (up to $30 for various parks), water (at least 2 liters per day because of the high altitude), and the transport to Uyuni are not included.
Provided accommodations are of bare minimum quality without proper heating…sleeping can be quite the struggle with so many layers on. But you have to remember that this is essentially in the middle of nowhere and this is as good as it gets in such places. Additionally, nice hotels would take away some of the beautify of this incredible place.
Even though it is a high-altitude desert, the recommended time to visit the Altiplano is between May and November because of the dry season that tends to more stunning blue skies and the opportunity to see some of the best sunsets and night skies for stargazing. Heavy rain is known to block various routes making it harder to visit the Altiplano. That being said, when I travelled in the winter, the desert faced a snowstorm causing many problems which you can read about here[JG1] . You never know about the weather in this extreme place. Although most times you would not face such a problem if you are travelling in the winter.
But all of this comes at a cost and going in the winter means the day temperatures can also go down to zero. In the nights the temperature can plummet to -20. Fighting the bitter cold is just something you have to face to enjoy this spectacular place.
How to Get to Uyuni
The journey from La Paz to Uyuni lasts approximately 10 hours. Between Sucre and Uyuni, it lasts about 8 hours. In general, the trips are made at night, so they can be quite comfortable for travelers with low budget.
Flights from La Paz arrive regularly to this airport, usually early in the morning. It is close to the town, so you can take any transport (well negotiated) at the airport to your accommodation.