Far in the southwestern region of Bolivia that borders Chile is Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve. The expanse of this refuge is impressive holding over 1.7 million acres of pristine high altitude desert. Found in the region are lakes, mountains, and active volcanoes.
This reserve was established in 1973 as a critical area for protecting the wildlife that live in the lakes found in the region which include Laguna Verde, Laguna Colorada, Laguna Salada, Laguna Busch and Laguna Hedionda. Within these lakes are three species of endemic Flamingos as well as other high altitude birds and wildlife that find the refuge home.
The altitudes range from 11,500 to 16,400 feet and it is a concern for any visitor to avoid altitude sickness. I have been in high altitudes before, up to 13,800 feet at Dead Woman’s Pass on the Inca Trail in Peru. An air sucking, leg killing hike that I thought surely I was to die that day.
Laguna Colorada and the hostal that is located nearby is at an even more air sucking altitude of 14,500 feet. I was quite concerned about the altitude on this trip as I’m not as fit as I was when I trained to hike the Inca Trail in 2012. And let’s face it, we’re not getting any younger. So I consulted with my primary care physician, then a Cardiologist, and finally a Pulmonologist to get their opinion. With a prescription of Diamox to be taken twice a day and a fresh asthma inhaler, I was given the all clear by the doctors. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t still a bit worried about the trip.
Amazingly, this is the best ever that I’ve ever done in high altitude, and I think it is because I was taking Diamox twice a day. None of those blazing headaches and extreme fatigue that I’m so accustomed to when in high altitudes. So all of my concerns was set aside.
Hiking a mile along the shoreline of Laguna Colorada, I got an unique view while climbing up to the overlook.
Laguna Colorada is named The Colored Lake for a reason. The red seen in the lake is caused by micro-organisms that live in the lake and how the sun and wind effect it. It was a subdued sunset and after a while the red color of the lake disappeared. The flamingos are but little pink dots in the shallow waterscape as the lake is only about three feet deep.
We stayed as long as we could and watched the sun setting. Peeking through the clouds and illuminating the surrounding mountains. We had the place to ourselves with blustery cold winds and temperatures dropping quickly.
Our accommodations were nearby at the Refugio Laguna Colorada which is rustic to say the least. It’s for true hard core travelers but there are no other options in the region. The Refugio offers very basic shared rooms and shared baths and a simple meal. Forget hot water for a shower or Wi-fi and electricity is run by a generator which runs for certain hours in the evening. There are larger ensuite rooms that have private bath. But the bathrooms are built with cold keeping tile, so I kept the door closed and rushed in there only for necessities. A guide and driver will be able to make arrangements for you at this hostel and with enough planning you can get a private room instead of having to share with complete strangers.
And so was this to be our last full day driving this remote region of southwestern Bolivia. We decided to return directly to Uyuni instead of doing an additional three hour loop to see Laguna Verde and the geysers and hot springs. It had been a long journey with many hours in the jeep and I was ready to get out and stretch my legs. We returned to Uyuni and had a lovely hot shower and rested before our evening flight back to La Paz. Our flight to Miami was at pre-dawn so it was to be a long trip home as well.
Since our trip, I have learned that American Airlines as decided to discontinue their direct flights from Miami to La Paz. Evidently the high altitude makes it quite difficult to have large air crafts take off. As it is now, what they do is leave in the early morning when the air is denser with an empty fuel tank for less weight and fly to Santa Cruz to fuel up for the overseas long haul.
And so Bolivia will continue to be one of those countries on the less traveled route. Even though I visited the high altitude region of Bolivia, there is so much more to see. We haven’t even begun looking at visiting the lower tropical regions, and especially Madidi National Park on the Upper Amazon Basin region. Perhaps one day you’ll consider visiting Bolivia as it is truly a special place.