Leaving the bright light of the Salar de Uyuni behind, and after a night well spent in the Tayka Hotel de Piedra (www.taykahoteles.com) in San Pedro de Quemez, we woke early for yet another dramatic drive through the stunning scenery of Bolivia’s Lipez region.
We were headed for the high altitude Siloli Desert, a sight which literally takes your breath away by its magnificence. If at times during the journey it feels like you may have inadvertently landed on the moon when not paying attention, arriving in the Siloli Desert is like being on another planet…most probably Mars. Nothing can prepare you for it and it is truly one of the most outlandish and extraordinary places on earth.
For a region famed for being desolate and inhospitable, the Lipez region of Bolivia is one of the most colourful in the country. There are lakes coloured by minerals full of pink flamingos and volcanos that have exploded eons ago that sport an array of reds and purples. All the geothermal activity has given rise to an active mining industry that has been exploited for centuries and is still being exploited today.
Proof of this came when we found ourselves driving alongside a narrow gauge railway that is still used to export Bolivian minerals to the coast in Chile. Ringed by volcanic peaks, the railway cut across a vast flat plain that seemed to be comprised entirely of grey volcanic dust. A more desolate location for a railway is unimaginable and in the background, looming over everything, is the active Ollague volcano.
Thanks to the mines it is possible to find yourself on the occasional well maintained road large enough to take trucks and buses, although there is so little traffic that when another vehicle does appear on the road you can see it from miles away thanks to the dust cloud it throws up.
Eventually you leave the ‘main’ road and head back across country on rough tracks that take you to the Siloli Desert, via a string of beautiful high altitude lakes that are home to three different varieties of flamingo. Because there are only a few roads in the region, and it is popular with tourists, you tend to bump into a lot of other travellers in this area…and people attract other wildlife!
After a leisurely lunch overlooking a lake full of feeding flamingos, and a quick stop to refuel the car, we were on our way to the Siloli Desert, one of the more extraordinary places anyone could find themselves.
The desert is made up of volcanic ash and gravel that has been contoured by wind (and very occasional rains) to look like a surrealist painting; also dotted about the desert are rock outcrops that have been sculpted by centuries of wind into peculiar shapes (the most famous we’d see the following day). Perhaps the most amazing feature of the whole desert, however, is the Tayka Hotel del Desierto (www.taykahoteles.com) where we were to spend the night.
The Tayka Hotel del Desierto is one of a kind, its location in the middle of the desert is made possible only because of the Ojo del Perdiz, or Eye of the Partridge, a natural spring that provide water to the hotel. I think the photos speak for themselves, but I’d add that the night sky in the Siloli Desert is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.