Bolivian Southwest: Reserva Eduardo Avaroa

Getting up before dawn, and with hot cups of tea barely able to hold the fantastically cold morning at bay, we were treated to a ringside seat of the sunrise over the Siloli Desert. As the colours of the mountains sprang back to life and some of the sun’s warmth finally penetrated the four layers of clothing I was wearing, we clambered back into the car and headed towards the Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa and the border with Chile.

First stop in this bewildering landscape was the wind sculpted Arbol de Piedra, the Stone Tree, a huge lump of rock that over millennia has been carved by wind and sand into its current tree-like shape. That would be reason enough to stop and marvel at it, but it also stands in a vast desert plain surrounded by mountains streaked with colour making it one of the most surreal sights of our trip. Our early start was rewarded with having the whole desert to ourselves.

Heading towards the Arbol de Piedra, Reserva de Fauna Andina Avaroa, Bolivia

Arbol de Piedra, Reserva de Fauna Andina Avaroa, Bolivia

Even with the sun rising in the sky, at this time of day and at this altitude the temperatures were freezing and it was impossible to stand still for long without the cold piercing through clothing and footwear. It truly is an inhospitable place, but one an estimated 50,000+ tourists travel through every year.

A short journey to the south of the Arbol de Piedra lies one of the wonders of the whole region, Laguna Colorada, whose striking red waters contrasted against the deep blue sky are an extraordinary sight to behold. Although it looks like the scene of a toxic spill, the red colour is the result of algae in the water – the main source of food for the flamingos that thrive in the region, including the rare James flamingo which breeds in Laguna Colorada.

Laguna Colorada, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Flamingos in Laguna Colorada, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Flamingos in the mist, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Flamingos take flight, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

It’s a little like “Ten Amazing Things to Do Before Breakfast”, but climbing in altitude to a whopping 5000m we drove on towards the hellish looking and smelling Sol de Manana geyser. As you approach these boiling pools of mud and steaming fumaroles the nauseating stench of sulphur is overwhelming, but even that can’t take away from the wonder of the volcanic activity that is all around.

The first thing you see when you arrive is a jet of highly pressurised steam shooting out of the brown earth and making a screaming noise not dissimilar to the sound of a steam train whistle. The jet is probably about 15 metres high and the steam is hot!

Steam jet at Sol de Manana geyser, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Walking around the site is a bit like doing a day-trip to Hell and you have to be careful, the cracked earth can give way and collapse into bubbling mud underneath – as the sign says it’s Peligro. And did I mention the smell? Awful.

Sol de Manana geyser, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Sol de Manana geyser, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Sol de Manana geyser, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Sol de Manana geyser, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Sol de Manana geyser, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Leaving the fire and brimstone behind we set off for the furthest reaches of Bolivia to where the Laguna Verde and Volcan Licancabur nestle on the border with Chile. The drive passes a stretch of barren landscape that suddenly takes on the look of a sculpture park combined with a Japanese garden. Known as the Rocas de Dali, it is a peculiar sight.

Rocas de dali, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

Rocas de Dali, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

I must confess that the one thing I’d really been looking forward to seeing was the last thing we’d see on the Bolivian side of the border – Laguna Verde. I’d seen photos of the stunning green water – created by chemical reaction – with the backdrop of the towering Volcan Licancabur and was excited to be finally able to see it in person.

As with much of life, it was something of a disappointment. There was little water and the green colour was, at best, subdued. Still you can’t hold that against the Bolivian Southwest, it is a privilege to spend time there. Next stop Chile.

Laguna Verde, Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia

90 thoughts on “Bolivian Southwest: Reserva Eduardo Avaroa

  1. Hi,
    Thank you for sharing the pictures from your trip, very beautiful indeed. I wanted to know, did you rented the car or were you using a tour operator? I’m planing to go from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile to Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia and can’t see to find a rental car company that will rent me an SUV to go to Bolivia.

    • Hi Ady,
      It will be difficult to find a company that rents cars between countries. We hired a car and driver in La Paz to go to Sajama National Park and then to the South West. It wasn’t cheap, but we wanted flexibility and didn’t want to go on a tour from Uyuni. We hired in La Paz because we were going to Sajama, but long term and short term visitors to Bolivia will tell you that finding a reliable and knowledgeable driver in Uyuni can be difficult.
      If you want flexibility you can hire a car to pick you up at the border between Chile and Bolivia, otherwise the typical routine is to join a tour once you cross the border. I haven’t tried, but companies from Tupiza had a better reputation than those in Uyuni.
      Good luck and hope you find a solution, Paul

  2. Pingback: A desiccated and surreal world: Parque Nacional Nevado de Tres Cruces and Laguna Verde « notesfromcamelidcountry

    • Thanks Anarya, much appreciated. Bolivia is such a diverse and beautiful country, it makes taking photos easy. I visited Sri Lanka a few years ago, really beautiful as well – plus it has beaches – your posts about Sigiriya and Kandy brought back some good memories. Best, Paul

      • I’d love to visit Bolivia some time. I didn’t know how diverse it was. 🙂
        Thank you so much for going through my posts. I really appreciate it :). Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to Sri Lanka’s beaches but maybe next time. 😀

  3. Aww. Sorry bout the Laguna Verde… it’s definately a better sight when the rainy season hit that part of the country and the mountains are snow topped. We went in March last year and it was awesome (apart from our guide, who apparently didn’t like his job very much). Did you also find the pig in Arbol de Piedra? 🙂

    • Didn’t find a pig, but to be honest it was so cold the only thing on my mind was trying to save my toes from frostbite. I guess end of rainy season would be good, if I get the chance I’ll go back in March/April – its not too far from Sucre!

      • Pig’s still there, look closely at your picture. You live in Sucre? I can warmly recommend the pumpkin soup at Florin, so yummy! Just like all the other dishes they have on their menu. I live in Santa Cruz, nothing much to recommend there.

        • Ha, ha. Number of times I’ve looked at that picture and not seen a pig! Brilliant. How’s the rainy season treating you in Santa Cruz? Only spent a few days there earlier this year en route to and from Samaipata but thought it had some nice restaurants – sushi at KEN was good (you can’t get sushi in Sucre) and we had a good lunch at a German-Bolivian place near the centre, can’t remember the name but a nice patio area outside.

        • Still have to try out KEN, it’s definately on my list. And yep, the German place is very nice indeed. Also worth for an almuerzo: La Taverna in the street with the many restaurants (big christo statue on one end, palacio de justicia on the other). Very good deal and you can eat as much as you like.
          Rainy season hasn’t been that rainy yet which is good. Maybe my shoes get spared from mold this time…

        • Same here, a few rainy days but not much although it did rain for twelve hours the other day so I shouldn’t speak too soon. Just came back from the Atacama Desert so it’s quite nice to see rain and green things again!

  4. Talking about something unearthly–I meant that in a good way. The photos are just W-O-W! The write up made it appealing all the more.

    I would salivate to set foot that place if ever.


  5. Wonders of nature ,l like to see in the future.Great post fascinating picture.Wishing you happy holidays.jalal

    • Thanks Jessica, it was an incredible journey. The geyser is really loud, I wish I’d had a video camera with me and recorded it. Just had a quick look at your site, I love visiting Spain, such a diverse country – and the food is great. I’ll be checking out more. Best, Paul

  6. Pingback: Bolivian Southwest: Reserva Eduardo Avaroa « emikalsum

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