Spanish Version

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Uyuni, a place on earth that seems from another world

Many people want to explore the space and know other planets. They become exited when they see several pictures and movies that were obtained in the exploration of Mars, but most of them do not know that there is a very weird place in South America that have impressive sights that can be compared to what we can found in other planets.

The puna in the Andes

This place is the Andes in South America. This mountain range extends from North to South and several countries share the privilege of having part of it in their territory. Between the several amazing places that may be found there, we can mention two spots that are the most remarkable ones, which are the Patagonia (between Chile and Argentina, we will talk about it in the future) and the Uyuni salt flat and its neighborhoods including the Eduardo Avaroa National Park in Bolivia. The last spot is located in the far southwestern part of this country.  Although, by far, it is the most visited touristic place in Bolivia, its beauty and attractions are not known by many.

A salt flat view with the typical pentagons formed due to water evaporation

The salt flat is the world´s largest one and was formed by an ancient lake. It covers 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq. miles) (source: Wikipedia) and it is located between the Oruro and Potosi departments. One amazing characteristic is its extremely flatness (less than 1 meter or 3 feet along the entire flat). As any natural wonder it is endangered by human's greed due to its lithium richness containing 50 to 70% of the world´s reserves.

Incahuasi Island with giant cacti
A weird effect of water "boiling" at a low temperature.

At the very center of the salt flat we find an island called Incahuasi or "Isla de Pescadores", fishermen island in Spanish, featuring giant millenarian cacti, which grow at a rate of 1 centimeter (0.39 in) per year to a length of more than 12 meters. There are also more than 80 bird species in the area including the famous flamingos.  

Flamingos in a small lake

Because we have nothing but salt, some small hostels in the nearby are built of salt bricks and are also touristic attractions.

A salt hotel in the middle of the salt flat.

Next to the Uyuni salt flat, we find the Eduardo Avaroa national park. In Spanish its name is "Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa" and it was named after a Bolivian national hero of the Pacific War (1879). The park is at an altitude between 4,200 m (13,800 ft) and 5,400 m (17,700 ft) and cover an area of 714,745 hectares (1,766,170 acres) (source: Wikipedia). It is part of the Altiplano (central Andean dry puna) and has an aggressive environment (very low precipitation 250 to 500 millimeter (9.8 to 20 in) per year and a high temperature gradient (from 20-25 degrees at midday to -20 degrees during the night and early morning)).

Wind blowing in a typical sun set

Ollague volcano. It is one  that is still active. See its fumarole at the left.

The attractions found there compare to the best ones found in other very well known parks around the world, confirming that the Andes is a wonderful gem of nature.
One of the best attractions is Laguna Colorada (Red Lagoon), which was declared a National Wildlife Sanctuary, category IV under the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). This lake has a very intense red color, which is caused by the algae and other micro-organisms that live in it. You can find 4 types of flamingos there (depending on the period of the year) and the place is really out of this world.

A view of "Laguna Colorada"
Another view of the red lagoon

Another very interesting place is Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon), which is located in the skirt of the Lincancabur's volcano. As can be guessed, the green color is due to the minerals and chemicals originated due to the volcano, which does not allow birds or other fauna in the lake.
Green lagoon with the Licancabur volcano

Close to the park we find "Sol de mañana" (Morning Sun), which is a region with active volcanic activity that generate geysers and thermal waters. It is very impressive to see and hear the activity of this place, which is visited mostly at early morning (6 a.m.) because the activity is high during this period. This is possibly the reason of having this name. One can recognize the power of nature and it should be mentioned that no photo can show what one can experience being there in-person.
Sol de mañana in full activity
A man made hole working like a geyser. The steam is not hot and you can touch it.
Another view of Sol de mañana
Thermal waters. You can enjoy a warm bad in this cold weather.

The region is full of surprises. For example between the salt-lake and the lagoons you find an ancient glacier that has no water, but left estrange rocks sculptured by wind. One of the most remarkable ones is the rock tree and another spectacular feature are the mountains with amazing colors. This region is for sure heaven for geologists.
Mountains with a wide gamma of colors.

The rock that has a form of a tree, sculptured mostly by wind
Another rock with a weird shape
The train cemetery, very close to Uyuni town is also a place worth to visit.

If you have the time and the possibilities to come, do not hesitate. You will not find a 5 stars hotel, but I am sure you will not forget it. You do not know how long it will last!