Sea of Diamonds: Bolivia’s Salt Lakes

The natural power of the landscape is aggressive and overwhelming, and in the 4x4 jeeps that you need to travel across such a terrain, you will see sights that will leave an indelible impact on the senses.

image: Ian Wright shopping for shawls in TarabucoNature Facts

Where: Southwest Bolivia, South America
When: 
Both the summer of dried salt mosaics, the winter offers fantastic mirrors views
Go There For:
 Amazing sparkling crystals of diamond-like salt
Remember to Bring: Sunglasses and 4 x 4

Where It’s At

The trip to the Salt Lakes promises to be the most awesome that you could experience whilst in Bolivia. The natural power of the landscape is aggressive and overwhelming, and in the 4×4 jeeps that you need to travel across such a terrain, you will see sights that will leave an indelible impact on the senses.

The lake itself covers almost 7,000 sq miles and its surface changes dramatically between the wet and dry seasons. Under the onslaught of the harsh rain, the ground melts into a marshy pool of salt-saturated water. In these conditions the astounding illusion presented blurs the distinction between sky and earth, creating a molten spread of entwined reflections. In the drier months the marsh solidifies into hexagonal ‘ tiles’ of salt, locked together in a vast mosaic. Under the intense glare of the sun, the salt seems to crack into a million sparkling crystals that dance in front of your eyes. Sunglasses are essential!

Salty Solitude

The first thing you come across is the Hotel Playa Blanca. Aside from its stunning panoramic views and complete isolation, this hotel is also utterly unique in its form. Apart from its thatched roof , the hotel is constructed entirely from rigid blocks of salt. Tables, chairs and even beds have been carved into rooms, creating a bizarre but complete refuge, worlds away from the drum of everyday life. The silence and solitude are deafening so although it is possible to stay here, it is only for the committed recluse. Most tours simply stop here for a break and a look around before moving on.

Rising from this mystical, white world is the Isla Del Pescado. This unusual island sprouts a multitude of cacti and is also home to the occasional llama! It rises proudly out of the flat even surface of the salt lake and is a good point to stop and to climb up to get a unimpaired view over this magnificent landscape.

The first overnight stop and the first place of habitation is the town of San Pedro. Standing alone under a boundless, star-stained sky, the town seems almost ghostly. The glare of the salt at night is certainly softer but still powerfully illuminates the vast surrounding space.

Beyond Salt Lake City

Once past the Salt Lakes the trip crosses a harsher and dustier terrain. The jeeps drive through volcano lined valleys, past breathtaking lakes and, at dawn, up to the sulphuric, water-spurting geysers with temperatures so hot that they will scald the skin. This part of the tour is a rich feast for the eyes. There are the bizarre Dali-esque rock formations, in particular the ‘ rock tree ‘ that balances on a surface area so small that it appears utterly illogical in balance and truly seems to grow from the ground.The two lakes in particular that will attempt to challenge the magnificance of what you have already seen are the Laguna Colorado and the Laguna Verde. The fiery-red waters of the Laguna Colorado, home to a multitude of gentle flamingos, seems to be performing for you, as it changes during the day to deeper and deeper hues of copper.

Then, surrounded by extinct volcanoes, the Laguna Verde amazes through its sheer beauty and the constant changing of its eponymous shades of green. The micro organisms living in its waters dictate this rippling colour which changes in time with the varying wind direction.
Descriptions of this area cannot do it any justice: it must be experienced, and only then can you appreciate the sheer wonder at such a place.

 

By Georgia Levison

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