Our Bolivia Adventure: Lagoons, Flamingos, & Geysers
Guest Blog by Lili Mahlab
Thankfully, our guide changed our departure time from 6:00 to 7:00. We had breakfast at 6:15 and by 7:00 we were off to the Siloli desert and nature reserve.
It took an hour and a half to arrive at the Red Lagoon situated at the entrance to the reserve. Prior to arriving at the entrance to the national park, we made an obligatory stop at the Stone Tree.
This is a remarkable boulder, chiseled by the elements, that looks like different animals depending on where you are standing. After much picture taking, we continued on our way to the Red Lagoon.
In the morning, the Red Lagoon isn’t really red. But, by the afternoon, it’s a beautiful crimson color. So, our guide explained that we would first head to the geysers some 15,700 feet above sea level, which would be the highest point during our entire trip.
For some reason, the geysers spout high into the air early in the morning and peter out by the afternoon. The landscape looked like the moon filled with bumps, craters and rocks. However, unlike the moon, the craters were filled with bubbling cauldrons of mud.
The winds were incredibly fierce, which drove the plumes of smoke sideways. So, we had to carefully pick our way amongst the craters to avoid tripping.
After a short while, we headed off to the hot springs. That morning, we wore our bathing suits under our clothes so we wouldn’t have to change twice. At first I thought I’d never be able to take off my clothes in that cold air. Fortunately, there was no wind. So, we decided to take a dip then and there, despite the fact that there were a fair number of people already soaking in the springs. Later on that afternoon, when we returned to the hot springs for lunch, the wind was howling. So, we definitely made the right decision by going in the morning.
The worst part of the experience was getting undressed and walking outside to get to the pool only about 15 feet from a very rudimentary dressing room. However, once in the water, it felt divine. In fact, it was the warmest I had felt since we got to the altiplano (highlands). It was definitely worth the 6 bolivianos that I paid to use the springs and bathroom – about 90 cents.
After soaking for about a half hour, we quickly got dressed and used the facilities. They were probably the worst we would use the whole time we were in the highlands. No seats, not great for a woman, and no water. We had to throw sand into these “toilettes” so the bathroom wouldn’t stink, which of course it did by the afternoon since many people never tossed in the requisite shovel full of sand.
Our next stops were the White and Green lagoons. The vistas along the way were spectacular, mountains of all different colors – reds, oranges, greens, white and yellows. The drive through the Valley of the Ladies on our way to the White and Green lagoons was just gorgeous.
The mountains seemed to be painted in hues of rust, red, lavender, orange and white – almost the colors of the southwest in the United States.
Once at the White Lagoon, the winds really started to pick up. There is another free hot spring at the White Lagoon, albeit less pleasant because there is usually a stiff wind running through the valley. The White Lagoon feeds into the Green Lagoon, which is where we stopped to take photos.
On days when there is no wind and the green is not quite so green, you can see a mirror image of the mountain (actually the Licanbur Volcano) that towers over the lagoon. However, on this particular day, the lagoon was very green and the wind whipping over the waters made it impossible to see any reflections.
Nonetheless, it was quite beautiful and we took some amazing pictures and videos. Then, we headed back to the hot springs where we had lunch. After lunch, we took a half hour stroll through the grounds surrounding the springs. Everywhere we turned there was something new to see.
Following lunch, we headed back to the entrance of the national park to see the Red Lagoon, which by that time, was truly red streaked with white due to the borax in the water.
This was perhaps THE most beautiful view we had seen thus far. We walked down to the water’s edge and saw hundreds of flamingos searching for food in the water. In Bolivia, there are three types of flamingos – Andean, James and Chilean.
The Andean and James flamingos were the most beautiful with that lovely pink color, albeit the Andean flamingos also have long pink legs. As we were about to leave, a whole group of llamas came to the water’s edge to munch on the plankton by the edge of the water.
As we walked up the hill to back to our jeep, I marveled at the brilliant blue sky spotted with puffy white clouds and the bright red and white of the lagoon dotted with the three varieties of flamingos.
From there, it took another hour and a half to return to our lodge. Perhaps the toughest part of our adventure was the jostling and bouncing over the sand and rock. My body ached once we returned to the lodge so a hot shower was definitely in order.
At dinner, we enjoyed another delicious soup followed by our main course of chicken and vegetables.
By 10:00, it was literally lights out, as we were checking out of our hotel by 7:00 the next morning.