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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrLocated within the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve in Bolivia’s Altiplano region, Laguna Colorada, or ‘Red Lagoon’, is a shallow salt lake, known for its impressive coloration. Covering an area of around 23 square miles and listed as a Ramsar wetland of international importance since 1990, Laguna Colorada is of a deep orange-red hue, speckled with large, white pools of Borax and surrounded by yellow rings of sulfur. With the snow-capped Andes as a backdrop, it is an impressive and slightly surreal landscape.
GeologyLaguna Colorada’s brightly-colored waters are the result of red sediments within the lake and the pigmentation found in certain microorganisms which dwell in it, together with red algae. Its dramatically contrasting white pools are created by huge borax deposits on the lake’s surface. Laguna Colorada is one of numerous impressively colored lakes which dot the Bolivian Altiplano, creating a unique, otherworldly landscape.
Protection StatusIn 1990 Laguna Colorada was protected as part of the Los Lipiz wetland by Ramsar, recognizing the area’s ecological importance. Originally spanning just over 193 square miles, it was later expanded to cover more than 5,405 square miles (5,500 square miles). This protected area includes the high Andean endorheic, hypersaline, and brackish lakes which surround the original designated area, as well as their associated wetlands, known in Bolivia as ‘bofedales’.
The lakes and wetlands are home to a number of important faunal species, most notably birds, and provides an important breeding and nesting environment for both resident and migratory species. Of these, James’ Flamingos, a highly endangered species, are most vivid, feasting on the lake’s algae. Together with both Andean and Chilean flamingos they can be spotted in the shallows around Laguna Colorada, their bright pink coloration an impressive spectacle against the red and white-speckled lake. James’ Flamingos were believed to be extinct in the 1950s and it wasn’t until a small flock was spotted in South America that they were reinstated. The flamingos are most abundant during the summer months and migrate to warmer weather as the Altiplano temperatures drop.
Visiting Laguna ColoradaLaguna Colorada is best accessed from the town of Uyuni, near the famous salt flat, Salar de Uyuni. If you have your own vehicle you can easily drive to Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve as a day trip or as part of a longer itinerary, otherwise there are plenty of multi-day tours departing Uyuni which use 4x4 vehicles and include Laguna Colorada and the surrounding highlights in their itinerary.
Apart from Laguna Colorada, this area of the Bolivian Altiplano is also home to a number of other lakes, many or which are named for their coloration caused by particular mineral compositions. Laguna Celeste is a beautiful, bluish lake colored by magnesium and manganese, while Laguna Amarilla is colored a brilliant yellow by sulfur. Laguna Blanca is another nearby option, a bright white lake filled with Borax, while Laguna Verde is an impressive turquoise-green.
There are also a number of nearby geysers and hot springs to explore, with the geyser at Solar de Manaña( particularly impressive at sunrise, while the Termas de Polques hot springs are a great place to relax at.
If you want to spend the night in this spectacular landscape there are small villages nearby which offer home stay accommodation, allowing you to get a taste of rural life in the Bolivian Altiplano. Alternatively, Uyuni* has plenty of hotel accommodation available, together with all manner of tourist facilities.
Be aware that temperatures can get incredibly chilly in the Bolivian Altiplano, particularly at night, and it is known to get down to -4 °F. So if you are spending the night, be sure to bring warm clothing and for campers a well-insulated sleeping bag is mandatory. The best time to visit is during the summer months or at the start of autumn when temperatures are still relatively mild. Altitude sickness can also impact travelers, particularly if you arrive directly from lower elevations without time to acclimatize, so don’t attempt anything too strenuous for a day or two.
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Author: Pip Strickland. Last updated: Jun 17, 2015