Hotel de Desierto, Bolivia

We had two days driving south from the Hotel de Piedra, through some of the most stunning and continually changing countryside that I have ever seen.

Click on any of the thumbnails below to get a larger photo

The countryside varied between dramatic rock formations and salt lakes of many different colours where flamingos waded and llamas swam
  Laguna Hedionda where we stopped for lunch seemed to have cornered the market for toilets. Only ones for a 100km or more.
    Viscacha. Very well camouflaged, they seemed to live in places that had no food sources

We stopped at Laguna Hedionda (Spanish for "stinking lake") for lunch. It is a saline lake notable for various migratory species of pink and white flamingos. Laguna Hedionda is one of the nine small saline lakes in the Andean Altiplano. It lies at an altitude of 4,100 metres, with an area of 3 square kilometres. The birds can find and filter food in a lake full of toxic chemicals like sulphur and borax. It was 5 Bolivianos for the table and 5 for the Bano. Roberto had asked Chris which table she wanted for lunch - having shown him one by the lake with a nice view, he proceeded to set up lunch on a table far from the lake and without a view - the lady was not impressed.

Yareta is a flowering plant in the family Apiaceae native to South America. It occurs in the Puna grasslands of the Andes in Peru, Bolivia, northern Chile, and western Argentina at altitudes between 3,200 and 4,500 metres. The yareta grows approximately 15 mm per year. Many yaretas are estimated to be over 3,000 years old. Although traditionally harvested for fuel, its slow growth makes this practice non-sustainable. They even used vast amounts to smelt copper in the past.

Viscacha. They are closely related to chinchillas, and look similar to rabbits

The views down across the desert were stunning at dusk and dawn, and pervading it all is the cold, cold night air The boys with new friend Yasser

Hotel del Desierto is at 4523 gasping meters above sea level, and makes claim to be the highest hotel in the world. This hotel is literally in the middle of the desert. Most people are using it as a stopping place on the way from A to B. The nights are cold, really cold. And heating and hot water are limited.. It is difficult to describe how remote this spot really is.

The main materials are stone and stucco. The roofs seem to be a shallow poured concrete vault. The bedrooms have a skylight which is good as there is only electricity, as with Hotel de Piedra, from 5:30pm to 10pm. The outside of the hotel resembled a building site as they are doubling the number of rooms as well as adding on what seems to be an additional dining area/covered terrace. When we arrived, we thought that we were being brought to the wrong place. All we could see were things under construction, and not even a front door was visible

The best bit was the view downhill over the desert. Sunrise and sunset ere spectacular. It must be difficult to supply this hotel, and staff it, given its remoteness. Dinner and breakfast were not gourmet, but given the location, perfectly acceptable. We had our dinner in the bedroom, as the alternative was to dine with Roberto, who after disappearing every other night, decided he wanted to eat with us today. Bring your thermal underwear, and still expect to be cold. And I was not convinced that they washed the sheets between guests here

I will remember it for the views over the desert, the really friendly staff and the bone numbing coldness of the bedroom.

The Arbol de Piedra was part of an eroded sea floor Across desert to.. Laguna Colorada where flamingos and llamas moved in the warm
waters of the lake.   Geysers and mud lakes at Sol de Manana covered an area that was greater than Rotorua
On to the hot springs of Laguna Salada Across more desert to.. Laguna Verde
And on to the.. Bolivian Border where we had lunch Our Bolivian crew fill up with petrol and we walk over the border

Next morning we headed further south. An intriguing run across deserts, round lagunas, past weird rocks and colourful volcanoes, hot spas, bubbling mud and geysers. All on a bigger scale than I have ever seen before, truly mind blowing. The road climbs to over 5000 meters at its highest

Árbol de Piedra ("stone tree") is an isolated rock formation in the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve of Bolivia. Much photographed, it projects out of the altiplano sand dunes of Siloli in the Potosí Department, about 18 kilometres north of Laguna Colorada. Known as the "Stone Tree," it is shaped like a stunted tree, and is formed into a thin rock because of strong winds and its composition, which is sand stone

Sol de Manana This area is characterized by intense volcanic activity. The sulphur springs field, not geysers as sometimes described, is full of mud lakes and steam pools with boiling mud. Industrial logging was attempted in the end of the 80s, but proved to be uneconomic. There are still several holes, the best known of which emits pressurized steam, visible in the morning up to 50 meters high. The mud lakes are at 4850 m.

Laguna Colorada contains borax islands, whose white colour contrasts with the reddish colour of its waters, which is caused by red sediments and pigmentation of some algae.

Laguna Salada where the hot springs are 30C. But because Roberto had not told us in advance, Chris did not have a swimming costume handy, so missed the swim - not amused.

Laguna Verde covers an area of 1700 ha, and a narrow causeway divides it into two parts. It is at the southeastern end of the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve. It has mineral suspensions of arsenic and other minerals which render colour to the lake waters. Its colour varies from turquoise to dark emerald depending on the disturbance caused to sediments in the lake by winds. In the backdrop of the lake there is the inactive volcano Licancabur (elevation 5,868m) which is the near perfect shape of a cone. Icy winds are a common phenomenon here and lake waters can attain temperatures as low as -56 degree C but, because of its chemical composition, its waters still remains in a liquid state.

The border has a shack on the Bolivian side. And nothing on the Chilean side. We walked over the border to where our taxi was waiting to take us to San Pedro de Atacama and the Hotel Tierra Atacama . The dirt road from the Bolivian border soon took us to a paved Chilean highway, and we rapidly dropped 1500 meters in half an hour.

The Chilean customs was in San Pedro where they had a cursory look at our car and documents, and we were through in under 5 minutes. San Pedro looks like a metropolis after Bolivia. It's neat and tidy even though the streets are mostly not paved and mud brick is the building material of choice. The altitude is now down to 2600m and the temp is in the 20s. We have rejoined the world again.

Holiday in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina