Laguna Colorada, or “Red Lagoon” is one of Bolivia’s most visited natural wonders besides Salar de Uyuni. There is no wonder why once you get to see a bright red lake with borax islands surrounded by volcanoes and habituated by large colonies of flamingos. The shallow salt lake is located within the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve in the southwest of the altiplano of Bolivia and close to the border of Chile.
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What is the Laguna Colorada and why is it red?
The lagoon expands on an area of about 6000 hectares and although it is quite big its water is only approximately 35cm to 1m deep. Its color comes from sedimentary deposition introduced by a certain type of algae which can be found in the lagoon. Nevertheless, it is never the same color because it keeps changing depending on the climate, light and time of the day. Sometimes you are also able to see blue spots despite the dominating red color which gives it a surreal contrast. In the north-east and south-east of the Laguna Colorada you will find small borax islands which look like little hills of snow.
Yes, the most common animal to find on the shores of the Red Lagoon is the flamingo. Not only one but three different kinds of flamingos are able to be found there, the Chilean, the Andean and the Jame´s flamingo. The last one is really rare and actually thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 1956. Laguna Colorada is a breeding place for these migratory birds and they are drawn to it because of its supply of plankton.
Fun fact: Flamingos are born with white and grey feathers but the red algae stains their feathers which gives them a pink color.
How to get there? What else to see?
Since the lake is kind of in the middle of nowhere it becomes a little bit more complicated to access. Most people take a 3 day tour starting off in Uyuni, Bolivia to experience more amazing places in that area. However, it is also possible to start a tour in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. While you are at it, there are a few more lagoons, volcanoes, geysirs, rock formations and a train cemetery close by as well as the probably most famous salt flat, Salar de Uyuni.
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Best time to visit?
The best time to visit depends on your personal preference. In general the climate in southwest Bolivia is divided in a rainy season (December through April) and a dry season (May to October). Fans of fauna and especially flamingos should definitely visit the Red Lagoon during the rainy season since large colonies will be spread around the lake. Seeing them take off and fly right above your head is a pretty amazing experience. Visiting during the dry season means you will probably get to see the huge contrast between a bright blue sky and a shiny red lagoon surrounded by mountains covered in snow. And no worries, there will still be flamingos, just less of them.
Where to stay?
There are not really a lot of options to choose from in that area, actually there is only one hotel nearby, the Laguna Colorada Simple Mountain Lodge. “Very basic” describes this hotel quite well because hot water, electricity and heating after 9pm is simply not available. For once you will be happy to share a room with a few people to keep you warm when temperatures drop below 0°C during the nights. It is all part of the experience and people who were strangers just two days ago become good companions on your shared adventure.
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