The Southwest: Salt-flats, Colored Lakes and Vineyards

Some of Bolivia’s biggest expanses of wilderness, naturally colored landscapes and lush valleys all lie in this southwest corner of the country, which extends down to the borders of Chile and Argentina.

To the west, the southern part of the Altiplano, or high plain, is dominated by staggering stretches of salt flats and miles of surrealist desert studded with towering volcanic peaks. Driving through the Salar de Uyuni is an out-of-body experience—on a sunny day, the blindingly white salt flats act as a mirror, reflecting the blue sky and clouds, or even the stars on a clear night. Given the inhospitable terrain and the infrequency of local buses, the easiest way to visit this region is on a four-day jeep tour from Uyuni or Tupiza.

To the east, the highlands drop down into dusty red plains where orchards and vineyards soak up the blazing sun. Occasionally the desolate plains split, creating canyons that plunge down into fertile green valleys, making it another good area for trekking. An added bonus is the ability to sample some of Bolivia´s finest vintages in the numerous bodegas surrounding the city of Tarija.

Although this region´s high altitude has made it difficult for much to grow or flourish here, it does have an abundance of natural resources like sodium, iron, tin and silver. In fact, the biggest city in this region is Oruro, whose history is almost completely entangled with that of the silver and tin mining industries.