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Introducing Southwestern Bolivia

Bolivia’s southwestern corner is an awe-inspiring collection of diverse landscapes ranging from the blinding white Salar de Uyuni salt flat to the geothermal hotbed of Los Lípez, one of the world’s harshest wilderness regions and an important refuge for many Andean wildlife species. The ground here literally boils with minerals, and the spectrum of color is extraordinary. A circuit from Uyuni takes you through absolutely unforgettable, literally breathtaking landscapes and is the highlight of many people’s visit to Bolivia.

Although it gets plenty of visitors, in many ways Bolivia's southwest is still a remote wilderness, with rough dirt roads, scattered mining settlements, quinoa-producing villages and little public transportation. The main town, Uyuni, is a military outpost with a real frontier feel; at times you expect the harsh temperatures and biting winds to do away with it altogether. It’s the launching point for expeditions into the region, from the desolate expanses of the salares to the craggy hills of Los Lípez, which rise into the high Andean peaks along the Chilean frontier. Way south, Tupiza has a pleasant climate, and plenty of hiking, biking and horseback riding adventures.

Much of the region is nominally protected in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, which was created in 1973, covers an area of 7150 sq km and receives in excess of 50,000 visitors annually. Its emphasis is on preserving the vicuña and the yareta plant, both of which are threatened in Bolivia, as well as other endemic species and unique ecosystems.

Most people visit the attractions that are part of the Southwest Circuit on an organized trip from Uyuni or Tupiza. Apart from a couple of Entel points, there are no phones out in the Southwest Circuit – all communication is by radio. Any phone numbers listed in this section are for offices located in Uyuni. Note that the toilet facilities in most stops along the way cost B$5.