No trip to the Salar de Uyuni is complete without a detour to the desert in the extreme south of Bolivia, bordering Chile. This region centers around the Reserva Eduardo Avaroa, a wildlife reserve founded to protect endemic species, including the vicuña and several varieties of flamingos. The landscape is hypnotic, gentler than the Argentine Puna to the south, with softer colors and more ethereal light. Majestic snow covered volcanoes give way to rolling sands that turn deep yellow at sunset.
It is also surreal. The only sources of water are toxic, brightly colored lagoons, which contain key ingredients for beauty products and cleaning supplies, like borax and beta carotene. Pink flamingos equipped with a special mechanism for filtering out these toxins populate all of the lagoons, except for the shimmering green waters of the Laguna Verde, which is laden with arsenic and is thus too poisonous even for the flamingos.
Equally strange are the rock formations, like those found at the Arbol de Piedra and the aptly named Valle de Dali, which appear eerily similar to the works of surrealist painters. Smoky geysers and warm hot springs add to the bizarreness of this place, as do the hoardes of backpackers that descend on this otherwise desolate terrain.