Week 74 - The Lagunas Route
Updated: Feb 27, 2021
The morning of our Lagunas Route adventures had arrived and we headed off to get some bottled water from a local shop before rocking up at the place where the guys said they would buy us fuel at 10am. In theory this had been a good plan, normally we'd just go to the fuel station and pay whatever price, however we needed such a lot of fuel between us that the thought of saving a good chunk of cash was nice. Unfortunately the guy that was going to get us the fuel wasn't there but a local tour truck pulled up and went to go and fill our jerry cans for us which was nice. We then set off South towards the famous Lagunas Route.
We topped up our tanks at San Cristobal before turning off the road just after Villa Alota. To begin with the road was ok, however it quickly turned to sand as we headed down to Villa Mar. I struggled a little in some places where the sand suddenly became deeper and on one occasion I ended up going down. Unfortunately it was right next to a solid bank and as I fell I hit my head hard on the side. My brain shook and my ear piece dug into my ear and the side of my head. I think that I may of had a concussion for the first time in my life and for the rest of the evening my head was pounding.
We'd seen a few wild camp spots on iOverlander, however each one we pulled into wasn't really that great, and one that had been suggested was down in a gulley. Kelvin went to check it out and ended up on his arse because the slightly sandy route turned to really deep sand all of a sudden as he turned towards the small canyon area. He asked me through the comms to come and help as he couldn't get up and once I got there I could see it was still in gear as the back wheel was still spinning. Kelvin was half in prickly bush, so I just pulled the bike a little for him to get his foot free and then we both lifted the bike. After that he managed to ride around and out and we decided it probably wasn't the best idea to camp there.
The day was drawing to an end, and in Bolivia it got dark quite early so we really needed to find a spot. We saw a small farmers hut up on the hill and a stone walled enclosure that was obviously used to herd animals into. We thought we'd go up and ask permission to camp there for the night as the rest of the area was quite open, however there was no-one there and all around the property were bones and Llama limbs....not the most inviting place to pitch a tent! We headed back down the hill and we could see a large area that dipped down out of view of the road, so we tried it out and decided it was hidden and sheltered enough for 1 night so we all got tents up and food cooking. My head was still banging but luckily with a few pain killers it settled down.
We didn't sleep too badly, even at 4250m and -3 degrees Celsius outside. Kelvin thought he heard footsteps in the night, however upon naked investigation with just biking boots for protection there was nothing there. We thought it was maybe just animals because the next morning a whole herd of Llama's were grazing near our camp spot. They were all different colours and just looked at us as if we were loons! They took a bit of grass then looked up at us and munched, then repeated. They were a little hesitant about Jack however he went to go and have a look, and get as close as he could before they warned him off. It was quite funny to watch!
Once we got going we followed the stoney road to the official park entrance. I was much happier that the road was stoney and gravelly rather than just sand. It cost 150 Bolivianos per person to enter the National Park (about £16.50) and I think it allowed you 5 days inside the park, which was long enough for what we wanted to do. After we crossed we followed the dusty road along and soon came to a water crossing. It was quite deep and soft, however we were able to cross further to the right where it was a little shallower and fortunately neither of us hit any super soft patches on our way through. We continued on and the views were really amazing. There was wide, flat open spaces, some cool rocks and mountains in the distance. The dirt road was really rideable with all the weight too and the sun was shining, which made a huge difference to our comfort. We stopped in a few places to take photos as we rode through the countryside and Jack loved getting out for a good sniff around and jumping up onto the rocks.
We pulled into a small village called Quetena Chico, which also had a cultural museum in it. We asked at a Hostal if they had any space and they managed to squeeze us all into a shared dorm. It was good because there was an empty room attached and we were able to use the camping stove inside and cook. It was only 50 Bolivianos per person for the dorm, which isn't bad for the Lagunas Route, and the main thing, it was warm with loads of blankets. We took a walk around the town and over to the cultural centre, which was really interesting. Once the sun started disappearing we headed back as the temperature dropped dramatically. In the morning the temperature was -11 degrees before the sun really came up. We paid 10 Bolivianos for a pancake breakfast and check-out was about 7.30am or something crazy so it was an early start.
As we left the hostal we enquired about fuel and the guy pointed us next door. We stuck our heads in and the guy we spoke to was quite happy to sell us fuel to top up our tanks for 5 Bolivianos a litre, which was really unexpected down here in the middle of nowhere as it was a great price. We thought it's better for us all to have too much fuel at the end than not enough so in total to fill all our tanks it was 50 litres of fuel.
As we headed along the road we passed a lake on our left called Laguna Hedionda which was quite pretty and one or two flamingos however a little further on was a smaller lake called Laguna Kollpa, which was really beautiful with lots of white salt and pink flamingos. It was great as we managed to get there just as some tourist trucks were leaving and before the next one arrived so it was quiet. Some of the birds were still frozen in the water, however many were flying around. It was really a beautiful place and we stayed there a while just watching.
Our next real stop was on Lake Chalviri with Polques hot springs. It was only late morning and the thermal bath there was completely full of tourists so we decided to continue on to the Dali desert. To be honest, this was the one thing on the Lagunas route which fell way below my expectations. The rock formations were too far away. Maybe it was better early morning or evening in a different light, but it just had no wow factor for Kelvin or I. We then continued along the same route down to Laguna Blanca and Laguna Verde. The road was so corrugated but the amazing landscapes made up for it. Before we reached the lakes the road completely changed and looked like a river bed. We had to keep changing paths as it would suddenly get really wet and boggy, but we made it through ok. On the way back we'd have to follow the same route which was a pain. Laguna Blanca was the first lake with a lot of salt all around it and in it. It was strange driving through the terrain and there were hundreds of different paths to choose from but we got down to the side of the lake and had a bit of a break. Laguna Verde was very different. There was a huge volcano behind it called Volcán Licancabur. That together with the bright green-blue lake was really spectacular in the desolate landscape. There were a few other overlanders there so we all parked up and went to say hi. There was a Belgian couple travelling in a 2wd van that we met who were very chatty. Sadly the people in the two big trucks that saw us disappeared inside after we said hello, so they obviously weren't in the mood for meeting other overlanders! We took in the view and had a snack before retracing our steps back to Polques. I'm surprised the bikes didn't vibrate into pieces with all the corrugation.
When we reached Polques we decided to go into the thermals as they were now empty. It was so cheap to go in. I can't remember exactly but maybe only 5 Bolivianos per person. It was a delight after the cold nights and not being able to take a shower for the last few days. We spent quite a while just soaking in there.
When we got out, our friend Paul showed up on his BMW. He'd been travelling the Salar and Lagunas route with a Neo from Taiwan (We had met him before in Uyuni). Unfortunately he'd lost him when going through an icy area and now couldn't find him so he left us a message for him should he pass through. Lo and behold, about 45 minutes later the Taiwanese guy pulled up on his top heavy bike with nye-on street tyres. He'd made it. We offered for him to stay with us as time was getting on but he wanted to continue. We found out days later that he actually managed to bump into Paul at the borer which was a relief. We were going to try to camp there, however a hostal was the preferred option as it was so cold at night. Kirsi went off to ask the hostels and just one had space. We were so glad. It was 60 Bol per person but it was spotless and they allowed us to use their kitchen. There were no showers but after our hot thermal bath soak at least we felt a bit cleaner.
Kirsi and I went to cook some dinner in the kitchen. Later some groups turned up and all of the drivers came into the kitchen. They were talking about independent travellers on the lagunas route and one was really not overly keen on this, however we got chatting and they did mellow quite a lot, especially when I made a bit of a joke without realising it. We were talking about sausages and cooking them and I was talking about my sausage preference and that I didn't like soft sausages, however I said this faster than my brain could stop me and everyone burst out laughing, even the not so happy Bolivian driver. After that, all was well.
Breakfast was reasonable and about 15 Bolivianos each, so not too bad. We were thankful of another night out of the below freezing temperatures. Unfortunately I woke up with a very painful shoulder and neck, probably due to all of the corrugations the day before. It was annoying because the pain was persistent and with a lot of corrugated, off-road and sandy riding ahead, there wasn't a lot I could do about it.
The first stop of the morning was the Sol de Mañana geysers. It was amazing! I had been impressed by the one small Geyser I'd seen in Peru near Colca Canyon but this was something else! There were large holes full of bubbling mud, steam, lots of different colours and the landscape was just other-worldly. We spent so much time there, for the most part without any other tourists, just exploring and taking photos. It was one of the highlights of the Lagunas Route adventure. We then continued on to Laguna Colorada which is one of the most famous lakes with its red tinge. We could see it in the distance with a vast area in between us and the lake. As we made our way towards it we came across a bunch of Vicuñas so I went down to sit near them, watch and take some photos. They are such beautiful animals.
The flamingos were also gorgeous and they looked a little different here due to the difference in colour of the lake. They have all 3 species of Flamingo at the Laguna Colorada, so you could spot the subtle differences (some not so subtle) between the birds. When we got closer to the top of the lake and near to the park exit we pulled over for a bit of a relax and more photos. It was a really pleasant afternoon and no-one else around so we could enjoy the wildlife in peace. We exited the park and then the sand came. I was not impressed with the amount of sand that just seemed to go on and on. I got my arse back as far as possible and kept on the throttle as much as my brain would allow me to, but I did end up on my arse on one occasion as a deep bit of sand (and probably my brain to be honest) caught me off-guard and I went down. Fortunately, as I plodded along I only fell once and didn't hurt myself but I made it! Woohoo!
We then passed through this awesome canyon which was very different to the rest of the lagunas route and it was such great fun. It was a little challenging in places but not too much and more rocky than sand so I was happy. When we came out the other side we went through fields of gravelly, sandy areas until there were some rocks coming up on our left. Apparently there was a very famous rock we passed but I totally missed it! Oopsy. I got out and took some photos of the Viscachas (Chinchilla family) that were playing on the rocks. They were used to people as all of the tour companies gave their clients carrots and stuff to feed them so they learnt Humans = Food!
Again we'd looked on iOverlander for wild camp spots but the ones pinned were right next to the main route and we wanted to be away from other cars. We spotted a rock formation over the other side of the valley and decided to head for that. The sand was a little tricky in places but it was a lot thicker grain and for some reason didn't feel so hard to ride. Once we got there we scouted it out and found a great little spot with room enough to pitch our tent in a little alcove protected from the wind on 3 sides and Kirsi had a place to park next to us with shelter for her roof-top tent. Great! To get there we had to go through about 20 meters of relatively deep sand and somehow I made it. I squirrelled about a lot but I didn't fall! It was such a great place and we watched the sun go down in the evening across the valley. At night it got down to -10 degrees Celsius, but I think it got a lot colder because the battery ran out on Kelvin's GPS which he was using to read the temperature outside with the thermometer on his bike.
The next morning we got up and had a lovely cooked breakfast. Kirsi already had the coffee on by the time I crawled out of bed! Then it was bacon and pancakes. What a treat!!! It was really cold in the morning so a cooked breakfast and coffee was completely amazing. We didn't get packed up until about 1pm and there was LOTS of sand! Unfortunately I fell again, the third time on this 6 day trip, and they had all been to the right and with the neck and shoulder spasm my right shoulder was starting to hurt. I tried stretching it and taking pain killers but when you're constantly battering it, it doesn't help much! Despite that, the views that day were truly awe-inspiring. Laguna Honda and the other lakes in that area were so beautiful. There were flamingos in all of them and the sky was nice and blue. I was feeling lucky that we'd had such good weather for the trip. We went down closer to some of the lakes, keeping half an eye out for a good camp spot but most places were just too open. It was still great to have a look around though because it was such a magical place.
After that we stopped at an Eco Lodge called Eco Lodge la Flamingo. Surprise surprise there was a huge lake full of flamingos and it was just beautiful. By this point, after 5 days of riding my bike, poor sleep, corrugations and sand galore I was shattered. I dropped my bike in the car park purely out of tiredness and although they had the option to camp I wanted to take a bunk room which was only 30 Bol pp and 10 Bol pp for a hot shower. We took the shower. It was what I needed to feel a little more human. I was glad that the hotel was full in a way because it was super pricy although it would have been a good experience I think.
We got the workers room so it was 5 single beds jammed in very close together, but they said we could cook in the cleared end bit of the room as outside the wind was picking up. We went for a mooch down by the lake and took a whole load of photos. I could have stood watching for way longer but it was getting very cold. We talked to a guy with his van who had lived in the USA. He did tours but sadly the van had broken and they were out until really late trying to get it fixed for their clients. Not a great place to break down! We made some grilled cheese sandwiches with Heinz ketchup which was just what I needed. Kirsi also had a bottle of Maracuya Pisco, which really helped and my shoulder felt a little better, even if it was just psychological!
The next day we woke up and I had been so tired I actually slept really well and it was lovely and warm. At least I felt a bit better and a bit more human. Kirsi made us a nice cup of coffee and then we had another cheese toasty breakfast, which was just as good second time around and kept us full for a good while. We ventured the last 26km back to the main road up and down through the barron landscape, but it was quite beautiful in a rugged kind of way.
We poured the last of the fuel into the vehicles and headed back to Uyuni and back to hostal Liliana. It had been the most amazing adventure, one we will never forget, however at that point I was glad to be back on a slightly better road without so much corrugation and sand. I would still do it again though if I had known what it was going to be like before we went. The Lagunas route is truly one of those unique areas to explore that is a must if you're happy with riding off-road and the weather is good. You will not be disappointed.