One of the most desolated places in the world

Altiplano landscape. Bolivia
Altiplano Landscape. Bolivia

Few places in the world rival the stunning beauty of the Altiplano.

Wild, undiluted, unique, it makes you feel, perhaps more than anywhere in South America - apart from the Amazon rainforest, that we are mere guests, insignificant, non-relevant entities in the vast order of the Universe.

Its boundaries are marked by the Cordillera Occidental and Cordillera Oriental, in the Andes mountains, comprising parts of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru.

Being the most extensive high plateau outside of Tibet, its' a land of marshes, grasslands, lakes, geysers, salt flats, deserts and volcanoes that originates NW of lake Titicaca, in Southern Peru, extending over 1,000 km (600 miles) SE to the SW corner of Bolivia.

Altiplano - high plains - is dominated by outstanding geographical landmarks: massive volcanoes from the Central Volcanic Zone of the Andes, the driest place on Earth: Atacama desert, world's largest salt flats: Salar de Uyuni and the highest commercially navigable lake: Lake Titicaca, in Bolivia.

To the East, the extraordinary Amazon rainforest.

During 15th. century, time of the Incas, this region was known as Qullasuyo, or the eastern corner of Tawantinsuyo - Inca empire.

Laguna Colorada at the Bolivian Altiplano
Laguna Colorada at the Bolivian Altiplano

This flat, grassy land with steppe-like climate and temperature ranging from -20 degrees Celsius in winter (June-July) to 12/24 degrees Celsius in summer, has an abundant fauna including llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, guanacos, foxes, wolves and lots of birdlife.

With an altitude in the range of 3,500/4,500 meters above sea level, it's environment is determined by lack of oxygen.

Only resistant flora and fauna can survive.

Ñandus (South American ostrich), Andean geese and flamingos are common sight in the region.

In fact, three different species of flamingos are found here: St. James flamingo, Chilean flamingo and Andean flamingo. They flock in great numbers around the lagoons.

Overseeing it all, the imposing figure of the condor - biggest bird on Earth. With a wingspan of up to three meters, is able to carry up to 40 lbs. in its claws.
Another record found here is the queñoa, world's highest growing tree - up to an altitude of 5,200 meters above sea level - and the Puya de Raimondi cactus, which flowers only once every 100 years.

Equally rich is the culture of the region.
Quechua and Aymara traditions are kept alive in small villages - where natives live pretty much as their ancestors did - and return after months of herding llamas and alpacas across the vast volcanic plateau.

Altiplano is a very important destination when you make it to South America.

From lake Titicaca - shared by Peru and Bolivia - to the great salt flats of Salar de Uyuni or the vast Atacama desert in Chile, don't forget to include Isluga Volcano and Lauca national parks, across the border from Bolivia's Sajama Park.

If you love climbing, check Parinacota volcano, with 6,300 m. it will provide you with high views to this beautiful and desolated place, no matter if you are a novice or experienced climber.

Bolivian Flamingoes. Altiplano
Bolivian Flamingoes by Pedro Szekely . CC BY-SA 2.0


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