A High-Altitude Sanctuary: Exploring the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve

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A High-Altitude Sanctuary: Exploring the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve

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Nestled in Bolivia's far southwestern region, the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve is a realm of contrasts and extremes. Volcanic mountain peaks, simmering hot springs, and kaleidoscopic lakes coexist with windswept deserts and fragile ecosystems.

Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve: Bolivia's High-Altitude Sanctuary of Surreal Landscapes and Exceptional Biodiversity

Nestled in the far southwestern region of Bolivia, the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve stands as a breathtaking testament to the country's natural wonders. This vast protected area in the Bolivian Andes, spanning over 714,745 hectares (1,766,170 acres), is a realm of contrasts and extremes, where volcanic mountain peaks, simmering hot springs, and kaleidoscopic lakes coexist with windswept deserts and fragile ecosystems. As Bolivia's most visited protected area, the Eduardo Avaroa Reserve offers a captivating journey through the heart of the Andean region, unveiling a tapestry of surreal landscapes and exceptional biodiversity.

Geological Wonders: A Land of Fire and Ice

Volcanic Peaks and Geothermal Marvels

The Eduardo Avaroa Reserve is a canvas of geological wonders where the raw power of nature is on full display. Erupting volcanoes, their summits capped with snow and ice, stand as silent sentinels while hot springs and geysers bubble and steam, creating an otherworldly ambiance. Fumaroles, vents that release volcanic gases, add to the mystique of this high-altitude realm, reminding visitors of the Earth's restless forces at work.

The Surreal Desierto de Dalí

One of the reserve's most captivating attractions is the Desierto de Dalí (Salvador Dalí Desert), a barren valley southwest of the Salar de Chalviri. This otherworldly landscape, named after the renowned surrealist artist, is characterized by bizarre rock formations and wind-sculpted erosional features that resemble Salvador Dalí's paintings. Visitors can experience a surreal and mesmerizing experience for visitors.

A Kaleidoscope of Lakes and Salt Flats

Laguna Colorada and the Flamingo's Realm

No visit to the Eduardo Avaroa Reserve is complete without witnessing the breathtaking Laguna Colorada. This shallow salt lake, situated at an elevation of 4,278 meters (14,035 feet), is a kaleidoscope of colors, ranging from deep crimson to vibrant hues of pink and red. The lake's unique pigmentation results from red sediments and algae, strikingly contrasting the white borax islands that dot its surface. This surreal landscape is home to three endemic species of flamingos, including the rare James's flamingo, which can be seen wading through the shallow waters, feeding on the pink algae.

A Tapestry of Saline Lakes and Salt Flats

Beyond Laguna Colorada, the Eduardo Avaroa Reserve is a tapestry of saline lakes and salt flats, each with unique character and hues. From the turquoise waters of Laguna Verde to the light green Laguna Salada and the Salar de Chalviri, a vast salt flat at the heart of the reserve, these natural wonders offer a visual feast for visitors, showcasing the incredible diversity of landscapes within this high-altitude sanctuary.

Laguna Verde: a salt lake that covers an area of 1,700 ha (4,200 acres), and a narrow causeway divides it into two parts. It is at the southwestern extremity of the reserve and of Bolivia itself. It has mineral suspensions of arsenic and other minerals that color the lake waters. Its color varies from turquoise to dark emerald depending on the disturbance caused by sediments in the lake by winds.

Laguna Colorada: a salt lake of 4,278 m (14,035 ft), covering 6,000 ha (14,800 acres). It is named after the effect of wind and sun on the micro-organism that lives in it. The lake contains borax islands, whose white color contrasts with the reddish color of its waters, which is caused by red sediments and pigmentation of some algae. The lake is shallow, less than 1 m (40 in) deep, and supports 40 bird species, providing pink algae to the rare James's flamingos, which can walk across it.

Laguna Salada:  covers 900 ha (2,200 acres) and is light green due to its high mineral content. Its coastal perimeter is 20 km (12.5 mi). To the south of the lake is a hot spring.

Laguna Busch (or Kalina): lies at an elevation of 4,525 m (14,845 ft), and its surface area is 2,060 ha (5,090 acres)

Laguna Hedionda: a salt lake notable for various migratory pink and white flamingo species. It lies at an altitude of 4,121 m (13,520 ft) with an area of 300 ha (740 acres). Salt flats and bofedales (wetlands) are spread over the lake's periphery.

Biodiversity: Resilience in the Face of Extremes

Thriving in the Central Andean Dry Puna

The Eduardo Avaroa Reserve is part of the Central Andean dry puna (oligothermic) ecoregion, a harsh and unforgiving environment characterized by extreme temperatures, salinity, and a scarcity of freshwater and nutrients. Yet, despite these challenges, a remarkable array of flora and fauna has adapted to thrive in this unique ecosystem.

Flora: Hardy Survivors and Ancient Trees

The reserve's vegetation is a testament to resilience and consists of tropical alpine herbs and dwarf shrubs of Polylepis forests. There are reportedly about 190 plant and tree species in the harsh terrain, which have emerged given the conditions of salinity, lack of fresh water, low temperatures, and scarcity of nutrients. Flora restricted to this and other ecoregions include the genera Barneoudia, Hexaptera, Nototriche, Pycnophyllum and Werneria. The vegetation is characterized by pasture grass (straw), such as Peruvian feather grass (Stipa ichu) in some plains and hillsides.

The important plant species on which people depend for fuel wood in the area is yareta, which grows in the reserve forest at 1 - 3 mm (0.039 - 0.118 in) per year amidst rocky terrain. This hardwood tree, which looks like a foamy bubble bath but is as hard as a stone, grows slowly, attaining a height of about 5 ft (1.5 m) with a circumference of 10 ft (3.0 m) and can be as old as 3000 years. Tola or Thola (Parastrephia lepidophylla), quinoa, and the Kenua bush tree can sometimes be found in places with higher humidity.

Fauna: Flamingos, Condors, and Elusive Felines

The Eduardo Avaroa Reserve is a haven for an array of exceptional fauna, including the iconic flamingos that grace its saline lakes. In addition to the three endemic flamingo species, the reserve is home to over 80 bird species, including falcons, ducks, the lesser or Darwin's rhea, puna tinamou, and the Andean goose. Endangered species like the Ash-breasted tit-tyrant, royal cinclodes, and Berlepsch's canastero find refuge within the reserve's boundaries. Mammals such as pumas, Andean foxes, and vizcachas (rabbit-like creatures) also call this high-altitude sanctuary home, while the elusive vicuña and Andean cat, both endangered species, roam the reserve's remote corners.

The reserve is a habitat for ten reptile species (including two lizards of the genus Liolaemus), amphibians and fish. Other domesticated animals raised in 500 villages inhabited by Quetena Grande and Quetena Chico communities are the llamas and alpacas; however, grazing by these animals on the native grasses and plants in the reserve has a detrimental effect on the conservation of the park.

The fauna is characterized by species that have adapted to extreme living conditions in the region, some of which are endangered. Of the Chilean (Phoenicopterus chilensis), Andean (Phoenicoparrus andinus) and James (Phoenicoparrus jamesi) flamingos in the reserve, their population was recorded in 1994 as 26,600. In addition, the reserve is the habitat for 80 more species of birds, which include falcons, ducks, lesser or Darwin's rhea (Pterocnemia pennata), puna tinamou (Tinamotis pentlandii) and Andean goose (Chloephaga melanoptera).

Endemic birds found in this ecoregion also include the endangered Ash-breasted tit-tyrant (Anairetes alpinus), the critically threatened royal cinclodes (Cinclodes aricomae), the vulnerable Berlepsch's canastero (Asthenes berlepschi); and species of most minor concern the line-fronted canastero (Asthenes urubambensis), scribble-tailed canastero (Asthenes maculicauda), short-tailed finch (Idiopsar bracyurus), and gray-bellied flower-piercer (Diglosa carbonaria).

Mammals reported in the protected reserve total 23 species, which include pumas, Andean foxes (Pseudalopex culpaeus) and vizcacha (rabbit-like). Endangered species include: vicuñas (Vicugna vicugna), suri, Andean condor, keñua, puma (Felis concolor), andean cat (Felis jacobita), and quirquincho (Chaetophractus nationi).

Towering Peaks: The Sentinels of the Andes

A Realm of Volcanic Giants

In addition to its surreal landscapes and exceptional biodiversity, the Eduardo Avaroa Reserve is home to a magnificent array of towering mountain peaks, many of which are volcanic. These giants of the Andes stand as silent sentinels, their snow-capped summits piercing the azure skies and constantly reminding them of the region's geological grandeur.

Licancabur and Juriques: Iconic Volcanic Summits

Among the most iconic peaks within the reserve are Licancabur and Juriques, two imposing volcanoes that have shaped the region's topography and captured the imagination of visitors for centuries. Licancabur, a massive stratovolcano reaching an elevation of 5,868 meters (19,252 feet), is a sight to behold, its perfectly conical shape and pristine white slopes a testament to the power of nature. Juriques, standing at 5,704 meters (18,714 feet), is no less impressive, its rugged peaks and deep crevasses bearing witness to the relentless forces of erosion and glaciation that have sculpted this landscape over millennia.

(See an exhaustive list of peaks below.)

Hiking Opportunities and Scenic Vistas

For adventurous hikers and mountaineers, the Eduardo Avaroa Reserve offers many opportunities to explore these towering peaks and revel in the breathtaking vistas they provide. Well-marked trails wind through the reserve, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the grandeur of the Andes and experience the exhilaration of standing atop these natural wonders.

Respecting Nature's Majesty

While the Eduardo Avaroa Reserve's mountain peaks offer unparalleled beauty and adventure, visitors must approach these iconic summits respectfully and cautiously. Proper preparation, equipment, and guidance are essential for safely navigating these high-altitude environments, ensuring that the reserve's natural wonders can be enjoyed and preserved for future generations.

Conservation and Sustainable Tourism

Balancing Protection and Responsible Exploration

The Eduardo Avaroa Reserve faces significant conservation challenges with its exceptional biodiversity and fragile ecosystems. Overgrazing by domesticated llamas and alpacas, as well as the impacts of climate change, threaten the delicate balance of this unique environment. Park authorities and conservation organizations are working tirelessly to implement sustainable tourism practices and engage local communities in preservation efforts, ensuring visitors can experience the reserve's wonders while minimizing their ecological footprint.


The Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve is a true gem in Bolivia's crown of natural wonders. In this high-altitude sanctuary, surreal landscapes, exceptional biodiversity, and the raw forces of nature converge in a breathtaking display. From the kaleidoscopic Laguna Colorada and the surreal Desierto de Dalí to the resilient flora and fauna that thrive in the harsh Central Andean dry puna, this reserve offers a captivating journey through a realm of extremes and contrasts. As visitors embark on this unforgettable adventure, they are reminded of the fragility and resilience of our planet's ecosystems and the importance of responsible tourism and conservation efforts in preserving these natural treasures for generations to come.

Mountain Peaks

The Eduardo Avaroa Reserve contains the following mountain peaks, in alphabetical order, along with their corresponding height:

Amarillo – 5,560 m (18,241 ft)

Aguas Calientes – 5,684 m (18,648 ft)

Aguita Brava – 5,485 m (17,995 ft)

Bajo – 5,468 m (17,939 ft), border with Argentina

Baratera – 5,484 m (17,992 ft)

Brajma – 5,356 m (17,572 ft)

Bravo – 5,656 m (18,556 ft)

Cahuna – 5,583 m (18,317 ft)

Callejón Chico – 5,708 m (18,727 ft)

Chaco Seguro – 4,948 m (16,233 ft)

Chicalin – 5,123 m (16,808 ft)

Chijlla – 5,709 m (18,730 ft)

Cojita – 5,116 m (16,785 ft)

Colorado – 5,264 m (17,270 ft)

Cueva Blanca – 4,957 m (16,263 ft)

Estrato – 5,193 m (17,037 ft)

Guacha – 5,340 m (17,519 ft)

Guayaques – 5,598 m (18,366 ft)

Juriques – 5,704 m (18,714 ft), on the border with Chile

Lagunitas – 5,203 m (17,070 ft)

Letrato – 5,193 m (17,037 ft)

Licancabur – 5,920 m (19,422 ft), on the border with Chile

Linzor – 5,680 m (18,635 ft)

Loromayu – 5,641 m (18,507 ft)

Loromita – 4,846 m (15,899 ft)

Michina – 5,537 m (18,494 ft)

Nelly – 5,078 m (16,660 ft)

Pabellón – 5,498 m (18,038 ft)

Panizo – 5,456 m (17,900 ft)

Piedras Grandes – 5,710 m (18,733 ft)

Poderosa – 5,614 m (18,418 ft)

Puntas Negras – 4,963 m (16,282 ft)

Puripica Chico – 5,464 m (17,926 ft)

Putana – 5,890 m (19,324 ft)

Quebrada Honda – 5,593 m (18,350 ft)

Sairecabur – 5,971 m (19,890 ft), on the border with Chile

Sanabria – 5,654 m (18,550 ft)

Sandoncito – 5,252 m (17,231 ft)

Silata Chahuna – 5640 m (18,504 ft)

Suri Phuyu – 5,458 m (17,907 ft)

Tinte – 5,384 m (17,664 ft), on the border with Argentina

Totoral – 4,963 m (16,283 ft)

Tres Cumbres – 5,509 m (18,074 ft)

Viscachillos – 5,301 m (17,391 ft)

Waylla Yarita – 5,578 m (18,300 ft)

Wilama – 5,678 m (18,628 ft), on the border with Argentina

Zapaleri – 5,090 m (16,699 ft), on the border with Argentina and Chile