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Cuemes - Kawsay Wasi - Lagoons - Desierto Siloli

A day full of lagoons

View High Altitude Landscapes Tour - Bolivia, Chile & Argentina 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I did not have a good night at all, with many strange and unpleasant dreams, waking up coughing every half an hour or so, and at one stage I even woke up with what I can only describe as an 'altitude burn' on my shins. I don't even know if there is such a thing! David doesn't feel much better, having been violently sick in the night. What a pair we are this morning.

Sunrise over Cuemes from our bedroom window

At breakfast, Juan gives us a QR code leading to an online form we need to complete for entry into Chile tomorrow. We then set off on the next part of the journey.

Traffic jam Bolivian style


Quinoa has been grown in Bolivia for around 7,000 years. Initially, it was used purely as livestock fodder, it was only around 3500 years ago it became a grain for human consumption.


The quinoa plant is altitude hardy, and can be grown up to 4,000 metres above sea level, as well as tolerating a wide temperature range from -4 °C to +35 °C, as is often found in a single day here in the Andes.


Once the plants have almost dried out, they are cut and placed in the ground. Traditionally, the farm workers would use their feet in the threshing process, but these days some farmers will cover the seed heads with plastic, and drive their tractors over them to separate seed heads from the husks.



Kawsay Wasi


When we arrive at this place, there is no-one in sight. Juan and Roger somehow manage to get the gate unlocked, and we're in.


A worker arrives a short time later, and Juan goes off to pay for our tickets.


Cumilopuntia Bolivano
This densely-armed cactus, which is endemic to high altitudes in Bolivia, has beautiful yellow flowers. What we see today, however, is the ensuing fruits.



Much as the cactus with its fruits is fascinating, we are not here to see the flora, but the remains of the Lipez people who lived here from around 1200 to 1450 AD. The Lords of Lipes de San Juan rarely built funerary towers as their contemporaries did; they utilised the local formations of coral rocks by turning them into tombs.


The coral's natural beehive-like structures were further enhanced by making larger holes to fit the bodies of the deceased.


They were firm believers in life after death, which explains why their corpses were buried in foetal positions.


Each of the dead would be buried with articles necessary to carry them into the afterlife.


Chiguana Salt Flat

Another day, another salt flat crossing.



The salt flat is surrounded by numerous inactive volcanos, and a straight train track across it from Uyuni to the Chilean border.

The not-so-level crossing

An empty train coming from Chile


Coral fossils from when this was the bottom of the sea


Darwen's Rhea, also known as Andean Ostrich, while the locals called this animal a 'suri'

Spectacular rock formations

Ollagüe Volcano

Known as The Smoky Mountain, this is the only active volcano in Bolivia. The western rim of the summit crater features a vigorous smoke plume that is visible from afar.




We later cross one of the lava flows created during the eruption some 11,000 years ago.



As we continue our journey, ever further south, the air becomes drier; something that is quite evident in my sinuses: I feel like I am eating and breathing dust. Thankfully there are no other vehicles around as we make full use of the four-wheel drive capabilities of this vehicle as we travel on some adventurous gravel tracks.


After a while, we join a wide and reasonably smooth highway – this is the main route for trucks carrying minerals from St Christofer Mine (hence the width and quality).


Cañapa Lagoon


By a beautiful blue lagoon, covered with white patches of ice and borax, we stop to stretch our legs, take some photos and fly the drone.



We see James' Flamingos, Andean Avocet, and a couple of vicuñas on the lakeside.




Hedionda Lagoon

We stop by this lake for a picnic, in a specially constructed semi-circular comedor where you can 'rent' the tables for your picnic, re-heat your packed lunch, and buy some drinks.


It seems surreal to be sitting here, eating hot food in a very remote area where human habitation is negligible. I love the idea, and the modern toilets are very welcome.


Huge panoramic windows look out over the lagoon with its myriad of flamingos and other birds.


Many of the flamingos are more white than pink, due to lack of pigmentation algae in the lake.




Puna Plover

The name of the lagoon is Spanish for "stinking lake", the result of a high sulphur content which gives it a yellow tinge.


Honda Lagoon

The name means 'deep lagoon' in Spanish.





Andean Avocet


After a very late lunch (it's 3pm by the time we leave), we carry on our journey across the Altiplano. Meaning 'high plain' in Spanish, this is the most extensive high plateau on earth outside Tibet.



There is very little vegetation here, but we see a couple of animals on the way.

Viscacha – similar to a chinchilla, this small rodent (about the size of a rabbit), is endemic to South America.

Andean Fox

Siloli Desert

The road takes us ever higher, as we reach an altitude of 4,600 metres above sea level.


The desert is beautiful in the evening light, surrounded by even higher peaks, its surface barren apart from a few tufts of Festuca ortoflora grass.




Hotel Tayka el Desierto

Miles from the nearest civilisation, stands a simple, rustic hotel, surrounded by nothing but stunning desert scenery.


The Tayka desert hotel is the world’s highest hotel (there is a guest house higher near Everest Base Camp), as well as one of the most remote hotels we've ever stayed in.


With the basic construction and its remote location, it takes me by great surprise to find a posh restaurant, with white linen tablecloths, starched cloth napkins, uniformed waiting staff, and panoramic windows overlooking the desert. Or the darkness, as tonight. It must be stunning during daylight hours. The hotel is full this evening (unlike last night's hotel where we were the only guests staying)


Starter: quinoa soup with doughy freshly cooked bread. This is certainly the best quinoa soup so far (and there have been many).


Main course: beef in a blue cheese sauce. The meat is deliciously tender, and I would love to know what treatment they have given the pasta, as it is really flavoursome.


Dessert: chocolate torte with maracuya


Milky Way

With light pollution being totally non-existent, the stars look amazing from here. Roger drives us a short distance from the hotel, to avoid any light spillage from the building.


Armed with a tripod, a remote release, and a stool to plonk my bottom on, I set up ready to photograph the Milky Way.


At -12 °C, and feeling very out of breath as a result of the altitude and a chest infection, I give up after half an hour and go back to the warm, cosy bedroom.

The rooms are basic but adequate, with private facilities and comfortable beds. Solar panels on the roof provide electricity until 22:00, when the lights go out. After that, it is mighty dark, with no light source for hundreds of miles. Darker than I have ever known before. I wake at 01:30 and find the total darkness very unsettling. I can't even make out the outline of my hand when it is mere centimetres from my eyes. I feel strangely spooked by the absolute blackness. Carefully fumbling around where I think the bedside table is, I manage to locate my phone and provide some very welcome light. As I get up to use the loo, I can hear my heart beating. Boom, boom, boom, like someone hammering in my head. Not sure whether it is the altitude, my chest infection, or the unease I feel because of the darkness. Probably a combination of all three. Whatever the reason, I struggle to go back to sleep again.

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for this amazing private tour of some of the most stunning scenery on earth.


Posted by Grete Howard 10:11 Archived in Bolivia Tagged birds desert landscape volcano cactus train scenery tombs sunrise chile necropolis lagoon railway lava picnic bolivia salt burial fox coral rock_formations south_america flamingo graves altiplano altitude avocet funeral quinoa viscacha marmot lagoons astro astronomy sulphur bird_watching sulfur cough milky_way vicuñas salt_flat drone lípez undiscovered_destinations train_track plover astro_photography picnic_lunch barren nightmares skeletons volcanic_eruption fumaroles high_altitude chest_infection drone_photography cuemes tayka kawsay_wasi corpses dead_bodies burial_mounds coral_fossils cumilopuntia cactus_fruit lipes the_lords_of_lipes funerary_urns coral_rocks life_after_death chiguana ollague ollague_volcano the_smoky_mountain smoke_plume lava_flow st_cristofer_mine canapa cañapa_lagoon borax hedionda_lagoon honda_lagoon stinking_lake chinchilla siloli siloli_desert high_altitude_desert festuca hotel_tayka_el_desierto worlds_highest_hotel total_darkness

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So glad you enjoyed this! I can sympathise with the altitude sickness and cold nights. At least you slept in a warm hotel. We slept in little rooms with corrugated iron and no ceiling... deadly cold. My wife got so sick from altitude and cold at 6000m near Laguna verde that we had to race down back to Tupiza at only 2800m since she was losing consciousnes... I am sorry I did not get that salt lake with an inch of water and the amazing reflections some people get... thank you for the lovely tour and memories you evoked!

by Friedrich von Hörsten

Another fascinating day! These landscapes remind me very much of the Chilean Atacama, unsurprising considering their proximity. I enjoyed seeing the drone footage, it gives an extra perspective on the lagoons. As to that hotel, surreal but wonderful! But your experiences with the altitude sound daunting and would give me pause for thought if considering such a trip.

by ToonSarah

Oh my goodness, Friedrich, that sounds awful! I am glad your wife got respite at lower altitude.

by Grete Howard

The altitude would have been OK if I'd not had a chest infection, Sarah, I have been higher than that with no ill effect. I shouldn't let it put you off.
Thanks for commenting. :)

by Grete Howard

such beautiful pictures, especially of the fox. I saw one in a far distance as well at the Chilean border, your pictures really bring back lovely memories!

by Ils1976

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