Take Five: The Hues of Bolivia (#NoFilter)

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Red lagoons as vibrant as pools of blood, desert so immaculately white it blinds, and an endless canopy of green—these are just a handful of Bolivia’s many colors. Have you seen them? Likely not. Bolivia is one of South America’s least visited countries, rarely making a mark on the typical tourist route.

But the outlook is changing as its government unrolls a new tourism strategy, planning a $400 million investment to attract more visitors to its relatively unseen sights, flexing the strengths of its vibrant landscapes as it competes with adjacent, more frequented countries.

Bolivia isn’t viewing its own potential through rose-colored glasses; the South American country comprises one of the most diverse landscapes on Earth, in fact, from rainforest to badland. So what exactly is there to see in Bolivia? Its true colors, of course.

1. Laguna Colorada

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Photo courtesy Crillon Tours

Forget everything you were told: water need not be blue; try red. Laguna Colorado, a crimson lake near Bolivia’s Chilean border, would appear noxious if it weren’t for the rare James’s Flamingos (yes, Bolivia even has pink flamingos) silted in its shallow waters. This is not a gimmick; the red tinge is a result of naturally occurring algae. While the mind bending waters might suggest you’re not seeing clearly, the area’s horizon, dotted with the classic and well-known Andes—with occasional snow-capped peaks creating an interesting contrast—will ground you. Yes, Lagunda Colorado is real, and really red.

2. Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca.jpg
Photo courtesy Crillon Tours

At the same time, water truly can be deeply blue. The world’s largest high-altitude lake (over 12,500 feet above sea level) is shared by its neighbor, Peru, but Bolivia’s portion of Lake Titicaca is no less eternal, swallowing every view of its reach in dark, cool waters. Relatively placid, the waters are not only blue, but spiritual; mottled with over 40 islands, one of which, Isla del Sol, was said to be the birthplace of civilization in Incan mythology as well as the birthplace of their first king.

3. Amazon

Bolivia’s portion of the Amazon (pictured at top) is not to be taken lightly; it makes up a near third of the country. You’ll find myriad hues typical of the Amazon (blue-throated macaw, red-billed toucan) and diverse textures (parched savannah, slick rivers and streams), but the lush, green canopy is the dominant feature. Perhaps best seen at Madidi National Park—which, as one of the most biodiverse places on earth, shelters almost 12,000 plant species. It’s an oft overlooked point of access for exploring the Amazon basin’s leafy greens.

4. Salar de Uyuni

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Photo by Keith Flanagan

Picture that white, bumpy “popcorn” paint that shows up on ceilings across the United States. Now imagine it spilled it across an even surface as far the eye can see—and even further to 4,086 square miles—and you have Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. After an hour’s drive into the 30,000-year-old salt lake that dried long ago, you’ll see nothing but its expanse, spliced only by a blue sky. The patchwork of salt crust, splayed in seemingly infinite hexagonal patterns, is so remote, so endlessly white, you might forget reality while you visit this dreamlike landscape.

5. La Paz

La Paz.jpg
Photo courtesy Crillon Tours

There’s more to Bolivia than empty expanse. There’s the highest administrative capital in the world, for one, which bustles with foot traffic at street level. But from afar, the frenetic energy of La Paz is quelled and browned. Clusters of brick buildings pack the canyon city, scaling its perimeter. The sea of dwellings blend to match the rocky Altiplano, contrasted only by the vibrant culture that pumps through its streets. The city’s natural landmarks—like Valle de la Luna standing tall with beige clay spires (a result of erosion)—aren’t eyesores but gentle reminders of Bolivia’s roots: Still wild as it climbs to the top of South America’s flourishing tourism scene.

Keith Flanagan is a writer, eater and consummate traveler who loves the journey home to Brooklyn, NY, as much as the open road.

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