Day 1: San Pedro to Ojo de Perdiz, Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve
Our 4x4 expedition starts as we drive from San Pedro de Atacama to the Bolivian border crossing Hito Cajones. Once we cross the border the scenery is dominated by the Licancabur Volcano and the Green Lagoon at its base, one of the jewels of the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve. We continue driving and enter the Valley of the Desert Ladies, then head to the Hot Springs of Polque for a relaxing bathe in the hot natural pools before going to the Sol de Mañana Geysers.
We continue driving and arrive at the Red Lagoon, another jewel of the Avaroa Reserve and famous for its different species of flamingoes. The red color of the lagoon is produced by active algae reacting with the sun's radiation and wind - the pink color of the flamingo's feet and feathers is produced by the same algae. The variety of colors in the desert is very impressive - red, orange, ochre, brass, brown and beige. As we keep driving we see wild Vicuña, with their elegant figures and other Altiplano wildlife. We continue to Ojo de Perdiz, where we spend the night in the heart of the Siloli desert.
Day 2: Ojo de Perdiz to San Pedro de Quemes
Today we drive to a chain of lagoons named Ramadita, Honda, Chiarkota, Hedionda, and Cañapa. There are large numbers of Andean, James and Chilean flamingoes in the lagoons, in addition to other birds including Andean seagulls and wild ducks. The lagoon is surrounded by impressive sand and rock formations, shaped by the millenary winds, borax and sulfur minerals. We continue towards the Mirador de Ollague, where we have lunch outdoors before heading to Pueblo Refugio (refugee village), known for its influx of people from Pueblo Quemado (burnt village) who arrived after a big fire in their village. We spend the night at the comfortable Tayka Stone Hotel, made of stone and volcanic sand.
Day 3: San Pedro de Quemes to Tahua
After breakfast, we wander around the hotel grounds and Pueblo Quemado, which was burnt down in Bolivia's war with Chile in 1879. We also participate in the herding of llamas with Doña Marta who owns the flock. We then board our 4X4 and drive an hour to the abandoned hamlet of Cuye where we have an amazing view of the Salt Flat. Continuing on to Incahuasi island we have great views of volcanic rock and giant cacti as we make our way up to a viewpoint of the surrounding white landscape. We enjoy lunch here as well as an optional walk up to the panoramic viewpoint for a full 360º look at the amazing Salt Flat.
We drive on to the little known Salar Sensual, passing through the beautiful Ch'jini where local inhabitants walk up with us to the 'cathedral', or fortress ruins, on a 40m high mound above the unknown village. The ruins are believed to date back to the period after the Tiwanacota era and the viewpoints give us clues about the civilization. We then continue on to the Ch'jini cave, with its interesting and fragile formations (allowing just 5 people per visit), before visiting the place of ancient ancestral populations on the northeastern shore of the salt flat. Back in our jeep, we continue to Coquesa and up to Thunupa where we do a short walk up to a cave with mummies. As sunset approaches we drive towards Tahua, to spend the night at the unique Tayka Salt Hotel offering unparalleled panoramic views of the Salar.
Day 4: Tahua to La Paz City
After breakfast w,e drive past Tunupa Volcano, at 5,321 m (17,457 ft) above sea level. From here we head on to Salinas de Garci Mendoza, at the foot of the volcano, where we visit the local village and church representative of the colonial architecture. Continuing on to the Jayu Quta crater we see a huge depression caused by a meteorite that fell millions of years ago. Due to its vast size and symmetry, the crater is known as Maracaná in reference to the famous football stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
Our final lunch will be in Quillacas, with a memorable view of the surrounding lakes and salt flat. Here we drive towards the Thunupa volcano and continue to the city of Oruro from where we drive the final 200km through the Altiplano to our final destination - Bolivian capital La Paz.