Bolivia is one of my favorite off-the-beaten-path destinations for travel, especially for those looking to travel on a budget. While the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats are well known for being so striking and other-worldly, there is so much more in Bolivia that is just as striking, yet still off the radar of too many travelers.
Laguna Colorada Bolivia, just a few hours south of the Salt Flats is one of those destinations that you won’t forget – this bright red lake surrounded by mountains and desert is mind-blowing.
Far too many visitors to the Salt Flats miss out on the nearby attraction of Laguna Colorada, but it’s easy to get to with most Salt Flats and Laguna Colorada tours.
Keep reading for exactly how to visit this incredible destination – I’m sharing all the secrets and tips for how to get to Laguna Colorada and what you’ll need to know to visit this unforgettable destination.
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Laguna Colorada – meaning red lagoon or lake in Spanish – is a bright red lake in southwest Bolivia near the border of Chile and Argentina. Laguna Colorada Bolivia is also one of the country’s most visually striking natural areas, along with the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats nearby.
It was nominated to be part of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. This salt lake is located in the remote Altiplano (High Plains) of Bolivia, an area known for its incredible salt and mineral deposits, and soaring altitude.
When I say that Laguna Colorada is red, it is really red! I’d seen pictures before I visited myself, but was shocked at just how bright red it is. Along the shore, even at just a few inches of depth, you can’t see through the water because of the saturated red color
Why is Laguna Colorada Red?
Laguna Colorada gets its bright red color due to red sediments in the water, and red algae. Certain mineral deposits in the area have caused these sediments and colored algae, just as they cause Laguna Verde nearby to be green-blue, and cause other lakes to colorful as well. The lake is only about a meter deep at its deepest point, which contributes to its deep red color and the opacity of the water.
While the red color is visible throughout the year, sunlight and clouds can make sections of the water look clearer than others, more orange, or darker red. One of the most incredible parts of visiting is seeing the tones of water look like they’re changing before your eyes.
Part of what makes Laguna Colorada so striking is not just the red water, but the white “islands” and bands that stretch through the water and contrast the red. These white patches are composed of borax found in the lake, and they look like snow!
Flamingos in Bolivia
One of my favorite surprises of visiting Laguna Colorada in Bolivia and the other colored lagoons in the area was seeing the flamingos! Flamingos in Bolivia in the high-altitude desert and mountains are unexpected, but they thrive here.
There are thousands of Andean flamingos in Bolivia, and they make this destination even more breathtaking. Their legs are resistant to all the chemicals in the water, and they are extremely vibrant and pink from the food they feast on in the lagoon.
These flamingos will actually freeze themselves into the water in the lakes in the area at night to sleep as a flock – they’re “freed” in the morning when the sun rises and ice melts.
Where is Laguna Colorada?
Laguna Colorada is located within the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, known in Spanish as the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa.
Near the border with Chile, this national park is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes you’ll ever find. Desert, mountains, snow-capped peaks, and colorful lagoons are everywhere here, and part of the beauty in getting here is what you’ll see along the way.
Located in a very remote corner of the high plains area of southwest Bolivia, it can be challenging to get to Laguna Colorada, but the journey here is also part of what makes a trip here so incredible.
Nearby destinations include the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats – visitors that come here for the Salt Flats generally try to combine a trip to Laguna Colorada with their visit, and it is well worth it!
Laguna Colorada Map
Below you’ll find a Laguna Colorada map I’ve created showing highlighting Laguna Colorada and the nearby things to see and do, plus places you’ll likely travel through on your way there – Uyuni, San Pedro de Atacama, or Tupiza. Check out the map for some spots you can’t miss in the area!
Salar de Uyuni and Laguna Colorada
Part of what has made Laguna Colorada Bolivia such a popular and famous destination is its proximity to the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats outside of Uyuni.
You’ve probably seen the Salar de Uyuni referred to as the “world’s largest mirror” for how water sits completely still on the salt flats in the rainy season and reflects the sky.
The proximity of the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats and Laguna Colorada make visiting this area even more attractive for visitors. Laguna Colorada is a highlight on the multi-day tours through the Eduardo Avaroa National Park, and most visits to the area will include stops at the Salt Flats and Laguna Colorada.
How to get to Laguna Colorada
Because Laguna Colorada is located in such a remote area, almost all visitors make the trip as a part of a 4×4 jeep tour. The most popular Laguna Colorada jeep tours depart from Uyuni, and include a guided tour of the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats as part of the trip.
Check out our Ultimate Guide to the Salar de Uyuni Bolivia Salt Flats for even more detailed information about visiting Uyuni!
While you can overland and drive independently to the site – it’s an increasingly popular #vanlife destination! – for most travelers taking a jeep tour is the best way to go. Not only is it important to know your way around out in the desert, but it’s the most cost-effective way to get here.
Laguna Colorada Tour
Even if you’re not a tour kind of person, or have never been on a jeep tour, the Laguna Colorada tour experience is an unforgettable one – I was hesitant at first but look back at mine as one of my favorite travel experiences ever!
These tours can be very customizable and there are so many options to explore, leaving from different cities in the area.
Day Tours to Laguna Colorada
Single-day Laguna Colorada tours are not very common, as Laguna Colorada is located in such a remote area. Driving from any of the nearby cities just takes far too long for day trips to be worth it, in most cases.
Joker Expedition does offer a one-day, private Laguna Colorada tour from Uyuni! It will be a long day, but worth it if you want to make the trek here and don’t have much time.
Other than the Joker Expedition trip from Uyuni, the only other day trips that you’ll find depart from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, and are about four hours of driving each way. While they’re worth looking into if you’re on a tight time constraint, so much of the attraction of the area is in experiencing all that it has to offer, not just Laguna Colorada.
I didn’t make it across the Chilean border on this trip….though I’d love to go back soon and see the Chilean side of the Atacama Desert! Leave me a comment and let me know if you’ve been from Atacama to Laguna Colorada.
What to Pack for Salar de Uyuni
Check out our Ultimate Salar de Uyuni Packing List for our tried and tested packing list. Don’t repeat our mistakes on your Laguna Colorada and Salar de Uyuni adventure!
Multi-Day Tours to Laguna Colorada
Tours from Uyuni
Tours from Uyuni are certainly the most popular, as most travelers are drawn to this region of Bolivia first to see the Salt Flats.
Multi-day tours will almost always start with almost an entire day on the Salt Flats, including visiting popular destinations in the Salt Flats like Incahuasi and nearby caves with mummies from indigenous groups in the area.
2-day, 1-night tours from Uyuni tend to stick to the Uyuni area and Salt Flats – if you’re booking a short tour departing from Uyuni, verify that the listing includes Laguna Colorada if you want to visit!
Joker Expedition also offers a tour that in two days includes Laguna Colorada and Laguna Verde – they’ll be full and busy days, but well worth it for some incredible travel experiences!
Once you select a 3-day tour, your itinerary is almost guaranteed to also include Laguna Colorada, Laguna Verde, and incredible sights to the south of the Salt Flats.
Red Planet Expeditions has a 3-day tour leaving from Uyuni that comes highly recommended by a friend who did the route!
Joker Expedition has a 3-day tour to Laguna Colorada, the Salt Flats, and the surroundings as well. It is more expensive, though more customizable, and with alternative levels of accommodation options.
Tours from Tupiza
Another route for a Laguna Colorada tour is to start a multi-day tour in Tupiza, Bolivia, a city to the south of the Salt Flats and located near the border of Argentina. I started my tour with Tupiza Tours from Tupiza, and I couldn’t recommend this route more!
Joker Expeditions is another highly-recommended tour company that starts their tours in Tupiza, offering many different levels of accommodation and giving you a lot of freedom to tailor your trip to your preferences.
By starting a tour in Tupiza, you do the typical route from Uyuni “backwards.” This often means there are fewer people you’ll encounter at popular destinations along the way. PLUS – you’ll end your tour at the Salt Flats, which is the perfect culmination and a perfect grand finale.
Generally, tours departing from Tupiza are most convenient for travelers that plan on heading to Argentina afterward – or those who are arriving in Bolivia from Argentina. However, I recommend them to all travelers considering visiting the Salt Flats – I loved the “backward” route, and ending the tour at the Salt Flats is a great highlight.
Tours from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Many tours that start in Tupiza or Uyuni offer alternative routes that end in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile if you’re interested in traveling on after your time in Bolivia!
Joker Expeditions offers a very popular trip that starts in Uyuni and ends in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
Tours that depart from San Pedro de Atacama towards Laguna Colorada and Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats are just as common and popular with travelers. Howlanders tour company offers a popular 4-day, 3-night tour from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile that I’ve heard rave reviews of from a fellow travel blogger.
Don’t head out on your adventure without making sure you have comprehensive travel insurance to cover you! Good travel insurance will cover lost or stolen gear, medical emergencies, delayed or cancelled flights, and much more. Check out the policies available from World Nomads, the most flexible and affordable travel insurance we’ve found, or compare plans on Aardy.
What to do Near Laguna Colorada
As part of a jeep tour in the area, you’ll see so many unforgettable landscapes and destinations as you adventure through the area. However, it is worth checking out the itineraries of these companies before you book on to see what exactly you’ll be doing, so you know what to expect.
Though there is a standard itinerary and they take you to the best spots, if you have your heart set on one place, make sure to ask specifically and verify!
Best Things to do Near Laguna Colorada
This area of Bolivia isn’t just home to Laguna Colorada and Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats, but there is so much more to see in this region of the country! A multi-day Laguna Colorada tour and tour of the Salt Flats will usually include these destinations as well.
Check out my Laguna Colorada map (shared above!) of the area to see where these incredible destinations are located in relation to Laguna Colorada and the cities like Uyuni, San Pedro de Atacama, and Tupiza in the area.
Arbol de Piedra
Located in an area known as the “Desert of Dalí” for its landscapes that look like they’re out of a surrealist Dalí painting, the Arbol de Piedra is a giant rock shaped like a tree, carved out over centuries by the wind. This surreal landmark is surrounded by beautiful mountains and desert landscapes.
Another popular, colorful lake in the area with an incredible color is Laguna Verde. This is another standard inclusion on most multi-day Salar de Uyuni and Laguna Colorada tour itineraries.
Though I was more impressed with Laguna Colorada’s striking red, this greenish-blue lagoon is incredible as well. You won’t find the famous flamingos in Bolivia at this lake, but make sure it’s on your itinerary, too!
Hot Springs – Termas de Polque
This area is also home to some bubbling hot springs that can’t be missed. While the natural springs have been contained by rock walls to make them easier to swim in, you’re really in the middle of the desert here, which makes for some beautiful scenery and a relaxing dip.
Come well prepared with a cozy towel – it will likely be cold and windy outside so you won’t want to stand around and drip dry. There is a small outpost here with a restaurant and bathroom for visitors.
Salar de Uyuni
But of course, you’re not going to visit Laguna Colorada Bolivia without visiting the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats. Even if you don’t have time within your itinerary to visit Laguna Colorada (though it is well worth it to MAKE the time!) visiting the Salar de Uyuni is still an incredible experience. Truly a once in a lifetime travel experience in a place unlike anywhere else on Earth.