Laguna Colorada, Bolivia

Lake Locations:

Bolivia -

Also known as:  Lago Colorado, Red Lake, Red Lagoon

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One of the world’s most unique lakes, Laguna Colorada occupies an unusual ecological niche in southwestern Bolivia. The nearly 15,000-acre salt lake is less than three feet deep and a brilliant red color due to the variety of algae that proliferates in its briny waters. The unusual lake lies within the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve and is under the joint protection of The Nature Conservancy and the Bolivian National Protected Areas Service. Although remote and in an area with few accommodations, the Reserve is receiving more visitors each year. One of the highlights of every foray into the Reserve is a stop to view the stunning red lake with its many white salt islands and the endangered James flamingos that thrive on the plankton in the waters. The flamingos gain their pink coloring from the red micro-organisms that constitute much of their diet.

The majority of the landscape around Laguna Colorada is desert rocks and salt deposits. Nearby is the geothermal area where the geysers of Sol de Manana eject their waters toward the cloudless blue sky. Smoking craters send up clouds of steam above a landscape that is nothing like anything else seen on earth. At an altitude of about 14,000 feet, the air temperature is often below freezing at dawn but warms decently during the summer months to make excursions into the Reserve decidedly pleasant. Most visitors arrive via 4-wheeled-drive vehicles owned by one of several tourism companies; the road is too rough for buses. Established in 1953, the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve covers 1,766,170 acres and is a part of the larger Los Lipez Ramsar site.

Laguna Colorada is the only large red lagoon in the Reserve, but the other large lagoons are also known for their brilliant colors due to the minerals in their waters. Laguna Verde is known for its remarkable emerald-green waters against a backdrop of the Licancabur volcano rising to 19,741 feet above sea level. Licancabur volcano actually holds a small lake in its crater. Licancabur Lake at 19,400 feet is considered one of the world’s highest lakes and remains liquid because of geothermal activity. Only part of the volcano’s slope is in Bolivia: the peak is actually in Chile.

The Reserve around Laguna Colorada protects a wide variety of indigenous birds and animals that amazingly thrive in the hostile landscape. Three of the world’s six flamingo species- Chilean, Andean and James flamingoes- inhabit the freshwater lakes and saltwater lagoons of the Reserve. About 80 bird species make the Reserve their home, including several endangered and threatened species. Mammals include pumas, Andean foxes and cats, and domesticated llamas and alpacas. The Reserve also provides habitat for reptiles, amphibians and fish.

Also under the protection of the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve is part of the Central Andean dry puna ecoregion with geological attractions such as erupting volcanoes, hot springs, geysers, lakes, fumaroles and mountains. Some areas are noted for odd rock formations that erosion has shaped to resemble trees. Visitors often enjoy bathing in some of the safer hot springs, but it is always wise to ask an experienced guide before venturing into either hot springs or onto salt flats; some salt flats can give way into deep holes beneath them. Laguna Colorada is the location of the only organized lodging within the Reserve. The small ‘camp’ has been upgraded with generator power until 9 PM, with some food available for purchase, and rough but passable housing. Overnight visitors should be aware that central heating is not part of the facilities, and nights here can get very cold.

The Reserve is rich in natural resources including lead, zinc and silver. As a result, 60+ mining concessions are located in the park. Also extracted are its nonmetallic mineral resources like sulfur and ulexite. Ulexite is converted to boric acid and is exported to the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia. Bolivia is an under-developed country rich in resources that its leadership is determined to protect from unfair exploitation. The country has little infrastructure away from the cities, and electrical power is needed to improve the living conditions of the many indigenous people who live a traditional lifestyle in the harsh environment. One of the projects which will soon begin construction is a large geothermal generating plant to access the underground steam resources via deep wells in the area of Laguna Colorada. Care will be taken not to interfere with the the views or the wildlife that inhabit the region.

Most visitors arrange tour accommodations from La Paz and can plan on spending a couple of days just getting to Laguna Colorada. Nearly all of them plan a day exploring the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt desert in the world. One highlight of the trip is the several ‘salt hotels’ used for accommodations. The salt hotels are constructed almost completely of salt blocks and very picturesque. Some are also quite comfortable, with plentiful hot water and luxury bedding. Most tours are at least four days. The leisurely pace is quickly appreciated as the altitude can be quite debilitating until visitors acclimate the the thin atmosphere. A trip to Laguna Colorada is once-in-a-lifetime adventure that must be seen to be believed. If South American travel is on your ‘bucket-list’, Laguna Colorada should register near the top.

Things to do at Laguna Colorada

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Camping
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding

Laguna Colorada Photo Gallery

Laguna Colorada Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Saltwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 14,720 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 14,035 feet

Average Depth: 3 feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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