If you Google must visit places in Bolivia, or for that matter, in the world, Salar de Uyuni will definitely be on the list. Our plan to visit Bolivia was simply for the salt flats. Who doesn’t want to check off a must visit destination, especially when you are in the neighbourhood!
Booking a tour
We had only just got off the bus when a lady approached us regarding Uyuni tour. We had inquired about the tour in La Paz and from there it costed about 800 Bolivianos, ~ USD 116. The tour itinerary was almost the same as we had heard about earlier and it costed 750 Bolivianos, ~ USD 109, each. The only bonus was she offered us a cheap hotel room for the night, just 100 Bolivianos, USD 15. At least we didn’t have to go looking for a place to sleep. We rested that night and were ready for our pick up from our hostel the next day.
We were picked up from our hostel Sajama at around 10:30 am. As we boarded the 4×4, we met a few other companions on the tour. A few minutes later, the four wheel drive was full with people. There was Ettore and Lina, an Italian-Spanish couple, Swantje and Eerie, two German girls, Iris, Dutch girl, our guide, cook and driver, Quentin and us. It was a multi-national group but somehow we got along very well, very quickly.
Day 1 – Graveyard of Trains
Uyuni has a train line which was supposed to continue until the coast of Chile. For some reason, the line was abandoned and so were the trains. As all groups from Uyuni start the tour at 10:30am, and the graveyard is the first stop, the site was full of tourists! Nevertheless, the sight of the trains in the middle of the desert was beautiful. We jumped on top of an engine and clicked some photos of us and surroundings.
Day 1 – Entry to the salar
After leaving the train graveyard, we headed towards the Salar. From the highway heading to the salt pans, we could see the distant white plains shinning in the sun creating a mirage. We headed into a salt mining village with touristy salt rooms and salt llamas while the villagers sold cheap woolen clothes.
Next, we drove to the edge of the salar with little ponds of salt and small mounds of salt. The villagers harvest these mounds of salt for commercial salt. We didn’t really understand how the process works but the mounds on the salar made for some great shots.
Day 1 – Salar de Uyuni
As we drove from the edge, our driver told us that the salt was few metres thick in some places. The landscape was white as far the eye could see with reddish brown mountains and hills in the distance. We could see other tour cars in the far distance doing exactly the same thing we were. Despite there being plenty of 4×4 drives, we could only see a handful which indicates how huge the Salar is.
Shruti and I had been contemplating how to best photograph ourselves in the Salar as the perspective changes due to the background. We spent some good time trying to get our perfect shots.
We enjoyed our lunch from the back of our 4×4 drive, outside the Salt Hotel near the Dakar Rally Memorial. Once done, Shruti suggested we take some group shots as well. After trying to figure out what we would do, we ended up with these! Definitely fun day at a go.
Our next stop was Isla de Pescado, a green hill island with cactus rising out of the salt. The cost to climb was 30 Bolivianos per person and as a group we decided it wasn’t worth it and walked around the island instead.
It was free, beautiful and an unique experience. We had visited Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, India, but it was nothing like this. That was at a much smaller scale and no cactus. We were walking around as if walking down the road on salt crystals. In my case, I was occasionally snacking on the natural salt too.
We kept going on the Salar until around 4pm when we eventually headed towards the mountains and our accommodation for the night. Though it only makes up 3-4 hours of the entire journey, Salar de Uyuni leaves a great mark on you. A must do bucket item!
Day 1 – Salt hotel
Our hotel for the night was ‘The Salt Hotel’ in the village of San Juan. The whole thing was made of brick and then salt added over it. The bed and dinner table were made of salt and concrete. It was an interesting experience for sure!
As it gets really cold at night in this area, the group decided to get a couple of wine bottles to go with the dinner. It ended up being a great night with new friends and the conversations and laughs went long in the night.
Note: Due to the cold and having to pay for hot showers, it is entirely possible to not shower for a day.
Day 2 – 3 Lagunas
The first part of the day started with seeing incredible scenery on the way to the lagoons. As we drove in the middle of no where, we were surrounded by high mountains all around us. As the car kept driving, the cameras were clicking in all directions.
We stopped at a volcanic rocks area for a short break. It was a very picturesque landscape but most of us could only think, ‘behind which rock do we pee?’
Upon driving another hour we reached Laguna Cañapa. It was incredible. There were flamingos and mountains on all sides of the lake. It was very cold and windy but we managed through it.
The next lake was Laguna Edionda which means stinky lake. The name was a bit strange as the lake was stunning. There were flamingos enjoying their meal.
Walking a bit towards the car park we realised there were few shops. Turns out, there were toilets and and internet. Yes, in the middle of no where. We enjoyed a nice meal prepared by our driver Quentin overlooking the best location for lunch.
After lunch, we were heading towards another lake. On the way, we encountered a wild Andean fox, same as the one we saw at Volcan Chimborazo. The guys from the other tourist car threw some chicken bones at it. It was the wrong thing to do feeding a wild animal but we were happy to get a shot of it with breathtaking surroundings.
As we reached the next lake, no one was in the mood to feel the cold and everyone took photos from the car. The driver was a little surprised and told us that the next stop is a couple of hours away. That didn’t bother us, we didn’t get out!
Day 2 – Laguna Colorada
If you Google Uyuni Tour, most times a photo of pink lagoon comes up. That lagoon is called Laguna Colorada and is part of the National Park. The entry fee for the foreigners is 150 Bolivianos, USD 22, and it is not included in the tour cost. That is a bit steep but I hope the cost goes to conserving the natural environment. Plus, we got a stamp on the passport :P
We checked into our dormitory type hostel where the whole group had to sleep in one room on single beds. Luckily we got along and was not a problem for anyone. Once settled and before sundown, we headed towards to the Laguna Colorada Mirador (view point). It was ridiculously cold and we had to wear all our winter gear. Having said that, the view was totally worth it. The national park had constructed the mirador like glass room with 180 degree view. It really made the 45 minute walk worth it.
We had been warned that the second night is incredibly cold. The group discussed this the first night and agreed that we needed some alcohol for the second night. A bottle of Bacardi was bought to help us handle it. After dinner the group did a big salud to each other and the trip. As it was an early morning the next day, other groups went to sleep early. We stayed long into the night, got abused by other groups, had a lot of fun and were still first out the door. Take that boring people!
Day 3 – Thermal Springs
We drove out at 4:30am with everyone except the driver asleep. We reached the thermal springs while it was dark. It took us a good half an hour to muster the courage and dress down to swimmers. It was extremely cold but a great feeling getting in the naturally hot water. Moreover, no one in the group had showered since the start of the trip so it was a hygienic feeling as well.
Day 3 – Laguna Verde
Our next stop was Laguna Verde. Our guide/driver told us that it appears green due to the sediments. We were all excited to see it but what amazed us even more was the landscape on the way to the lake.
Upon arriving at the lake, we were stunned. We had been on the road for 4 hours now and it was turning out to be the best day. Laguna Verde with the volcano behind it was picture perfect. Additionally, there was a Laguna Blanca just adjacent and it looked breathtaking as well.
Day 3 – Chilean border
Our trip would end back in Uyuni as we weren’t crossing over to Chile unlike 3 of of our group members. It was only a short drive to the border and as with everywhere around it the scenery was stunning. We said our goodbyes to Ettore, Nina and Iris and headed back towards Uyuni. At least we saw Chile!
Day 3 – Drive back to Uyuni
The drive back to Uyuni went through some not so stunning landscapes when compared it what we saw in last 3 days. However, it was still beautiful and our lunch spot was incredible on a beautiful stream with llamas in the distance.
Señor Quentin was our guide/chef/driver for 3 days. He was a rotund quiet Bolivian man who concentrated on his job. We were never late anywhere and he served amazing lunches and dinners. We are very thankful to him for keep us safe and sound during the trip.
Things to understand
The Salar de Uyuni trip is actually Salar on the first day (last if you start in Argentina or Chile). There is very little walking involved and most of the trip is in the car. It is an incredibly cold area with mountains and glaciers everywhere. The area is very high in altitude and being in Southern Hemisphere, it starts to get very cold from May till August. Also, the mirror reflection only happens during the rainy season.
Mirror reflection or not, 3 days Salar de Uyuni tour is a must do trip in Bolivia. The scenery is some of the best in the world and if you are lucky, plenty of chances to see llamas, vicunas, fox and rabbits in their natural habitat!