3 days on The Salt Flats of Uyuni

Uyuni is a small town in the South West of Bolivia, home to the world-famous Salar De Uyuni. The highest and one of the largest salt flats in the world. It is easily accessible on an 8-hour overnight bus from La Paz. For some unbeknownst reason I had one of the best nights sleep I have had anywhere on this leg of the journey! Maybe my body is just getting used to the constant shaking, stopping and bumpy-ness.

We arrived in Uyuni just after 5 in the morning, which gave us quite a few hours to kill until any of the tour offices opened. Without a tour booked, we needed to find someone who wanted to take us. Luckily there were plenty of touts at the bus station advertising coffee shops and breakfast deals, settling for one we walked down. It was seriously cold, so a cup of coffee and some warmth was well received.

Around 8.30am we went out hunting for tours with a specific company in mind. Their office was still closed, as appose to everybody else who was now opening up. After a quick trip advisor search, we settled on Andes Salt Expeditions! Well received and much cheaper than we had expected from our research online. The tour cost us around 750 boliviano (£80ish) which is a steal really for the tour, 2-nights accommodation and 3 meals a day. We were also told our guide would be Spanish speaking and have very little English ability, as it turns out he spoke perfect English! As an English guide was almost double the price this was a big win.

Wasting the last couple of hours with snack and water buying we loaded up into the 4×4 and set off.

Day 1

One of the cooler trains
One of the cooler trains

First stop was a train graveyard a few minutes outside of Uyuni. Our guide told us that a lot of the trains were imported from the UK and France, leaving a lot of Brits and Frenchies a little bored! We definitely felt that there were hordes of tourists climbing all over the wrecks which to us, were just trains! There was one pretty interestingly designed one, but the 30 minutes we had there was wayyy too much time.

On booking the tour we knew there would be a lot of time spent just sat around in the car as the distances are pretty huge, our first experience of this came here as there was a 90-minute drive out onto the salt flats themselves.  Once we did reach them, however, they were a sight to behold! Pure white salt stretching out in every direction as far as the eye could see, only broken up on the horizon by mountain peaks. Really impressive! We stopped at a small hot spring (couldn’t swim, unfortunately) and had lunch before the real salt flat fun began.

One of the best things you can do on the salt flats is to take some really interesting perspective photos, which is actually a hell of a lot more difficult than it seems! Our first few attempts were pretty shoddy before our super guide got involved and just took the photos for us. Toy dinosaurs, rubber ducks, water bottles and even Shrek all made an appearance in the hunt for the perfect photo. I think we got some pretty good ones…

Crush!
Crush!
Always fancied myself a bit of a yoga expert, can even do it balanced on somebody's hand
Always fancied myself a bit of a yoga expert, can even do it balanced on somebody’s hand
RUUUNNNNN!!!!
RUUUNNNNN!!!!

The final stop for day 1 was an ‘island’ another 30 minutes or so back the way we had arrived. The island was completely covered in cacti and gave some really impressive views over the salt flats from the top. There was a small hike around the island which, due to the altitude, took a little longer than expected.

Looking out over the cacti island
Looking out over the cacti island

It was now time for more driving, another 90 minutes to be exact out to our hostel for the night. This was actually all the time we would spend on the flats themselves over the 3 days, the rest of our time was spent on the Bolivian side of the Atacama desert. We stayed the night in a salt hotel, which was, in essence, a dome made of bricks and salt lined cement. The floor throughout the whole building was salt, which given my aversion to the invasive nature of sand, didn’t really float my boat.

Day 2

A volcano, being watched over by the moon
A volcano, being watched over by the moon

A bright and early start for another day of strenuous activity sitting in a car. First stop for day 2 was a viewpoint over a semi-active volcano. The surrounding landscape was interesting and you could just about make out a small plume of smoke rising from the top of the volcano.  After a quick Inca wee we headed off to stop numero dos, 5 Lagunas spaced about 20 minutes apart all filled with flamingos.

We had seen a couple of wild flamingos out in the Galapagos, but there were plenty more here. We were told the Laguna next to our lunch stop once had thousands of Flamingos but the locals steal the eggs. Given that they only lay once a year this has a pretty tremendous effect on the population, there were still a couple of hundred standing around the place.

Get your head out of the water and pose for the damn photo
Get your head out of the water and pose for the damn photo

The coolest part of the day, which wasn’t even a tour stop, was a large valley we drove through that was filled with loads of sand tornados. Some of them actually grew quite high, we stood here watching for quite a while. Looking as they started as small particles of sand just blowing in the wind before growing and growing into a tall, swirling mass of sand! Even the guide got over excited about this and jumped out to take photos on his tablet.

Sand tornados!!!!!
Sand tornados!!!!!

The second un-planned stop of the day was to follow a small wild fox, which was actually really interesting to see at first as they are a little different to the British fox. However, after a couple of the drivers started putting out bread rolls I was a lot less enthused! Off on a tangent, but it’s a pet hate of mine when animals are in an area simply because of humans interference. If an animal is always fed by us they will begin to lose their hunting instinct, we leave, bye bye animal!

Come back here lil' fox!
Come back here lil’ fox!

The final stop of day 2 was a stone tree, a large rock eroded into a really interesting shape over the years! Strange how they are formed, but feeling the wind stood out in the desert it really wasn’t too surprising. Our accommodation this night was the coldest of the two and it was expected to be -4 degrees when we got up the following morning at 4.30am, just what is needed!

Eroded over however many millions of years, or the Incans carved it. Who knows?
Eroded over however many millions of years, or the Incans carved it. Who knows?

Day 3

All the tours claim to be 3D2N but in essence, the last day is simply spent either getting dropped off at the Chilean border at around 9 am or sitting in the 4×4 for 8 hours non-stop. Neither of which is particularly exciting! The first stop of the day, however, was at a thermal park around an hour from the accommodation. Comparable to Rotorua in New Zealand, the area was filled with steaming, bubbling and rather toasty looking hot pools of water and mud. Interesting, but nothing spectacular.

When it's -4 putting your hand in a geyser is certainly appealing!
When it’s -4 putting your hand in a geyser is certainly appealing!

We then stopped for lunch at the nearby hot spring, given that it still wasn’t much over 0 degrees not too many people were particularly enthused about taking the plunge. Some brave souls did, however, with the rest of us watching on from the nearby restaurant where we had breakfast! A poor American chap managed to slip over and split his head open, that kids is why you shouldn’t swim when it is 0 degrees!

Post breakfast we had a quick stop in the Salvador Dali desert which is where, rumor has it, he got the inspiration for some of his paintings. Although there is no record he ever actually visited, the Bolivians like to claim he was there. Following this we had the joys of an 8-hour journey back to Uyuni, there is simply nothing interesting about this leg although it did pass relatively quickly.

Can you see the resemblance?
Can you see the resemblance?

A well worthwhile tour and un-missable when visiting Bolivia! However, if you are only interested in the salt flats themselves and are returning to Uyuni afterward a single day trip could be of better value! Whilst days 2 and 3 were interesting if the salt flats are your main aim and are short on time you wouldn’t miss huge amounts.

 

Tags

another on the list, backpacking, bolivia, hiking

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