We arrived in Uyuni at midnight after a long route through Bolivia because of roadblocks in Potosí. After a goodnight sleep we started to look for a 3 day tour through the landscape of Bolivia, the biggest salt flats in the world and arriving in the desert city of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
Our 4×4 jeep arrived at 11 AM to pick us and 4 others up from the tour agency. Our group consisted of 2 Italians, a guy from brazil and another dutch guy. We started talking to each other and I found it interesting to see how quickly it’s possible to notice that you will have a fun group to travel with from the start of a journey. Unlike our Colca Canyon experience, where our group wasn’t so nice and interested in other people, the people here asked a lot of questions to everyone.
We spend the first day of our trip in the salt flats, which is located about 40 min drive from the city. Our driver and guide drove us there and explained certain things when we arrived at the flats. He could only speaks Spanish and wasn’t eager to step outside the car to explain or show things of interest. It wasn’t long before we noticed that we had a shitty guide.
Being on the salt flats was an cool experience, in the distance the mountains looked like they where floating, a bit like islands. The salt reflected the mountains thus making it look like they were floating. The salt itself was so blinding to the point you needed to wear sunglasses.
With the 4×4 our guide drove to
different point of interest in the salt flats including a small mountain with cactuses so high, I never seen that before. I think some were almost 6 meters high as we used Timon for scale (see pictures below).
Our last stop in the salt flats was at a location where the floor wasn’t touched at all. This made the floor with the cube shapes even more prettier. You can see the difference on the photos. After this stop it was time to leave the salt flats to our first accommodation in a small town near the flats. We arrived at our first night close to sunset, a hotel totally made of salt, at least thats what they told us. I mean, it makes sense if you have an salt surface the size of Belgium next door.
Here we met other tours with very nice guides, they actually had fun in their job. This was when we realized how crappy or guide actually was. The thing is, you never know who or what you are going to get in the tours in Uyuni. People in our car paid different prices and booked at different agencies but ended up in same car. We arrived in Uyuni at a good time as most people got stranded before Potosí to get in
Uyuni or they waited in a different city for the protests to clear. So tour companies had problems filling up cars. We booked our tour the last minute so we had a pretty good deal including sleeping bags and transportation to San Pedro de Atacama for 700 Bolivianos (90 euro).
After seeing a beautiful sunset we went back inside to wait for our dinner to arrive. First we received some tea to warm our hands as there was no heating in the house and temperatures dropping quickly with no sun left to warm us. From here I started to get cold and by the time our dinner arrived I was started to shake a little. The dinner with soup, chicken and fries helped to warm up my body but quickly after I started to get really cold. So cold, that I started to think I was getting sick and that’s the last thing I wanted, now that I was on a 3 day trip, not to mention the second night would be the coldest of the tour with temperatures of -20.
The second day arrived and I felt a lot better then the evening before. It was 7 AM in the morning and our breakfast was ready. Slowly everyone got out of their salt rooms and joined us at the table. Most of us slept good, but some already experienced being out of breath during their sleep as the altitude of 3900m is quite high. Tonight we would be sleeping at a much higher altitude (4350m to be exact)!
Today we would spend a full day driving to different locations with views on different lagoons, volcanos and rock formations. Our first stop was at the Bolivian and Chilean border were we stopped for god knows why. Another astonishing act of our guide was when we saw people a long the way (in the distance) waving for help. One of the guys in the back of the jeep spotted people and said ‘mira, mira!’ which means look in Spanish. Our guide didn’t want to stop so everyone in our car demanded him to stop and help them, he did stopped the car, and turned it towards the people in the distance but the moment he had to go offroad he decided not to stop and continue the normal route, saying another car would come. For your information, the people for help where quite far away, on a different route and we needed to drive through rocks and a big offroad route to reach them, however we had a 4×4 so what’s the problem i thought? It is true that there are a lot of cars on the roads but if every car thinks like them no one will stop, unbelievable. Specially when you think of the location we where, with no nearby towns or life. And so we drove off, leaving them behind for another group…
After the border stop we continued our journey to some rock formations with a volcano in the distance. Every time we arrived at a location our guide would explain a little (like almost nothing) about the area and because we were always late, he insisted that we only took 15 min max! If we were lated he would start honking, unbelievable this guy…
From here we drove to our first lagoon with flamingos! We saw flamingos in Mexico and Bolivia but this time i could see them from up close as a small part of the lake wasn’t frozen and the birds could find food in the water.
After this spot we drove to a second lagoon where our guide would prepare lunch and we could see some more flamingos and other birds. The lunch, like day 1 was served outside from the trunk of the car. Who doesn’t love to eat their cold lunch in the cold temperature and wind?! #sarcasm but hey, at least our car had heating so we could warm up a long the way, between stops.
When everyone had a full stomach the guide wanted to continue and so did we! We got back into the car to continue our trip. Onwards to a viewpoint were we were surrounded by mountains and dust. Our altitude by now was around 4600m, the same altitude as our Salkantay trek. The car stopped in front of a mountain called the 7 colored mountain, as its covered with different kind of sands and materials. From here we drove to a national park were there was a lagoon with red water, a very spectacular sight to see.
Our second night was located close to this lagoon and this night would be the coldest night of the trip. A lot of people who we met that did the trip said it was really cold so we could already prepare ourself mentally and since we knew what to expect we had warm cloths and an sleeping bag, which we rented at the company. The sunset of today was not as spectacular as we had only clear blue skies the second day and the clouds made the sunset on day 1 very nice (with different colors). However because it was so clear and we were so high in altitude, the stars were absolutely amazing. I met two girls who wanted to drive out of the small town where we slept to watch the stars in a complete dark area, an offer I could not refuse and after getting my camera and sleeping bag we left the town. From here I could even see the milky way and so much stars it was absolutely amazing! A memory and image I will not forgot very easily. I was glad that I brought a sleeping bag as it was unbelievably cold.
During the winter of our trans Siberian express (the train from Russia to China) it was cold, very cold (-20 to -40 even) but because there is heating in the houses and transport it feels less cold. However in Bolivia they do not have heating in the houses, so everything is cold and because of that I experienced more cold days and specially nights then I experienced cold nights in Russia. After an hour we headed back to our ‘camp’ and I decided to go straight to bed to heat up and because we had to wake up at 5 AM the next morning.
Waking up at 5 AM was just horrible. sometimes it’s already hard to wake up in the winter in Holland where I have a heater in my room. Here in Bolivia I had none, and I could see my breath while waking up. After I finally got out of bed I ate my breakfast consisting of a few cold pancakes with some caramel cream and then made my way to grab my bags so I could wait and heat up in the car. According to the car display it was -20 degrees outside. Lucky for us the car had heating!
Today we only had a short day in Bolivia as we would be dropped off at the border to Chile at 9 AM. Our first stop for today were the geysers which was a very cool and cold location. This was also the highest point of our 3 day trip with an altitude of 4800m and like always, it was cold. Because of the cold the steam coming out the geysers was very cool to watch. Ofcourse, we could only stay here for 15 min which was so shitty. Such a beautiful place and only 15 min to walk around and make pictures! We arrived 5 min late because a long the way we passed a very small buthigh pressure geyser
that we wanted to check out. However the car was parked below in the valley and when we arrived people started to complain to us for being late. We were on a tight schedule and we would visit hot springs after the geysers. We thought, nobody is going to enter the springs as we don’t have much time not to mention the cold (the sun has just risen and it was still pretty cold). We wanted to stay longer in beautiful places like the geysers or the salt flats. Because we didn’t stay very long at the last but very nice spot in the salt flats either.
When we arrived to the hot springs everyone wanted to skip it, well only 1 dutch guy wanted to go in but after our guide said we only had 10 min he was like, hmmm no thanks. I thought to myself, great we rushed a very nice location in order to visit the hot springs and now everyone wants to skip it… Het zal wel met de cultuur te maken hebben, a dutch phrase Timon and meuse this phrase very often when we are in situations like that.
Our last stop before we would leave the country of Bolivia was at the
green lagoon. However because the water was frozen, no green color was to be found in the water as the chemicals in the water need to be activated to turn green. So we stayed a few mins to finally be dropped off at the border and say goodbye to the people we met the last 3 days.
Time to collect some more stamps and get to San Pedro de Atacama, a desert city which means it would be a lot warmer then the past 3 days! We also decided to rent a car there so we would not be limited and free as we really hated to stay only 15 min at a beautiful place. But hey, thats what you get on a tour and in the Salar de Uyuni tour, you either get lucky or you don’t. After meeting two Mexican girls we found out we were even more fortunate then them as they wanted to book with a reputable company but turned out the be a fake company with the exact same name! So be aware when you book a tour, ask around in your hostel. We booked our tour with the ‘blue line’. They guide was shitty but overall we had a good experience.