3 day tour through the Salt Plains to Uyuni

Trip Start Sep 19, 2009
Trip End May 19, 2010

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Where I stayed
Villa del Mar

Flag of Bolivia  , Potosí,
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

So, day 1 of our 4WD tour of the Salar Uyuni and National Parc. We gathered at 7:45am outside the office of our agent (Estrella del Sur, chosen narrowly over Cordillera and Pamela Tours) not really sure what to expect, having spent the previous day reading reports of drunk
drivers, broken down vehicles and overcrowding in the local tourist office guest book. Our fears were increased as we were stopped between the Chilean and Bolivian borders by the police, and kept at the side of the road for half an hour - it turned out the shuttle driver did not have the correct documentation... However, we eventually made it into Bolivia, after a long climb from 2000 to 4500 metres (at about 30mph). Upon meeting our guides (Figo, who drove our group, and Emilio who drove the second group) for the next 3 days, we felt reassured - the 4WDs looked like real, working cars, the drivers looked sober, and the breakfast they had laid out for us was very edible.

Our first stop was Laguna Blanca and Laguna Verde. Both were fairly spectacular, and got Claire's camera up and running early on. Following this, we made our way to some geysers, and a hot pool of water, which we swam in for a bit (and nearly died of cold when we got out of). We
were struggling a little with the temperature - it was a clear sky and lovely sun, but due to the height we were at (at times, close to 5000m), it was very cold as soon as you stepped out of the car (or the hot spring). We had a decent lunch, and spent the afternoon driving to
Laguna Colorado. This was probably the highlight of the trip - an amazing red lake that was full of flamingoes feeding in the water. The plan (we believe) was to spend the night nearby to this laguna, however our guides decided that the high altitude wasn't suitable for our group - we had a 60ish yr old French couple - so we spent the night in a little village called Vila Mar. Again, we had a good feed, as well as a decent ration of Bolivian vino tinto, and were given our own bedroom (which we weren´t expecting). We were also treated to 30-40 mins of local Bolivian music, played by a bunch of very young children from a local school. While you couldn´t fault there enthusiasm, it was among the most painful musical experiences we have ever experienced (not unlike Muppet singing karaoke, for those who´ve had the pleasure...).

The final 2 days were less interesting, on day 2 we spent the majority of the time in the 4WD, making up the fairly large amount of miles we needed to get to our final destination on Day 3 (the Bolivian town of Uyuni), stopping mainly to take pictures of rocks that looked
like animals or trees. In the evening, Claire & I climbed a hill next to the village we were spending the night in (along with a couple of others from the group), which was the best thing we did that day -Claire got some amazing pictures of the sunset, and both of us managed to make it to the top and back without collapsing of exhaustion, quite an achievement given the lack of exercise we have put in since the travels began! Day 3 started with a 6am stop in the middle of the Salar to watch the sunrise, quite a spectacular sight given the amazing landscape the Salar provides... We also stopped in an 'Island' for breakfast, a quick walk around to look at some views - again, some really spectacular sights - and a game of 3 aside football, to show the Bolivians a bit of European mastery... Our final two stops were not particularly memorable: a salt processing plant, and a cemetery for old train carriages.

We were dropped in Uyuni - a complete dump, for anyone who hasn't been there - at 1pm, expecting to stay a night: the bus to our next destination wasn't until 5am the next morning. However, in a complete stroke of luck, we managed to get a lift from another company heading to Tupiza that day. So were lucky enough to only spend about 45 mins in Uyuni hanging around the bus station (which turned out to be long enough for us to have to keep on moving from ropey looking pickpockets that were following us around the street). So, by 2pm, we were heading South in another 4WD, over some of the most spectacular scenery we have seen yet with a scheduled arrival of 7pm in Tupiza.
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