Pass the salt please

Trip Start Feb 06, 2011
Trip End Jul 24, 2011

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Monday, March 14, 2011

The Salar de Uyuni is one of Bolivia's most famous attractions, and it was to be our ultimate destination as we set out on a 4 day tour from Tupiza that promised plenty of sights, many hoursof driving, not to mention lots and lots of llamas. We left the town in a 4x4 with our guide, Fidel, cook Modesta and another couple, Grace and John, also from England. In all honesty things didn’t get off to a great start when we got a puncture within the first half hour, however as the next few days proved this was obviously a regular occurrence on the rocky dirt tracks as Fidel had the spare popped on in a matter of minutes and we resumed our way up the winding mountain road.

The route to the salt flats involved climbing up to and crossing a plateau, nearly 5000m at its highest point, so we were glad of the couple of days we had had to acclimatise in Tupiza. The landscape soon became desert with snow-capped volcanoes dotted across the horizon, and the next three days were spent driving to the various sights, including spectacular geological formations,a ghost town deserted by the Spanish now only resident to chinchillas, lakes teaming with flamingos (including the rare but distinguished James species), hot springs and sulphur geysers. All this was done to a rather dodgy and repetitive soundtrack of Fidel’s favourite music. The nights were spent in really basic accommodation in very remote villages – think no showers and only 2 hours of electricity per night. That said every morning started early so we were glad of the excuse for early nights after a couple of games of cards.

After this epic 3 day journey we arrived in the town of Uyuni, which is the spring board to the salt flats themselves. A highlight for me was visiting a train graveyard outside of the town the evening we arrived and seeing loads of rusting hulks that you could clamber over. Obviously this also included pretending to drive them, and given that I got to play gaucho in Tupiza, only leaves Air Traffic Controller as my one childhood ambition yet to be fulfilled on our travels.

The final morning we got up at 4:30am to head out to watch the sun rise over the salt flats. Normally the Salar is dry so gives people a huge expanse of white, however as we are in the Bolivian rainy season it is currently covered by a layer of water up to a foot deep. It therefore felt incredibly exciting driving out into this huge expanse of water in the moonlight with nothing to see ahead of us (Fidel obviously knew where he was going though). We eventually arrived at the salt hotel, built from blocks of salt from the Salar, and then watched as the sky gradually grew lighter, reflected as a perfect mirror image in the water, as the sun came up. It was a truly magical experience that both of us declared as a real highlight so far.

Following a well-deserved breakfast of pancakes and dulce deleche we headed out further on to the now sunny Salar to admire the views and take the obligatory false perspective photos (with mixed success!). After then it was the short drive back to Uyuni to say a sad farewell to everyone, swap email addresses and head onto our next destination of the mining town of Potosí.
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Philomena on

Amazing pictures and stories, Anna and James! You guys look and sound like you are having the time of your lives!! I love it!

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