The Bolivian Salt Flats - A Uyunique Experience

Trip Start Apr 16, 2013
Trip End Dec 20, 2013

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Having heard many horror stories about 3 day tours across the salt flats and Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve we did plenty of research before choosing our tour agency.  Finding out about drunk drivers, potentially fatal altitude sickness and sharing a jeep with annoying people we realised too much research can be a bad thing.  Following our gut feeling and our tight wallets we decided on Estrella del Sur and lowered our expectations accordingly. 
We lucked out with our fantastic group, an Australian couple - Jordan and Adele and a French couple - Mathias and Celine who made the 3 days some of the most memorable of our whole trip. 

Jumping on a minibus in the early morning we passed through Chilean Immigration and drove to the Bolivian border passing llamas on the way.  It was hilarious - literally a shed in the middle of nowhere with no security.  A stamp in the passport and a fine breakfast later we had our group confirmed and met our Jeep and itīs driver.  Asking his name, ŋComo te llamas?  He replied "Wanker!" from the top of the Jeep.  We think it must be spelt Juancar or something but it was a great icebreaker for the group.  Our Jeep was a clapped out Toyota Land Cruiser limited edition with a cracked windscreen and a dusty interior.  Strapping our bags atop we put our faith in Wanker and ascended upwards to the desert,  "Arriba, Arriba!"

To start our first day we were taken to the Lagunas Blanco and Verde.  These lakes were spectacular in colour and contrasted beautifully with the sands, pastel coloured minerals and unbelievably clear skies which made for amazing landscapes.  Next up we visited the Dali Desert where the landscapes became aptly surreal.  Huge spaces with mind blowing perspective and distant mountain chains.  We found out he came to the area for inspiration and you can totally tell, it was like being in his paintings.

To catch our breath we stopped at a hot spring in the desert and had a dip in the mineral rich water surrounded by everything and nothing.  Once we were dry Wanker drove us up to the highest point of our trip at 5000 metres where he guided us through very active geysers and bubbling pools,  warning us not to fall in as people have died!  Bolivian health and safety at itīs best!  The oxygen poor, sulphur rich stinky air and Mars like landscape took our breath away. 

At 4pm it was the perfect (South American) time for lunch at the Hostel.  We had read it was `limitardos comfordiasī (Our Spanish is pretty lame) and we werenīt disappointed.  We were given a concrete room with 6 concrete beds, 3 concrete toilets for about 40 concrete people.  However, the Disney bedsheets made up for any conforto limitado.  Lunch was actually quite good considering, so with full tummies Wanker bumpily and happily drove us to Laguna Colorada, which is super red and full of beautiful flamingos eating the red algae that gives the lake its colour.  It was a great end to a brilliant first day.

By 9pm it was actually quite early for dinner in South America but we slurped down our soup, twirled our spaghetti bolognese and laughed away the evening with our new amigos. 

The night was pretty eventful and at nearly 5000 metres, pretty cold.  Everyone struggled to rest properly at the altitude and one girl who was vomiting and pretty ill had to descend to lower altitudes.  Laura awoke in the night pretty panicked with heart palpitations, breathlessness and nausea.  It was quite worrying but luckily nurse Jim was on hand and after a walk around our luxurious accommodation and some relaxation we managed to get some sleep.  In the morning a lovely man who we bumped into during our midnight stroll had left a bag of coca leaves for Laura to combat the altitude sickness and so that day we munched on theīmedicineī and enjoyed watching Wanker graze on the leaves, making him happier than ever.  

Day two began with the stone tree, īArbol de Piedraī which we are pretty sure appears in quite a few Dali pictures.  In the bright sunshine and dreamy landscapes we once again found ourselves questioning reality.  We were then taken to a number of epic lakes with more gorgeous flamingos before stopping near the slopes of an active volcano.  It was a very long day and we were pretty tired but before the day was out we were lucky enough to see the weekly train trundling through the bleak landscape.  What was at first a mirage soon became a massive iron horse.  Wow! 

We were happy to arrive at our Salt Hotel that evening, which had salt bricks, salt beds, salt tables, salt decorations but no table salt!!  Here it was luxury and we had a hot shower and a double room - amazing!  Sharing a couple of bottles of vino tinto we ate well and made for an early night as we had to be up and away at 4:30am.  We were very sad to find out Wanker had to sleep in the Jeep in the high altitude and freezing temperature.  He was still smiling though - what a brilliant guide. 

Awaking at 4:00am there was no running water or electric for lights so we had to pack our bags in the dark. But Wanker was smiling and ready for our last leg.  Sunrise on the Salt Flats was stunning and the landscape was hard to comprehend, especially in the twilight.  We were speechless!
We took a few photos and before we knew it Wanker shouted "Vamos" and we were away to our next stop - Cactus Island. In the middle of endless white is an island covered with coral, giant cacti and a few llamas. We climbed to the top and looked across the largest salt flat in the world. The īroadsī looked like arteries of life stretching out into the distance bringing humanity to the island. Crazy!

After Wanker had once again proved his culinary worth we flew across the salt to take some perspective photos.  Wanker didnīt need to look where he was going whilst driving and didnīt most of the time, instead posing for our photos and bopping along to our music!!  We had a lot of fun taking crazy perspective pictures on the flats and could have done it for hours.  The light and alien landscape was truly spectacular!  We ended our tour with a visit to a train graveyard  exhausted and overwhelmed. We had lucked out with a great driver with an unfortunate name and were so grateful to Celine for kindly translating Wankerīs Spanish for us along the way.  The clapped out Jeep had made it even with itīs bonnet up for maintenance at most stops. We felt very lucky.

We put our amigos on a bus to Potosi and Wanker kindly dropped us off at our Hostel in Uyuni to end our 3 day madventure. 

"Hold on a minute, what about Chile?"  We hear you ask.  Donīt fret avid readers, we had such a good time on the flats we wanted to write about it first.  The Chile post will be with you before you can say "Pisco!"
Hasta luego,

Jim and Laura

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Mum on


Chris Bird on

Cactus house, Kiwi and perspective shots my favourites-stunning scenery!

Ellen on


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