Uyuni, the Salt flats & the Altiplano

Trip Start Mar 14, 2010
Trip End Dec 03, 2010

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Finally arrived in Uyuni, Bolivia at 12.40am after a long train ride from Villazon at the border.
Checked into our Hotel, which was fantastic - everyone got a double bed & their was even hot water to shower with...! Itīs the little things!

We were picked up at 9.30 in the morning to set off on our 3 day tour of the Salt Flats & Altiplano of Bolivia
Thereīs been so much written about the quality of the tour operators here that we were very concerned about what we were going to get - stories of 4x4īs crashing into each other & drunk drivers at 8am in the morning were very common
We were joined by Rafaellle, who was a 73yr old Spaniard living in Brazil who spent most of his time traveling round the world - he would turn out to be a fantastic translator btw us & the driver & our Spanish tutor for 3 days. We also had 2 Japanese guys who didn't speak any English or Spanish - did feel sorry for them a little, especially cos one of them was man down with altitude sickness/ dodgy stomach, so I donīt think his experience was too great!

Anyway, 1st stop was train grave yard just outside Uyuni
Trains have been left here to rust & die for the last 100 yrs, & itīs quite a spectacle! Could have spent hours taking pics here, but were given 20mins - not a bad start to the tour though...

Next, off to the Salt Flats.

This definitely needs to be seen to be appreciated! Itīs a massive expanse of land that was once a lake, but has now dried up to produce an endless landscape of blinding white terrain.
Enter school boy error No.1 ( at the time of writing, I think Iīm up to error No.8...)
Weīre at 3700m above sea level, sun is beating down, massive reflection off the the Salt Flats - & I forgot to put sunscreen on - I got sizzled!!
After exploring the Flats, we made our way to our 1st overnight stopover - a salt hotel in a tiny village/ settlement in the middle of nowhere. for those of you back in SA, think low cost housing in a place 3 roads long by 3 roads wide. Now staying in a salt hotel might sound romantic, & itīs quite a novel idea. Everything is made from salt slabs - the bed bases, the walls, tables, benches etc etc. Salts bricks are pretty similar to concrete blocks, just lighter in colour & you can see the sediment layers in the block, like you would in sandstone.
So one bathroom with a cold shower - 22 people....
Oh, you wanted your bathroom on your room unlocked - cash please. Oh, & hot water? More cash por favor...
Candida stepped up as chief negotiator, & spanish or no spanish, she got her message across & we had a bathroom final. She did us proud!

Most placed run of generators, so 11pm, electricity off - everywhere. (ie the whole town!)
But once you stepped outside, you definitely saw the sliver lining to this - stars, stars & more stars! Donīt think Iīve ever seen so many stars ever - truly breathtaking, especially when you throw in a thunderstorm in the distance for good measure!

Day 2 was off into the Altiplano, which is like a desert in the mountains. Highlights along the way included a volcano, a red lake, a green lake, a blue lake & a few more lakes just for good measure. The whole trip so far has been a photographers dream! the reflection of the mountains in the lakes with the pink flamingoīs doing their thing reminded me of those puzzles we used to do as a kid with the beautiful landscape reflected off a lake to give a perfect mirror image.
The highest point on the days journey was 4700m. How you come to appreciate oxygen when you don't have much..!
2nd night stopover was at a mishmash of dorm accommodation even more in the middle of nowhere. For those of you who hike, picture a badly built overnight mountain hut for about 80 people. Funny thing is, Iīm actually really enjoying them....
No TV, radio, couches, newspapers etc etc. Just new people to meet, lots of card games, & great conversations ( accelerated of course with the odd glass of wine or 2, or a bottle of Casa Real, a local Bolivian drink made which the muscatel grape, I think...)

Day 3 was a really early start, although when we departed at 5.30am, we were pretty much the last 4x4 to leave out of probably 15. Off to see gysers, & take a dip in a natural thermal pool - all before breakfast. day 3 was 13 hours in the 4x4 through landscape that changed from desert to mountains to lakes to badlands to lush green valleys. All the 4x4 cover basically the same route, so most of the time, so feel like youīre in the Paris - Dakar rally as each group races from once destination to the other - great fun, especially with the driving power ballads rocking in the background!

Got back to Uyuni at about 6.30 after covering 860km in 3 days. Cannot recommend this trip highly enough! We were very fortunate to have a fantastic driver, a great cook who always outdid expectations, & not too many punctures! We scored big time, especially when you hear that the previous day a 4x4 rolled on the way back & all passengers had to be airlifted to the main town of La Paz 100īs of km away; another groupīs driver was so drunk in the morning that after driving for a while, he asked one of the tourist passengers to driven cos he couldn't see straight any more, & another groups driver fell off the top of the 4x4 while packing bags, so once again a passenger had to drive.....

Found some pizza Back in Uyuni( at London prices) & chilled out before catching the 1am train to Oruro & then the morning bus to La Paz
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