Uyuni and The Salt Flats Tour

Trip Start Mar 24, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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HI Salar de Uyuni

Flag of Bolivia  , Potosí,
Wednesday, June 30, 2010

After a bone crunching 12 hour bus journey from La Paz (the road was unpaved and corrugated the whole way) we arrived at Uyuni. It was early morning and freezing so all ideas of booking the salt flats tour and leaving that morning were discarded, we needed sleep and hot shower....ha! Uyuni is the worst town we visited in Bolivia, the only reason to go is to book the salt tours which depart from here. It is dry, cold and boring!! There are crazy water restrictions limiting the amount of showers you can have, and when you can have them!! The savior of Uyuni is Minuteman Pizza, a Boston owned and run pizzeria and restaurant with the best breakfasts...we are there almost every meal we had in Uyuni!

Our first day was spent trawling through all the different tour agencies, sifting through the lies and false assurances to try and chose the best agency - an almost impossible task as agencies change their names yearly for tax (and other) reasons, there is no tourism laws or standards and there is no law against false advertising!! We chose what we thought sounded good (we were sold on the Llama BBQ for lunch on the first day) and the next morning set off on our tour.

The morning was not without dramas as we realised our cook was replaced by an extra tourist (not what was 'guaranteed') and after expressing our disdain, being treated like dogs by the tour company 'owner'. Either way we were assured all our meals and there was no sight of a we hit the road. Of the now seven tourists in our group, Steve was the only guy and the rest of our group were 23 year old Brazilian girls, so it could have been a lot worse!!  Did we mention every other company had a spanky looking 80/100 series Landcruisers, we had a 60 series!! However, our guide was fantastic (managing to fix, with a little help, an almost impossible suspension break down using a few scarce tools, some rocks and a stick...!?). We also heard of worse stories than ours including drunk drivers, bonnets flying up whilst driving, breakdowns that couldn't be fixed and awful guides trying to dodge their group!!

On the first day we left Uyuni and stopped in the 'Train Cemetery', trains left abandoned for 50 years. Then we drove to a town on the outskirts of Salar de Uyuni called Colchani; which has markets selling salt handicrafts, salt factories and a salt museum. From there we entered Salar de Uyuni and saw the salt mounds used to extract the salt for use. Our Llama BBQ lunch was at the Salt Hotel of which every thing is made of....salt!!! The salt flats were amazing (the largest in the world) with white as far as the eye could see! After lunch we went to Isla del Pescado, a dirt 'island' in the middle of the salt flats covered in cactus - really really amazing! Following some fun and games on the salt flats, our guide stopped in the middle of this white desert so we could watch the sunset and apart from being a bit chilly it was really beautiful. Our first night was spent in a different salt hotel 'Hotel de Sal Samarikuna' on the outskirts of Salar de Uyuni and San Juan (the last town before the border of Chile).

After eating breakfast whilst watching the sunrise, we hit the road and en route to the Laguna's, our Landy packed it in. As mentioned earlier, our guide managed to patch things up, but we were stood in the middle of no where, for three hours while it was sorted!! Once on the road again, we visited various Laguna's, the home of pink Flamingos! We then passed through the Siloli Desert and visited Laguna Colorada at sunset on the way to our final night of accommodation.  This accommodation was basic at best. Wooden huts with a small makeshift fireplace. The temperature can get to below 12 and even with every item of clothing you have on, the five blankets provided and the sleeping bag you hired- you still spend the night shivering!

The final morning meant a 5.30am start. Our two litre water bottles had snap frozen in the Landy and the excellent piece of machinery didn't have a heater so our guide was trying to scratch the ice of the windscreen brrrrr. We visited the Sol de Manana geyser basin and then moved on to the Termas de Polques hot springs where some of the 'crazier' tourists got in (probably before they realised they had to get out again!). After breakfast at the hot springs we got to visit Laguna Colorada properly (known as one of the new seven wonders of the world). After driving through the Salvador Dali desert, we left our Brazilian Chicas at the Chilean border and Steve and I started the six hour drive back to Uyuni. On the way back, the countryside was mountainous, lush and full of llamas - much to Steve's delight!  We stopped at the Rock Valley and San Cristobal before arriving back in town.  After three days without a shower (we won't mention the dismal water bottle shower had at our first hostel in Uyuni as the pipes had frozen over) we knew we were in need of a real hot shower and Minuteman Pizza! 

Overall the saltflats tour, a must do in South America, was an adventure and we are glad we got to see the amazing countryside now before it is exploited and ruined by Bolivian infrastructure and, of course, tourists.

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