From the the Salar!

Trip Start Jun 13, 2011
Trip End Jun 12, 2012

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Where I stayed
Hotel Mitru Tupiza
Read my review - 5/5 stars
Salt Hotel
What I did
Salar de Uyuni
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Bolivia  ,
Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The journey to Bolivia started off fine, with us (plus Roeth) catching the 7.30pm bus from Cafayate to Salta (P60), getting us there for 11pm, giving us a wee break before the 12.30am to La Quiaca on the border (7hr, P120). So after a stretch of the legs and a very bizarre bus station café experience (apparently croissants must be eaten off plates and cannot be taken away - don’t ask I’m still confused!), we queued up - only to discover the numpty in the ticket office had given us tickets for the FOLLOWING DAY - and the bus was full! The next bus wasn’t until the morning, but luckily we were with Roeth, who had spent quite a bit of time in Salta and took us to her usual digs (7 Duende), which wasn’t too far, relatively cheap (P200 prm) and had one available room - thank god! Unfortunately, we were all wide awake from all the faffing around so only managed a couple of hours’ shut-eye before we had to get up and out to catch the 7am bus - but at least we were back on our way! We did get to see some amazing scenery, including an amazing sunrise, which we would’ve missed on the overnighter so there’s always an upside!
We walked the 1km from the terminal to the border, where the crossing again was pretty straightforward, but a lot busier than Brazil/Argentina, so more queuing! You quickly learn in S.America that these things can’t be rushed and that patience really is a virtue! We got talking to a lovely Irish couple (Evelin and Phil), who were heading in the same direction and also in need of the ATM, so we set off together into the madness of the border town!
Villazon was absolutely nuts, a million miles from anything we’d experienced do far - it felt more like somewhere in Asia - but also exciting, like the real adventure was just beginning! We managed to get some cash and book our tickets to Tupiza (only 15 bol - under £1.50!), giving us just half an hour to have a mad dash round the markets to grab some essentials for the Salar trip (hats, gloves, socks etc)!
Our bus to Tupiza got off to a mental start with some crazy local trying to drive off with our bags before we got on (but luckily we managed to stop him!), then proceeded at a ridiculous speed over unfinished, dusty bumpy cliff side roads, travelling through mountains that looked like they’d just been detonated! The only saving grace was that the journey we were expecting to take around 3hrs only took 1 and a half!
The hotel we’d booked (Hotel Mitru) was only a couple of minutes’ walk away, and was actually even better than we’d hoped for - clean, spacious, with amazing HOT showers and brilliant breakfasts (eggs, fresh fruit, cereal etc). Fortunately, Phil and Evelin managed to get a room there too, so we quickly got ourselves sorted and headed down to Tupiza Tours (which is actually attached to the hotel) to get our trip organised! Unfortunately, due to the weather (which there’s nothing you can do about!), the normal tours weren’t running, but the staff were really helpful and the 5 of us managed to sort out an alternative 3 day trip, including an English speaking guide, for under 90bol.
So, once the organising was out the way, we were much in need of a good meal - and a couple of drinks to settle our post-bus ride nerves! The little Italian round the corner was perfect, serving amazing pizza and possibly the best Sangria I’ve ever had - which was a nice surprise as we hadn’t expected much from the Bolivian culinary scene! The evening finished off with some very strong cocktails!
Day 2 in Tupiza was mainly spent catching our breath, rehydrating and generally preparing ourselves for the adventure to come! It was actually a lovely wee place to do that - pretty tiny but a couple of nice restaurants and bars and really friendly locals.
We sat off on our trip at 9am the following morning, travelling through yet more awe-inspiring scenery (it’s like an overdose for your eyes!), including the obligatory sheer-drop roads (although our driver was fab) and tiny rural villages. We stopped off at an abandoned village for a lovely alfresco lunch! Our guide (Janette) was fantastic, really knowledgeable and enthusiastic, giving us loads of info, not only on our surroundings but also on the culture and history of the country in general. Towards the end of the day we visited the Train Cemetery, literally a dumping ground for Bolivia’s old, rusting trains that are no longer in use - it sounds odd but it was actually a really cool sight!
We briefly stopped in the town of Uyuni - which had a very strange vibe and was surrounded by miles of plastic flowers (I.e. rubbish) - where we thought we were staying, only to be taken to Colchani, around 30 mins drive away. We spent the night at a very cute but absolutely FREEZING salt hotel - think 7 dwarfs mixed with Santa’s grotto! So after procuring all available blankets and putting on our thermals we settled in for a very cold night’s sleep!
We were up at 5am the next day to catch dawn over the Salar - and oh what a sight it was to behold! As we glided onto the vast expanse of salt (which, with it’s thin covering of water, seemed like a frozen lake), it felt totally surreal -there’s no way pictures can prepare you for it’s scale and beauty. We managed to drive out to a great spot to witness the sun rising in one direction while the moon set in another - I’ve never seen anything like it - it felt like we were on a different planet! Then we headed over to Incausi Island, which was once a massive coral reef at the time the flats had been a sea, but is now covered in humongous cacti and offers amazing views from the top, for an unforgettable breakfast!
Afterwards, driving over the lake to Tunupa Volcano (where we were staying and climbing up later), with the sun beaming down, and the perfect reflections captured on the lake, was one of the most special moments of my life - I actually had a wee bubble at how overwhelmingly beautiful it was and how lucky we were to experience such a thing!
On reaching Conquesa village (home to the volcano), we had a little stroll around before lunch and were lucky enough to see a flock of flamingos! After another tasty lunch it was time to tackle the climb. We were slightly perturbed when we came across some skeletons, but  they were mummies of the tribes that used to inhabit the island. Unfortunately, Barry was his usual forgetful self and hadn’t brought his inhaler, so as the altitude started to affect us more and more we decided it would be safer to let the others go on ahead and enjoy some peaceful time in the sun
The hostel that night was a bit of a shocker - still a salt hotel, but instead of the quaint place we’d stayed at the night before it was more like a (very cold) prison! It was really dirty, with grim décor and unfriendly staff -  so there wasn’t really anything else we could do but get pissed on some (surprisingly decent) red wine!
Up for sunrise again the next morning, then time for a Salar photo shoot! We had loads of fun experimenting with different positions and props (you can get really creative because there’s really no perspective to the landscape) - some of the finished photos are crackers! Lunch was back in Colchani (where we got to have a wee look round the craft markets) before being taken back to Uyuni. 
Phil and Evelin were staying the night there, and we had a few hours to kill before our o/n bus to La Paz, so they were kind enough to let us get freshened up in their room (and boy did we need it after 3 days in the wilds!). Roeth was super lucky and managed to bump into a friend she’d been searching for, then we all headed off for a final dinner together. ‘Minuteman’ pizzeria was fantastic, and we even bought a few bits of home baking for the bus journey!
It felt strange (and a wee bit sad!) to be saying good bye to everyone, especially Roeth - you can feel quite close to people when you’re travelling so closely and sharing such memorable experiences, but that’s part of the journey I suppose! We couldn’t have chosen a better group to share such a special experience with - no matter how tired, cold and minging we were had such a laugh and enjoyed every moment!

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Barny on

Some of the most amazing photos guys - really getting jealous now!

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