Salar de Uyuni

June 24th – 26th, 2013

When traveling Bolivia, visiting the Salar de Uyuni is an absolute must! It is hard to capture the amazing landscape with a camera and even harder, to appropriately put the experience into words.

The tours to visit the Salar de Uyuni generally start either from Uyuni or Tupiza. If you start the tour in Uyuni, you visit the salt flats on the first day, which makes it a lot easier to cross into Chile on the last day. Starting the tour in Tupiza makes the crossing into Chile a lot harder, because you visit the salt flats on the last day. Since I had planned to cross into Chile and visit San Pedro de Atacama afterwards, I chose Uyuni as a starting point.

There is a huge variety of tour companies in Uyuni. Prices vary a lot and every now and then you hear from travelers, who tell horror stories about their guides being drunk, falling asleep on the wheel or just not giving any information on the sites visited at all. So it is wise to ask around and find out who had a good experience and what company they went with. Generally you get what you pay for, don’t take the cheapest tour you can find. But it will always be a bit of a gamble.

I chose Cordillera Traveller for my trip because of two reasons:

  1. It was recommended by other travelers I had met
  2. Because of snow, the usual border crossing (most companies let you chose if you want to end the tour back in Uyuni or at the Chilean border) was closed which meant we had to use an alternative border crossing further north. Cordillera Traveller was the only tour company I could find, where the alternative border crossing was included in the tour price, all other companies charged 22€ (200 Bol) extra. That is because Cordillera Traveller also has a tour office in San Pedro de Atacama and starts Uyuni tours from there, too.

The tour itself cost 88€ (800 Bol), took three days and included everything (lodging, food, the vehicle, driver/guide/cook and the transfer to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile). If you go, make sure you take plenty of water or other drinks. We only got a bit of Coke for lunch and that was it.

Day 1

We left the tour office at 11 am and the first stop was the train cemetery, which is located about 3 km outside of Uyuni. In the early 20th century, the town was used as a hub to transport minerals to the Pacific Ocean. In the 1940s, the mining industry collapsed which led to the trains being left in the desert to rot. The dozens of trains and railway carriages offer an unusual sight and are a playground for the child within.

The second stop is definitely THE highlight of the tour, the Salar de Uyuni. It is the biggest salt flats in the world at a stunning 10.582 km². A stop in the middle offers the opportunity, to take all those silly tourist pictures playing with the perspective and the lack thereof. After about thirty minutes of playing around with the camera, we visited Incahuasi Island, a coral covered “island” in the middle of the desert. Climbing it is the only chance to take a picture of the Salar from an elevated point. The views while visiting the Salar are absolutely breathtaking and one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.

In the evening we reached our hotel for the night, which was entirely made out of salt. The walls, tables, chairs and yes, even the beds. With the temperatures dropping down to
-15°C to -20°C at night (our guide said it was the coldest night of the year with temperatures as low as -30°C, I think that was a bit exaggerated), it is definitely a good idea to bring plenty of warm cloths and a warm sleeping bag.

Day 2

On the second day we started quite early and it was freeeezing cold. We drove through a volcanic landscape and a smaller desert for several hours (again with spectacular views) until we reached lagoons with the flamingos, the highlight of the second day. Apparently the flamingos come here to eat some sort of bacteria which can be found in the lagoons. Personally, if I was a flamingo, I would definitely choose some warmer climate like Florida to eat bacteria, even though the scenery is amazing. But it is just too damn cold. Nonetheless, the flamingos are fantastic to watch and the second highlight of the tour.

Unfortunately, the cold revealed to be a bigger problem than anticipated. With the normal pass to Chile already being closed due to snow, we were also not able to reach the other sites we were supposed to visit on the second day (Arbol de Piedra, Laguna Colorada and the geysers). On the way to the pass we got “stuck” in the snow. Having grown up close to the Alps, I wouldn’t even consider this snow. The real reason why we couldn’t continue was the fact, that our driver had only seen snow three times in his entire life and was therefore massively lacking experience (yes, snow it slippery and it is wise to engage 4WD BEFORE you attempt to climb a hill and not once you get stuck). The other car we were with charged through the “snow” and made it to most of the other sights whilst leaving us behind. A bit sad to know that we could have gone but didn’t. That is the driver-gamble I was speaking of before.

The second day therefore had to end at an alternative hostel, which we originally weren’t supposed to visit.

Day 3

We started the third day by visiting the Valle de las Rocas, old volcanic rocks that had eroded over millions of years and created exceptional shapes in the process. Afterwards we went straight to the border where we crossed into Chile and were taken to San Pedro de Atacama in the Atacama Desert. Throughout the entire tour it was generally hard to get detailed information out of the guide, mainly because my Spanish is only very basic (most guides don’t speak English at all) but also because the guides are more driver and cook than guides. If you want to know more about the sites you are visiting, don’t depend on the driver. Read up on the internet beforehand (thanks for the tip, Kate & David!) or take a good guidebook.

The Salar de Uyuni tour was one of the most spectacular things I have done/seen in my life, even though we were not able to visit all the things we were supposed to. If you don’t already have it on your bucket list, add it!

Further information on the Salar de Uyuni can be found here!

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4 Comments

  1. Toller Blog ! Wunderschöne Bilder ! Da bekomm ich gleich noch mehr Fernweh wie ich eh schon hab !! Liebe Grüße vom Bodensee

    Reply
  2. Kerstin

     /  6. September 2013

    Kann mich nur anschließen. Ich starte in 4 Wochen, mach deine Tour aber genau andersrum :O) und mit deinem Blog freue ich mich noch mehr drauf. Benutzt du einen Polfilter für diese tollen Bilder? Liebe Grüße aus Berlin.

    Reply
    • Na dann wünsche ich dir auf jeden Fall mal viel Spaß, es wird mit Sicherheit ein unvergesslicher Trip. 🙂
      Ich selbst fliege im Januar noch mal für einen Monat nach Patagonien zum Wandern.
      Nein, ich habe für meine Fotos zunächst eine Nikon AW100 und ab Ecuador eine Sony DSC TX-20 benutzt. Alles ohne Filter oder Effekte.
      Viel Spaß und falls du detailliertere Fragen hast zu Touren, etc. kannst du mir gerne jederzeit eine Email schreiben.

      Beste Grüße aus Bogotá
      Sebastian

      Reply

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