Beyond Salar de Uyuni, The Awe-Inspiring Bolivian Landscape

Walking around Uyuni, there are loads of agencies marketing tours to Bolivia’s number one tourist attraction; Salar de Uyuni. Unless you are looking for a high-end excursion, there is no need to pre-book. We arrived in town, and after comparing prices with a few tour operators, we had one organised for the next morning.

Day One: Hop on Board and Discover Salar de Uyuni

The crew; Andreas, Sabhia, Fabian, Leonie, and ourselves at the railroad Graveyard, the first stop on our Salar de Uyuni Tour. On the outskirt of Uyuni, train cars and locomotives corroded from the salt air are left here to fade away. dsc_0429p1030556Travelling in a 4 x 4, we started our journeys towards the expanse of the salt flats, but first, we did a stop in a tiny village where vendors lined the main roadway selling woollen sweaters, socks, hats and mittens, and other Bolivian mementoes. With limited space in our backpacks for trinkets, we elected to walk around town while the others shopped.P1030567.jpgNext, the original Salt Hotel Playa Blanca, build twenty-five years ago is now a popular rest stop for many tour operators. The building is entirely constructed of salt blocks, including tables, seating, and some statues. Under a glowing red cover, lunch is served inside the main room.dsc_0444Outside the hotel, tattered flags from around the world flutter in the constant breeze. dsc_0451After lunch, we departed, driving in search of an isolated piece of salt desert where we could get creative. Getting a cliché perspective shot is not as easy as it looks, but it was all fun and games trying. Thank goodness our guide Theo had a supply of eggs for this shot.p1030655We even made a video, dancing on our passports.

In the middle of the salt flats, a strange island appeared. Gigantic cacti cover Isla Incahuasi, which can grow up to 30 ft tall and live to one thousand years oldp1030639

dsc_0469After a busy first day, we were pleasantly surprised with the accommodation for the night. The surroundings of the salt hotel, complete with interesting details of cactus wood was a lovely and unexpected place to rest. dsc_0549

Day Two: Desolate and Surrealist Landscape

Describing the incredible vastness of the desert is hard. Driving for miles and miles, you see sand, and more sand, some rock and more rock, then some amazing boulders appear like a field of natural sculptures. P1030661.jpgSurrounded by them all, it was playtime climbing in the desert.DSC_0596.jpgWe drove some more before stopping for lunch. While Theo prepares a tailgate meal, we explored our surroundings. What is this green bubbling blob? dsc_0608It is a unique plant to South America, an extremely slow-growing perennial found at high altitudes called the Llareta. Incredibly, it expands at a rate of 1.5 cm per year. In the Andes, many Yareta’s are estimated to be thousands of years old.

dsc_0616Moving on to the high desert, we passed a series of lagoons each with its unique physical characteristics and of course, flamingos. Three types of flamingos frequent the shallow waters, the James, Chilean, and Andean flamingos. We saw countless, which species we don’t know. p1030699p1030717p1030723Reaching the southwestern region of the Altiplano, we entered the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa.

The much-photographed stone tree, Árbol de Piedra is one of many unusual rocks in the middle of an expanse of the reserve.dsc_0703Here is an adventurous soul taking a leap of faith between two of the stone towers. Notice Ginette in the background, she climbed to the top on her own.

Reaching another lagoon, Laguna Colorada, a magnificent palette of red algae, white salt deposits, golden grass, and blue sky combined for a stunning vista.p1030737Our second evening’s lodging was far more basic than the previous night; a cosy shared room, pay-for-use shower facilities in an unheated building. At this high altitude, when the sun goes down, the temperature drops to below zero. A bit of rum before bed helps, so does sleeping with your coat and hat on.

The gang, settling in at our not-too-many-star accommodation. Maybe, splurging for a pricier tour would provide a swankier place to stay, we’ll never know. p1030758

Day 3: Thermal Springs, Laguna Verde and Border Crossing

Getting up at 4:30 am to a breakfast of cold pancakes, and powdered milk and coffee, is brutal. The morning routine was so that we could witness the sunrise. No grumbling could sway Theo who insisted we keep to the schedule.

The sun rose as we reached the geothermal fields of Sol de Manaña basin. Standing in front of the bubbling mud and intense steam spewing out of the ground is unsettling, especially when your guide says, “don’t fall in or you will die!”p1030909Further along was the Termas de Polques. None of us ventured in the hot springs; we didn’t want to smell like rotten eggs from the sulphur. p1030920Driving through the last of the remote and desolate surrealist landscapes of the Salvador Dali Desert, we ran into Zorro. This little fox was looking for a handout and waited patiently for a morsel of food.p1030776Our last stop on the route to the border was Laguna Verde at the foot of the Licancábur volcano. Apparently, the green coloration is more visible later in the day after the daily winds agitate the minerals of the lagoon. dsc_0822Concluding our journey, we enjoyed this picturesque mountain-scape from the jeep.dsc_0809Before literally, arriving in the middle of nowhere, at the Bolivian immigration building. Our trip with Theo ended here. All of us continuing ahead, lined up to pay our exit fee before boarded a van for the onwards journey to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. p1030816Leaving behind the awe-inspiring landscapes of Bolivia.

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5 thoughts on “Beyond Salar de Uyuni, The Awe-Inspiring Bolivian Landscape

  1. Great photos! It has been about 13 years since I went there, but I’ve always regarded that area as one of the most amazing landscapes I’ve seen. Thanks for bringing back the memories.

  2. Wonderful photos. We did the same in reverse about 3 years ago but opted for the luxury private tour. So to answer your question yes there is luxury accommodation for our first (your second) night – one of the most isolated hotels in the world at nearly 5000metres. It looks like you had a great time. We still regard that tour as one of the highlights of all our travels. Stunning scenery!
    Alison

    • Sadly luxury accommodation is mostly out of our price range for this extended vacation. I bet you had a warm breakfast:) Salar de Uyuni will definitely go down as one of the highlights of our RTW travels. -Ginette

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