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. Travelling 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.Next, 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.Outside the hotel, tattered flags from around the world flutter in the constant breeze. After 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.We 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 old
After 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.
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. Surrounded by them all, it was playtime climbing in the desert.We drove some more before stopping for lunch. While Theo prepares a tailgate meal, we explored our surroundings. What is this green bubbling blob? It 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.
Moving 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. Reaching 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.Here 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.Our 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.
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!”Further 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. Driving 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.Our 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. Concluding our journey, we enjoyed this picturesque mountain-scape from the jeep.Before 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. Leaving behind the awe-inspiring landscapes of Bolivia.