Kinda report from the tour I’ve taken + some possibly useful practical info for the first timers
Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat. Its 10 582sq kilometers area is located in the Daniel Campos province in south western Bolivia at an elevation of 3,656 meters above sea level. As the name suggests, the area is covered by a few meters of salt crust with the estimated total of 11 billions tons of salt. The crust covers a pool of brine, which is exceptionally rich in lithium. It apparently contains 50% to 70% of the world’s known lithium reserves.
Due to its unnatural beauty, Salar de Uyuni attracts approximately 60 000 tourists annually. As number of hotels have been built in the area. The curiosity here is that many of them are almost entirely built with salt blocks.
Which Agency to pick?
Well, this, like in most other cases depends on your budget and time available. The tours vary from one to four days and you can enter the salt flats from Chile’s San Pedro de Atacama or pick a tour in Bolivia’s Uyuni. The entry points will determine your itinerary.
There are multiple tour operators and the prices generally depend on factors like language spoken, level of accomodation and so on. From what I’ve heard of other people, all tours appear to be pretty much the same with some minor differences like where you sleep the first night. I went for a mid range bilingual option, which turned out to be Spanish only later on.
The tours are generally cheaper when purchased in Bolivia (count about 700,-BOB/€90 for a 3 day tour, all inclusive) but because I was travelling that direction from Chile, I’ve purchased a 3 day tour for 119 000,-CLP (€160). Together with the expenses of getting to Bolivia and stay there for a night, it didn’t make that much of a difference in prices…
It was all inclusive, meaning that accomodation and meals were included. I only had to pay the park entry (150,-BOB/€19.50) and a small fee for an optional dip in a thermal swimming pool, plus for the 6l of water, I was told to take with me.
Early morning we were picked up from our hotels and driven to the border. We have entered Bolivia at Hito Cajon at 4600 meters above the sea level about two hours later. Right after the immigration process on the Bolivian side, followed by a gorgeous breakfast, we have entered this insane land full of lakes, volcanoes, flamingos, llamas, foxes and amazing colours.
There was a lot of breathtaking moments, some caused by the lack of oxygen and some by the the looks mother nature created up here. Other than that, it was basically a lot of driving through more and more insane places, eating a great lunch in a restaurant by the thermal pools. Take a dip at 3800m above a sea level? Yes please 🙂
The scenery never failed to surprise us as it kept changing. The only problem was to deal with the altitude as the lack of oxygen was rather annoyingly persistent of getting attention. The local solution is chewing on coca leaves. Everyone in Bolivia is chewing hojas de coca. The higher the people get, the more blown their faces are from the amount of leaves they’re sucking on. I’ve personally opted for coca pastilles.
The day ended in a village Villamar with a mediocre dinner and a basic shared accomodation. I’ve enjoyed the day a lot. The crew was nice and we kind of become friends over the shared experience of enjoying the landscapes.
So we woke up in Villamar where its 3000 inhabitants live their hard lives in 4010m above the sea level. It really appears to be hard life up here. For illustration, a man of my age looks 15 years older than me. The place, like others in this area are however under a massive development as one can observe a building site or some sort of extension being build almost everywhere. I guess that it’s a good news for the local community.
If you are guessing that more riding was what followed – you are right. The second day wasn’t as full of highlights to compared to the first one though. Most of the day we were driven to places with various rock formations. Some of it was great, especially at the beginning but my interest later worn off a bit because as the day progressed, they kind of did look the same.
We have ended the day each with about a thousand photos of various rock formations in a posh hotel made of salt with a mediocre dinner and an insane sunset. A storm behind us and a sunset in a distance at nearly 4000m above the sea level.
Seeing the skies with my 3:45am morning cigarette, I hoped to get there on time to capture the Milky Way with its reflection off the water surface to make the super cliché photo everyone aims to take. But I decided not to take the picture and keep the memory only – to be as cool as the Sean Penn‘s character in the Walter Mitty movie 🙂 Just kidding. In reality, we were a bit late for Milky Way as the night already started giving way to the sun ):
Nevertheless, it was still very magical. The whole day was to turn into even bigger photo shoot session that the previous two and after a brief moment of hesitation (I don’t like clichés that much), I decided to embrace it…
After over an hour of enjoying the sun rise and walking on water, we then moved on. The change of scenery was crystal clear.
We drove towards Isla Incahuasi, a home to 7 people, some cats, goats and a lot of cactuses. For a small fee of 30,-BOB to enter the island, the photo shoot continued. It was like an Instagram paradise for a cactus hashtag 🙂 Any random shot could be sold as a postcard here.
After everyone made at least 1000 pictures of cactuses, we had eaten the tasty lunch prepared by our driver and moved on further into the salt flat. It was rather strange place. I kept thinking I’m walking on a frozen lake in my shorts only while the skies played along.
I didn’t know that this will turn into mother of all photo shoots. Props were brought up by the driver, everyone went mad. I still had a bit of the cliché photos embracing in me at this point so I’ve used it to fight the Godzilla.
The last stop was a train cemetery where I finally allowed the usual cliché-avoiding me to take over. The embracing positive energy had its own limits. I’ve never had so many pics of me taken in my life and I never made so many cliché photos either so I invented a slant photography 🙂
Don’t book your tour online – it appeared much more expensive that way to me. If you are taller person – make sure to stress that upon purchasing your tour so you are not squeezed in 4×4 for 3 days. Bring some warm clothes – it can get rather chilly in the mornings at that altitude. Take your flip flops with you. You’ll find the useful in the hotels + the walking on the water would destroy your shoes so the flip flops come handy there as well.
FYI: that water is not warm at 6am at 3800m. Don’t drink the night before you go – hungover at 5000m could be a form of torture… If you are factual kind of person – do your reading before the trip. The drivers are usually very nice and friendly lads but they are not trained as tour guides. The information sometimes give you is – let’s say – not always exactly right.
Next possible destinations near by
- Chile’s San Pedro de Atacama (Wikitravel)
- Bolivian Sucre and La Paz
- Argentina’s Salta, Jujuy and Humahuaca Valley (Wikitravel)