Uyuni Salt Flats – 3rd – 5th March

Last day in Chile, although we nearly had to stay longer as we’d mistakenly thought our tour bus for our next trip was picking us up between 7.30 and 8am, when in fact it was between 7 to 7.30am….luckily after a mad rush we made the bus on time.

The three day tour was billed as the Uyuni Salt Flats, but turned out to be so much more than that. After leaving San Pedro, we crossed two Bolivian National Parks and the Siloli desert before finishing up with the salt flats on the third day. We knew what we were expecting for the salt flats, but it was a bit of an unknown in between.

First stop was to pass through immigration, both in Chile and in Bolivia, which took ages, notably in Chile. They seem to love a nice bureaucratic border crossing. The bus driver made us breakfast once at the Bolivian side and we waited for our home for the majority of the next three days – a 4×4 Land Cruiser.

With 15 people booked with World White Travel, we were then split into groups of five and assigned a driver. Joining me and Phil were:

  • Eddy (probably Eduardo) – Driver, bit of a legend, chews on about 30 coco leaves a day, comes from Bolivia or Chile “depending on what suits him best“, plays in a Bolivian folk band but music tastes include Eminem, Enya and Hardcore Dance.
  • Benjamin – 21 years old (although we thought he was older…), from Santiago, loves football (plays four times a week), Catholica supporter, great hair cut, excellent technique of sleeping with his head outside of the car window.
  • Alvaro – Benjamin’s dad, also from Santiago, Universitario de Chile fan, loves gadgets and apps on his phone (had all the gear with leads everywhere), has his own travel agency so was basically using the tour to get footage to sell his own tour package.
  • Adam – 26 years old, from near Wollongong in Australia, Arsenal fan, enviable job that allows him to work for a few months and then go travelling for months (currently on a 9 month trip), really good lad.

For day one we were up pretty high, averaging around 4,200m. Stops for the day were:

  • Laguna Blanca
  • Laguna Verde

  • Desierto de Dalí

  • Chalviry Hot Springs

  • Sol de Mañana Geyser

After arriving at our hostel in Huallajara for the night for lunch, we headed back out to the breathtaking Laguna Colarada, packed with flamingos basking in the sun against the red back drop. It was very reminiscent of some of the bright colours we saw at Rotorua in New Zealand.

Back at the hostel, we tried to go to a nearby pub for some table tennis, only to find out that the owner “wasn’t in town” at the moment. So pre tea we had a few games of cards instead, including a new one which Benjamin taught us called “Muchas Gracias”. It was brilliant but exhausting on our tired brains (it involves a lot of memory work). Adam managed to hold his nerve to seal the win.

Day two we were up bright and early as we descended down from altitude to the town of Uyuni. As we boarded the jeep, Eddy had got some nice Bolivian folk music on, which was quite nice given we were all half asleep still. However as soon as he turned the key in the ignition that all changed to some booming dance music. Perfect way to start the day…

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  • Arbol de Piedra – which included some pretty risky rock climbing from Phil.
  • Laguna Cachi

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  • Laguna Kahra

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  • Laguna Hedionda

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  • Mirador Ollague

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After taking in our fourth Laguna of the day – Laguna Turquiri, which was surrounded by more climbable rocks – we stopped for lunch. You begin to take note of the real culture shock and quality of life coming from Chile into Bolivia. Collecting bathroom fees was a small boy on his own who could have only been about six or seven years old. Apparently in Bolivia it’s common for everyone in the family to help out. But I could never have imagined doing anything like that one I was that age. Still, with his water pistol in hand he looked happy enough.

We had to cover quite a lot of ground in the afternoon. The usual route for the tour was flooded, meaning that our second night was a stay over at Uyuni. To break up the trip for Eddy as we left the sandy desert roads and re-joined more normal roads were:

  • Valle de las rocas

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  • A field to look at llamas…
  • The small town of San Cristobal for an ice cream.

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The final stop was a bit of a mad one – El Cementerio de Los Trenes – essentially a dumping ground for old trains and carriages. Being Bolivia there were no health and safety rules, so you could clamber about them as much as you liked.

Arriving at the hostel, Eddy gave us a decision to make – did we want a 5am start to watch the sunrise over the salt flats or did we want more sleep and to leave at 8am. Benjamin and Alvaro opted for more bed. But a commonwealth majority of three meant that we were doing the sunrise.

And we were really happy that we weren’t polite and let the Chilean’s get more sleep! It was amazing how the colours of the sky and flats changed throughout the morning.

The start of the salt flats isn’t too far from Uyuni, but they are that vast, you can drive on them for miles. With the recent rain over the last few weeks, Eddy had to use all his skills to take us across various view points. However, one thing he’d forgotten to ask was if we wanted to hire wellies (the drivers of the two other groups had asked…) – with a good few cm of water on the top of the flats, it meant either getting our walking boots soaked or sandals in the icy cold water. We went for the latter and braved it. Until the sun came out, it was absolutely freezing. Luckily the views made up for it!

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We had breakfast at the Salt Hotel – a hotel made entirely out of salt – and then moved on to more pictures, with Eddy getting creative.

To finish the tour we stopped off at the small town of Colchani to look round the craft markets. Eddy also gave us a bit of a tour on how the salt is taken from the flats to be packaged and sold. We bought a small bag for practically 10p. Hopefully it’ll get through customs on the way back…

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There was also an alpaca wandering down the street as well…

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Back in Uyuni, we had a farewell lunch to the team and then spent the afternoon exploring Uyuni with Adam. We’d found a pub called the Extreme Fun Pub that was meant to open at 2pm. The fun was so extreme that it wasn’t open. So another less fun bar made do, so we snuck in a few more games of cards and caught up on Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Newcastle before we had to leave.

It’s been an amazing tour and such good value for the money we paid. Our next stop was a four hour bus ride back up in the clouds in the town of Potosi. Just a shame Eddy wasn’t driving us there…

Paul

Songs on in Eddy’s car:

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