On a three day tour through Bolivia’s magical highlands.
After a hellish bus ride from San Pedro de Atacama we arrived to Uyuni tired but happy to finally be there. Our bus departed from San Pedro in the early morning hours and it was the only company to drive that route to Bolivia. Everything was going smoothly until we were supposed to carry on after the checkpoint at the border.
Yep, this was it. After all the stories I’ve heard about the buses breaking down, finally I could experience it myself. After an hour sitting there and waiting we were offered two options; wait for another bus of the same company, which might take who knows how long to get there or buy new tickets to another bus company and get a 50% refund of our old tickets in Uyuni. We chose the latter meaning about three hours of bumby Bolivian roads on the floor of the bus.
We chose our tour company after some research online and ended up paying 115$ for 3 day all inclusive tour.
We packed small bags for the three day excursion and left our big backpacks to a hotel in Uyuni. It was six of us and a driver in a old jeep. First stop was already outside the town of Uyuni, the train cemetery. A cemetery of abandoned trains in the desert. When the Bolivian mining industry collapsed, the trains were left there without a better use. The sight was like out of a Mad Max movie and such an inspirational place for photographers.
After lunch and a chance for a little shopping in a small town of Colchani, we head to the real treat, the salt flats of Uyuni. It is the world’s biggest salt slats covering over 10 000 km2 area in Potosi at over 3,500m asl, surrounded by the volcanic mountains of the Andes. It looked magical in the sunshine what made the salt glitter against the blue skies.
A visit to an old salt hotel, no longer functioning, and the Isla Incahuasi, a hill, which use to be an island back in the days when the salt flats were still covered with water. Now covered with giant cactuses, the place was the peak of an ancient volcano, roughly 40 000 years ago. Many brilliant places for admiring and photographing.
A sandstorm raising heavy winds and day turning to a evening, we headed to a town San Juan de Rosario, where we had our accommodation waiting for us. One compulsory stop for replacing a broken tier and last photoshoot of the day while watching the sun setting down. Driving through pitch black lands with one poorly working headlight was exciting. Luckily our driver was quite an mechanic as well as we found out during our three day trip. Once we arrived, it was dinner with one eye open and ready to bed. No bedtime stories needed for falling asleep.
Stops for fixing the car: 2
Leaving early in the morning after breakfast, we head more deep into the desert. Leaving the salt flats behind, the nature got more rocky and rough. It was pretty much no roads at all, so one definitely needs a proper offroad car in here. We stopped to see Ollagüe, a massive stratovolcano sitting on the border of Bolivia and Chile and it’s peak reaching almost 6,000 m above sea level.
Next on store was a lunch by a huge lagoon full of flamingos. So picturesque, but the high levels of sulfur makes it smell a little bad. The food on every dinner was good and plenty. After our lovely lunch outdoors we continued our journey through Siloli Desert. In the desert is famous sight of Árbol de Piedra. It is a big stone formation shaped like a tree. It looks like it belongs to a Salvador Dali painting. At this point of our trip my phone was already ready to explode by the amount of pictures taken.
Last stop of the day was Laguna Colorada. It is a beautiful, and very colorful as the names hints. It is a shallow salt lake with more flamingoes. This is also a natural reserve area so you have to pay a small fee to enter (be prepared to pay, it probably won’t be included to your tour).
Our accommodation for the night was very basic and the night was cold. We had sleeping bags included which was a lifesaver for sure. We arrived early and had a quite relaxed evening so we rewarded ourselves with few beers. Being up all day made us yawn quite early though so we set the alarms for 4.00 am to watch the sunset and head to bed.
Stops for fixing the car: 6
So we were supposed to watch the sunrise at Sol de mañana but once we got there the sun was pretty much up already. Nevermind. The place is seismically active sulphur spring field, not a geysir field as you often hear. It is breathtaking also in the means of its location on 5,000 m asl. Sol de mañana is an highly active volcanic area with boiling mud holes. A really cool place to explore, but beware, you don’t wanna drop into those holes! After we could relax in the hot springs around the corner. It wasn’t included but with a fair price of 6 BOB I was ready to jump in.
On the way to the border of Chile is still lagunas Verde and Blanca (Green- and White Lagoon). The different colors are caused by different minerals. None of these lakes is swimmable, so besides the hot springs, it’s a cold shower or no shower for these few days. After the lagoons was a drop off point for people who were continuing to Chile. The two other people in our group were changing a lift in here. Once they jumped off, we started our way back to Uyuni.
We stopped for a lunch in a small town of Villamar and while waiting we were entertained by llamas and a dog chasing them. On our way back we still had two stops. Valle de las Rocas, an area of bizarre rock formations, and a town of San Cristobal where was a beautiful old church. For a memorable end we saw a quite decent sized tornado (at least coming from a country with no tornadoes). And even better, before arriving back to Uyuni on evening feeling tired, dirty but happy, we stopped to fix our car one last time.
Stops for fixing the car: 3
3 days Uyuni tour is cool experience and a lot of interesting spots to see. However it contains also a lot of sitting in the car cause the distances are long. There is always several cars on the move and every group arrives to same destinations more or less the same time. On the other hand this also brings safety, cause the drivers of different companies look after each other and stop to help ones in need. Food was great and accomodations simple, but we had no complaints, we felt we received what we paid for. And hey, you can always spend the car fixing brake to shoot some awesome jaw-dropping photos!
Recommendations: Hell yeah!