15 June 2014

Bolivia: Salar de Uyuni- San Pedro to Uyuni Itinerary

Photo shoot at the salt flat- bring a toy dinosaur!

I thought Bolivia was just a few big cities, a massive lake(Titicaca) and some mountain villages. Little did I know what a ridiculously diverse and interesting country it is, and how much longer I would spend there than I had planned to. I sacrificed most of my plans in Peru for Bolivia, given the short time I had in South America, for salt flats, flamingoes, luscious jungle, Isla del Sol, and cholitas.

Truth is I had no plan to go to Bolivia(I was told it was unsafe(far from the truth)), until I found myself right in the middle of the world's largest salt flat(the size of Tokyo!). It just so happened that the border from San Pedro in the Atacama desert in Chile to the border of Bolivia, was so darn it close, that I felt I had to. Bolivia is way too big to be covered in one sitting, so I'll start with the beginning, the salt flats tour.

Choose a tour
The three day tour from Chile will take you from San Pedro(the driest place on earth)to Uyuni in Bolivia, in three days and two nights.

In San Pedro there are probably around thirty different companies offering different tours. It's impossible to know how different they actually are compared to price and quality, so I simply picked the one my hostel recommended(Hostel Rural, don't go there as it is expensive and crappy), Lithium travels. The companies that have a good rumour knows they'll fill up anyway and charge more. It doesn't necessarily mean it's that much better. It's probably better to choose one that's right-in-the-middle expensive. Lithium was pretty decent, and we got three surprisingly good meals a day, a nice guide, and a fairly comfortable, if not slightly old, jeep.

The guide was great the two first days, but a bit grumpy the last one. While the rest of us were trying to sleep through the cold to get up for sunrise the last night, the guides had a party the night before. (A few of the travelers who had taken the tour from Bolivia said their driver was drunk the last day, and was nearly incapable of driving.) All the guides spoke Spanish the whole time, and even though my Spanish isn't great I got the essence of what he was saying, and the rest we got translated by a German girl in our car, who was fluent. I can't emphasize enough that you should learn at least some basics before you go to South- America, as most people don't speak English.

The first day
We were picked up at 7.45 from our hostel to the Chilean border just ten minutes away. The Bolivian border, a little later, had the most primitive immigration I've ever seen. It's just a little house with a guy who takes one look at your passport and gives you a stamp. Hilarious!

After breakfast the twelve of us got divided into two jeeps. I was priviledged enough to team up with three Australian girls that I ended up traveling with for the rest of my time in Bolivia and Peru. After immigration we headed through the desert to the National Park entrance to pay a fee of 150 Bs.

The first stop was Laguna Verde (green lake), a beautiful little lake in the middle of the desert. At the next stop you can enjoy naturally warm spring water in a tiny little tub shared with thirty other backpackers(not my cup of tea).(6 Bs)
Awesome flamingoes at Laguna Blanca

Laguna Blanca (white lake) is next, then some more driving through awesome desert landscape before you end the day at Laguna Colorado(coloured lake) for a wild amount of gorgeous flamingoes. The day ends at a basic hostel which was surprisingly cold(bring or rent a warm sleeping bag! When people say the trip is cold, they really mean it!).
Rock formations in the middle of the desert- "Arbol de Piedra"

The second day
Leave at about 7.30 to see rock formations in the middle of the Siloi desert. The most famous one looks like a tree, "Arbol de Piedra". On the way to the small town of San Juan where we stopped at a convenience store(they make quinoa beer there if you're into that), we got to see some geyser action and an active vulcano. It was lots of driving that day and at around five we stopped at a hostel made out of salt. It is slighly better than the previous one with fewer beds, warmer blankets and hot shower(5Bs). It probably also helped that I wore all of my clothes, including a beanie, scarf and gloves!
Sunrise from Incahuasi Island

The third day
We left at around 5.30 to catch the sunrise from Incahuasi Island(35 Bs) with a gorgeous view of the salt flats and the surrounding mountains. After breakfast by the island entrance, we drove for a bit to a good place for a salt flat photo session.(This is where the driver was so grumpy we had to convince him to stop).
The train cemetery outside Uyuni

One of the advertised high lights of this tour is the train cemetery on the outskirts of Uyuni. It is a really odd and depressing place to advertise for and be proud of. Not long after looking at old, rusty trains, we were in Uyuni for a last lunch together.

           Stuff you need to bring:              * Lipbalm(you're in the desert!)
           * 5 litres of water                            * Enough warm clothes
           * Good shoes                                 * Beanie, gloves, scarf                                                                          * Warm clothes                               * Flashlight      
           * A warm sleeping bag!                  * Sunscreen and sunglasses
Awesome pig in the wild- Laguna Colorado

I was a true sceptic before the trip. I thought riding in a jeep for three days in the desert would be dull and super- cold. It was super- cold, but in the end one of the most memorable trips I've done. It will be the most important thing you'll do in Bolivia. Don't even think about skipping it!          

1 comment:

  1. So my perception of Bolivia has been completely revised by your article - I knew nothing about this. The cold is not my thing, but maybe it will be worth it for me too like it was for you. Looking forward to more!