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Salar de Uyuni Travel Blog

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Awwww... Shortly after this photo a young girl took her llama and went home, lamenting the lack of tipping for photos.

Hello all,

I got up early this morning and booked my 3-day trip to the Bolivian Altiplano that left at 10:30am.  I quickly hit the market that was just being set up to buy a few things for the trip.  I got a 'Spalding' backpack for 35 Bolivianos (~$4.50), and a hat for the sun cost me 12 Bolivianos (~$1,50).  Not bad.

I separated my things into two piles, one to take on the trip, and one to leave at the tourist agency.  It's really the first time I've ever packed for a trip within a trip, so it was quite a different thing.  I made it to the agency in time, and started to wait around.

Here's a brief explanation of the trip.  The standard trip involves a Toyota Land Crusier loaded up with a driver, a cook, and six tourists that are matched up by the agencies.

Salt with salt rake. Ready to be loaded onto a truck for Colchani.
  The agency provides transportation, hostel dorms, food, and drinks for three days and two nights while you are taken from sight to amazing sight in the Andean highlands in southwestern Bolivia.  It is a totally unique thing, and the sights draw visitors from around the globe.

My agency, Reli Tours, farmed me out to another agency Sol de Manana, and I met the rest of the group.  German couple Lukas & Julia, and lots of solo travelers.  Mathias from Germany, Uwe from Germany, Chantel from Switzerland, and Julio from Argentina.  If you were counting then you've notice that adds up to seven tourists.  Including Juan our driver/guide and Esa our cook, that makes nine people in the 8-seat Land Cruiser.  Esa, being a smaller Bolivian woman was lucky enough to sit in the middle front, where there was no seat, for over 1,200 kilometers!  Not only that, but guess who was next to her.

Hotel de Sal on the Salar de Uyuni.
.. Me!  Not very comfortable to say the least.  This would be emphasized in the coming days by nobody accepting my offer if anybody wanted to switch seats.  I did enjoy being up front, having control of my own window, and having Juan's knowledge right there for me.  Although the language barrier limited any complicated communication.

We headed out to our first destination, Colchata, and got there in about 25 minutes.  Colchata is a tiny town on the eastern edge of the salt flats, and it exists there entirely because of salt.  There was a small craft market set up there for the tour groups, and not much else.  Well, there was the adorable adolescent llama we took pics of, and an ongoing water fight involving the local kids that had me catching a water balloon in the small of my back.

The bleakness of the Salar de Uyuni. You can see a bit of a volcano in the background.

We then entered the salt flats, which were very boggy on the edges.  We made it through with no problem and then stopped where some workers were gathering salt into plies to truck to Colchata for processing.  It looked like back breaking hard work.  I grabbed a salt rake and did a bit myself, and could not imagine doing it all day.

Salar de Uyuni is 4,085 square miles) and is the world's largest salt flat.  It is near the crest of the Andes, 3650 meters high.  Being on the salt flat was very cool.  Being from Wisconsin in the U.S. where it gets very cold, it can only remind you of being on a frozen lake.  But it was about 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

We stopped next at the Hotel de Sal, which is a hotel built entirely out of salt in the middle of the worlds largest salt flat, the Salar de Uyuni.

Isla de Pescado with some of the administration huts.
  It had salt floors, beds, tables, walls and ceilings.  It even had a pool in the salt out in front of the hotel.  Pretty amazing, but not sure I'd want to sleep there.

From there we drove about 45 minutes to the west.  We were heading for Isla Pescado in the center of the flat, but it was not visible at all.  Juan just picked a direction or landmark and kept driving.  After a while a few spots of land appeared on the horizon, and Juan adjusted course slightly to point us towards the biggest one.  It took what seemed like forever to get there, as seeing nothing but white along with some surrounding volcanoes can really play with your perspective.

Isla Pescado is about 60km from the nearest 'land', and it has a very isolated feel.

The hostal dorm in San Juan de Rosario. Pic taken from my bed next to the door.
  It is also a Bolivian national park, and there was a $1.25 admission fee.  The island has both volcanic and coral features, and is very rocky with no plant life other then thousands of ancient huge cacti.  Some of the cactus are over 12m tall and 1,100 years old.  Uwe and I climbed to the top to survey the area, got some pix and then met the others at the TLC (Toyota Land Cruiser) for lunch.  We ate Vicuna steaks, which may or may not be protected.  Oops.  Well the scene was very cool.

We drove about a couple of hours more to arrive in San Juan de Rosario, a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, where we were staying for the night.  Our dorm was brick with smoothed walls, no heat, one light bulb, and seven cots.

The local school. San Juan de Rosario, Bolivia.
  We shared our (rustic) bathroom facilities with two other tour groups in town for the night, and showers cost an additional $5.  We explored the town, climbed a local pronontory with a cross on top in a light drizzle, and then came back for dinner.  I busted out my warm $2 bottle of wine from Argentina to share, and when finished with dinner we hit the sack.

More to come....

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Awwww...  Shortly after this photo…
Awwww... Shortly after this phot…
Salt with salt rake.  Ready to be …
Salt with salt rake. Ready to be…
Hotel de Sal on the Salar de Uyuni.
Hotel de Sal on the Salar de Uyuni.
The bleakness of the Salar de Uyun…
The bleakness of the Salar de Uyu…
Isla de Pescado with some of the a…
Isla de Pescado with some of the …
The hostal dorm in San Juan de Ros…
The hostal dorm in San Juan de Ro…
The local school.  San Juan de Ros…
The local school. San Juan de Ro…
Salar de Uyuni
photo by: Morle