Salar de Uyuni Travel Blog› entry 21 of 166 › view all entries
October 30th, 2009 – by: rem120
There are two main ways to get from La Paz to Uyuni - by bus or by train. We originally wanted to go by train but the schedules didn't match with what we needed so we got the overnight bus instead. At the bus station before we left we met a Swiss couple who we got along with and we agreed we would try to find a tour together at Uyuni.
The bus ride was the worst I have had in my life. The bus was fairly uncomfortable as it was, but really it was all about the road. For hours on end in the middle of the night we drove over this horrible rocky surface that made the bus vibrate quite joltingly. Thankfully still I did manage to sleep a short amount of time.
We got to Uyuni at about 6 in the morning and decided to first get some breakfast before finding a tour company. As is typical for tourism-focused towns there were a lot of tour operators at the bus stop hawking their offerings. One guy kept following us around but he seemed pretty genuine so we said we would check out his tour after breakfast. We had a quick meal and then had a look at the tour, which seemed pretty good for what we were after, and the Swiss couple decided to join us too.
The tours across the Bolivian salt flats are done in Toyota Landcruiser 4WDs where you just drive around the open flats and deserts to each point of interest. By the late morning we were off in our 4WD with the guide/driver, the cook, Ryan, Liz, the Swiss couple, and myself.
The first place we went to was the train cemetary just out of Uyuni. Basically it is just as the name describes - a place where a bunch of old stream trains were long ago abandoned. At first it sounds a bit boring, but they have become huge rusted shells that you can climb all over and take some quite unique photos. We had a great time jumping all over them, and I can imagine I could have spent all day there if I was still a kid.
After about a half hour at the train cemetary we drove off much further to the start of Salar de Uyuni where the salt ground begins.
We stopped off at a point where there are a lot of salt mounds up to a metre high that are stacked up to help with drying them off so the salt can be collected for use. One of the first things you notice as you get out of the 4WD is how damn solid the salt is. I think because my usual mental image of salt is the fine grains you use with food that I assumed it would be similar on the ground, but it certainly is not. The salt here was a bit dirty so we were just took some cool action shots of us jumping off the salt mounds and then went on our way.
We came to a hotel way out in the salt flats that was made primarily from... salt. This was our first chance to take some decent perspective photos as it was clean white ground as far as you could see. A popular thing to do at Salar de Uyuni is to take photos where you take advantage of the vast white ground to distort the size of objects relative to each other. A typical example is to have someone holding someone else on the palm of their hand. We took a bunch of what we could come up and then had lunch outside the hotel on furniture made entirely of salt.
The main destination of the day was next - Incahausi Island. This is an oasis way out in the middle of nowhere (a common location for places on this tour) which looks like a huge island on the salt flats.
After being up there for a bit we were the only ones left up there, which was pretty cool. We came down after a while and took a bunch more perspective photos on the salt. We were one of the last groups to leave for the day when we took off for our hotel.
On the drive back we went through this section where the salt was forced up about 10cm where the cracks in the salt used to be. I forget the reason for it. It was a striking look and also a lot of fun to kick at the jagged salt protrusions and watch them crumble. This was the last point of the tour where we would be on the salt flats as the rest were other sights in the desert to the south.
We got to the hotel on the edge of a very basic town. Our rooms were quite incredible - the walls were made of salt, the floors were made of gravelled salt, and the bed frames were made of salt. You may notice I am attempting to break the world record for a blog entry most mentioning the word 'salt'.
Before dinner we drove off a short way to a hill where we could watch the sunset.
I slept well in my salt enclosure and early in the morning we had a quick breakfast at the hotel before heading out. The day's travels began as we drove through an amazing landscape of heavily eroded rocks perched on the ground. I am struggling to describe them properly so photos of this are a must to appreciate it.
We drove further on and came to a big lake that was home to a huge number of flamingos. Some of them were quite close to the water edge so we could take some great photographs of them with their heads in the water filtering it for food. Occasionally one would fly around but they typically stuck to their spots of choice. After walking around the lake edge for a while we came to a hotel/restaurant where we had lunch.
Now well fed we drove off further to some enormous rock formations that have seemingly being eroded by wind over a long period of time. One stunning rock was quite big at the top but very narrow at the bottom and made a great photo backdrop.
Probably the most surreal place we went to - which is saying a lot as the whole tour was surreal - was next at Laguna Colorada. This lake has a population of micro organisms that leave the lake a striking dull red colour. About as weird is that was a massive deposit of calcium carbonate, ie. chalk, on part of the shore of the lake. We got dropped off at the chalk deposit and basically ran up to it and climbed up it. The ground was really soft and light and crumbly, but deep enough that it wouldn't break under our feet. The wind was incredibly strong so kicking at the ground would spray it up and blow it far away. The strong white colour could easily have been mistakened for snow so we took a couple of photos of us from angles that made it look like that.
From there we drove to the hotel for the night. This hotel is one that nearly all the salt flat tour groups go to, so it is a huge place full of dormitory rooms. The place was very basic and the beds were almost hilariously hard. We went for a bit of a walk but it was getting very cold so we came back quickly. The dinner was the same for each group so I figure they cook it all there in huge batches.
The next day was immediately off to a big start as it was my 27th birthday! We left the hotel at something like 5:30am and our first stop were some natural geysers.
The geysers were a real stand out of the tour. It was an area of about 50m square with bubbling mud pools and small vents out of the ground and a strong stench of sulfur. We could walk around openly between the pools and with the thick white smoke from them along with the barely risen sun it had a fantastically eerie atmosphere to the place. It was a lot of fun and we were wandering around so long that the guide was honking at us to go.
We drove over to a nearby hot springs with a building for breakfast.
The last stop of the tour was Laguna Verde right near the border to Chile. The lake is a great sight from up above where we were dropped off, with a huge mountain in the background. We walked down to the lake edge where the edge is loosely defined. Instead of just going from land to water there is a progression where the rock gets looser and looser before just becoming mud and then water. I decided to test how far I could get and soon got into a loose spot and totally covered my hiking boots and the bottom of my trousers in sulfurous mud. A bit along the lake edge there was some puddles that had formed ice sheets on top overnight, so I did the mature thing and picked a big one up and kicked it into the wind.
We were now done with our epic tour across the strange southern Bolivian landscape so we drove to the Chilean border where a small bus was waiting to take people to San Pedro de Atacama. We said our goodbyes to the driver and cook and went through the motions to get over the border. It all took a while but eventually we were off into Chile. Soon we got to a beautiful paved road that was a treat compared to the state of the roads in Bolivia. The road took us all the way down the big drop in altitude to San Pedro de Atacama.
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