The Bolivian Uyuni Salt Flats - Our 4x4 Desert Road Trip Adventure
Our time in Bolivia was spent experiencing a surprisingly diverse range of landscapes & environments. From four-wheel-driving through the desert and salt flats, zig-zagging our way through chaotic cities, mountain biking through the jungle, eating at fish-markets by Lake Titicaca, and camping on tranquil beaches with gorgeous sunsets, Bolivia was an unexpected two-week journey which did not disappoint!
We entered Bolivia via an excursion that commenced in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile - a 3 day, 2 night tour through the desert and salt flats of Uyuni, where we travelled in 4x4 Jeep’s, saying farewell to Chile and crossing the border on the morning of day 1.
We organised this through a Bolivian company (they tend to be much cheaper than the Chilean companies) called Sol Andino Expediciones who we would strongly recommend due to their price and professionalism. We paid 90,000 Chilean peso’s / $180 AUD which included:
pick-up from our hostel in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
assistance crossing the Chile / Bolivia border
4 x 4 transport for the full three days
small group of no more than 4-6 people
our wonderful and friendly driver/guide, Mario
2 x nights accomodation (the last night being in a beautiful hotel made of salt!)
breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks each day
drop-off in Uyuni, Bolivia
We were fortunate enough to share this incredible experience with two amazing humans who made our days so enjoyable and we are lucky enough to now call our friends - Aileen & Chris.
We drove through deserts for days, landscapes backdropped with amazing rainbow coloured mountains.. Day one we visited a natural thermal hot-spring, soaking under the sunshine with 360 degree views of desert wonderland around us. For the first time, we saw flamingo’s in their natural habitat, colourful laguna’s, and before we knew it our first day was almost over, arriving at a village where we spent the night in a cute little hostel.
If you are coming from Chile and have not yet experienced the effects of being in high altitude, make sure that you bring lots of extra water (with ginger is even better!), coca leaves and coca lollies with you. We were thankfully not too heavily effected, our first experience with the high altitude just feeling a little less energetic and a slight headache which didn’t hang around long. However there were numerous other people who weren’t so lucky and spent their first day quite ill, nauseous, migraines, and very sleepy!
The morning of Day 2 we hit the road quite early, around 6.30am. Our first stop was in an area filled with volcanic rock-formations of all different crazy shapes and sizes. We spent almost 2 hours here, climbing up and down the biggest ones that we could manage in search for the most wonderful view-points from above.
From here, we continued our drive towards Uyuni, stopping at many different coloured laguna’s, the largest geyser we have ever seen, and hot-spots to get photos with the hundreds of friendly llama’s.
Our second and last night’s accomodation was spent in a beautiful hotel that was primarily made out of salt! The walls, floor, tables, chairs.. Here we shared our final supper with our group, a delicious meal with chicken, vegetables, soup, bread, and we were even given a bottle of wine to share! As we were waking up early for sunrise over the salt flat’s the following morning, we all headed to bed not too long after dinner and a game of cards, feeling pretty excited to finally see the salt flat landscape that we had all been waiting for.
Waking at around 3.30am, we jumped in Mario’s 4x4 and drove around 1 hour to our sunrise spot, a little island on top of the salt flats covered in unusually shaped and very large cacti, where we climbed for around 15 minutes up-hill to reach our spectacular viewpoint. And wow, we were not disappointed. We sat and watched as the sun slowly rose above the salt-flat horizon.. turning the sky orange, purple and blue. Once the sun rose, for the first time we were able to see the endless salt-flat landscape surrounding us. For as far as the eye could see, hexagon shaped formations of salt.. and yes, we did lick the ground, you know, just to be sure :P
We spent the rest of the morning taking hundreds of photos, truly a once in a lifetime experienced that we lapped up to the max! In the afternoon we stopped by the local markets in a small village, where we purchased ourselves a whole packet of rock salt for only 1 boliviano / 0.20 AUD and browsed through the assortment of alpaca sweaters, socks, beanies.. all for ridiculously cheap prices!
Before making our way back to Uyuni, we had one last stop to make - the antique Train Cemetery! In the early 19th century, plans were made to build a huge network of trains out of Uyuni, but the project was abandoned because of technical difficulties and disagreements with neighbouring countries. The trains and other equipment were left deserted, now making for a wonderful tourist attraction only 3km’s out of Uyuni, with hundreds of people visiting per day to photograph and climb all through/over this rusty but impressive train graveyard.
There is no doubt that these 3 days were the highlight of our time in Bolivia - for anyone who may not have the time or funds to complete the full 3 day excursion, we would recommend even just doing a 1 day trip from Uyuni to see the salt flats, you will not be left disappointed!
Once we farewelled Mario in Uyuni, we had a bus organised straight to La Paz. Many other travellers (and even locals) had advised us that the 11 hour route from Uyuni to La Paz is not the most safe one, with all buses running at night, unfortunately there can be high risks of hi-jacking and on-board robberies. However an incredibly safe and reputable bus company that we can recommend for this trip is Todo Turismo - they operate every day, but their buses do pack out quite quickly so if you do intend on making this trip, we would suggest pre-purchasing your tickets online at: http://www.todoturismosrl.com
Check out our short youtube video below of our incredible Uyuni experience & we will be posting more information about the rest of our time spent in Bolivia soon! :)