Salar de Uyuni
Booking the tour
After a 8 hour night(mare) bus ride from Sucre to Uyuni, we arrived at 4 in the morning at freezing temperatures. The bus nightmare was partly due to the cold in the bus – probably less than 10 degrees… But it was also due to the fact that we were both eaten alive by insects, likely fleas, during the journey. So we ended up happy leaving the bus into the extremly cold outside when arriving at 04:00 am.
The bites I had took more than one month to fade away… Ok, I admitted, I scratched a bit, maybe a lot. But still, it was so annoying :/
It was still dark as we made our way to a small cafe in order to get hot drinks and wait for the agencies to open. Indeed, we had heard that Uyuni is far from the most interesting city in Boliva. Therefore, we wanted to book a tour to the Salar de Uyuni leaving on that same day. Around 06:00am, we headed to the agency Salty Desert Adventours, from which we had heard many positive feedbacks. When we showed up to book a tour, it was very easy to make the booking, even on this short notice. We learned later on that many tourists do the same as us, arriving very early in Uyuni and booking directly a tour on the day of their arrival. You should try to be as early as possible in the agencies to book your tour: most of the agencies do not accept bookings made after 08:00am, because of the risk of ending up with a free seat in a car.
English or Spanish tour
As the Spanish speaking tour is a lot cheaper than the English speaking one, we booked the Spanish speaking one. If your Spanish level is not very high and you hesitate, don’t worry too much. Of course, it is nice to understand the explanations of your guide. But frankly speaking, the tour is not really about the explanations but rather about the scenery. Moreover, there will likely be a least one person speaking a bit of Spanish in your group being nice enough to translate the key information.
Day 1: the Salar de Uyuni, a place out of time!
We headed to the local market in order to buy some snacks and fruits for the trip. If you book your tour with Salty Desert Adventure, the meals are really good and filling, so don’t bring to many snacks. We bought way too much and had to throw away fruits at the end of our tour as we wanted to cross the border to Chile… At 10:00am, we met our Spanish speaking guide, Jorge, and our group members. We already knew two of them, Charlotte and Axel, as they were staying in the same accommodation than us in Sucre. We ended up in a full French group – well except Kai 😉 – as the two remaining persons, Fanny and Olivier, were also from France.
Jorge was a big fan of Bolivan music and introduced it to us in a very nice fashion, starting some karaoke singing to “Yo quiero chupar” during the drive. We heard this song at least 15 times during the 3 days tour: Jorge would even play it 2 or 3 times in a row in order to let us learn the lyrics!
We started our tour by visiting a train cemetery located less than 10 minutes away from Uyuni. To be honest, it is not the most interesting moment of the tour… You will get to see two old and rusted trains and some 100 tourists climbing on it! Afterwards, we headed towards the endless horizons of the Uyuni salt flats, the largest salt flat in the world. As far as one can see, there is only a flat salty ground, which completely messes up your sense of distance!! In the deepest part, the salt crust can reach about 120m of depth!
For our lunch, we went to the first hotel which was built out of salt inside of the Salar de Uyuni. There, Jorge prepared a delicious meal for us with salad, meat, potatoes and rice. As we saw what some other groups had on their tables in comparison to ours, we were very happy to have chosen our agency!
Time for funny pictures
Afterwards, we went further into the Salar with our 4×4 car. The view was stunning: everywhere around the car, you could only see a white flat surface without anything to catch the eyes besides some volcanoes and mountains on the horizon. Very quickly, we got the feeling to be so small! We had read everywhere on the Internet that there is a long stop in the Salar to take funny pictures. Indeed, it is very easy to play with perspectives as the ground everywhere around you is flat and white.
When our agency explained to us about this stop for more than 2 hours to take pictures, I thought we would get annoyed with Kai as both of us don’t really like taking set up pictures… But it was surprisingly funny to play around and help other group members to get funny pictures. To be completely honest, time flew by amazingly fast!
Cactus Island and sun set
When pictures’ time was over, we drove to the cactus island, one of the biggest “islands” in the Salar. The flora on the Cactus island is impressive, as it is home to hundreds of cactus. Moreover, the view on the Salar is incredibly beautiful: I felt so lucky at the top of the island. It was amazingly beautiful, to the point that I didn’t even know where to look. We took a stroll over the island, sucking in the landscape and amazing atmosphere of this place.
After a good hour, we went back to the car and Jorge looked for a good spot to admire the sunset. It is hard to put words on how we felt in this moment. No doubt, the Salar is an amazing place during the day. But at sunset, it becomes almost magical. Every passing minutes, the Salar’s colors would change, changing from a blinding white to a warm orange. After the sun was set, the color show kept going on, with the mountains surrounding the Salar taking some purple. I sat there, awed by the beauty of nature: it was a moment out of time…
Our salt hotel
Afterwards, we took the road again in the direction of our hotel. Our guide had told us it was completely made of salt and we were quite curious to see it! The place was surprinsigly comfortable: the walls, chairs, tables, beds and even the floor were indeed made out of salt. Only the showers were built with normal materials. I would have never imagined that salt could be so strong and support so much weight! We feared that the temperatures in the room might get chilly, but salt apparently isolates quite good as it didn’t get too cold.
Day 2: Hello flamingos & Lagunas!
Our second day started by a drive through a desertic area, with a railway line cutting the scenery in two with volcanos all around. It was a beautiful place, with so many different colors due to various minerals present in this region.
After this stop, we went to our first laguna: with Flamingos all over the lake and volcanos in the background, it was an amazing sight! From there on, we stopped by several lakes, all having different colors due to different algas and minerals. But all of them had one thing in common: flamingos everywhere 😀 We had lunch on the shore of one of these lagunas, enjoying the amazing view.
Next, Jorge brought us to the “tree of stone”, located on a windy plain next to rock formations with surprising shapes. According to Jorge, we were there on a good weather day, but the wind was so strong that we very happy to head back to our car. We thought that rain or snow had created those shapes, but we learned that they were actually created by the strong winds common in the area!
Later in the afternoon, we went to – in my opinion – the most beautiful lake of all: the Laguna Colorada. In some parts of the lake, the water seems to be red because of algas, with huge colonies of flamingos and other birds standing, swimming and flying by. Despite the strong wind blowing all over the place, we sat there for a few minutes to admire the view. At this lake, we also got some information about the local fauna and flora: we learned that there are actually three different types of flamingos in this area, moving from lagoon to lagoon, before imigrating to warmer regions during winter.
From here, it took us around 30 minutes to arrive at our hostel. We were still in the middle of a desert, at almost 5000m this time. We started playing cards while drinking hot beverages to try to keep us warm. Indeed, the temperatures were dropping significantly as the sun was setting. The night was freaking cold and we were happy to have our sleeping bags! We actually slept in them and under 3 sets of blankets provided by the hotel! Sadly, Kai was sick during this night and had to get up quite often, which did not help him to keep warm…
Day 3: the Geysers and hot springs
The last day of our trip started very early, with breakfast taking place at 4:30am. The aim was to arrive as early as possible at a spot to admire geysers. The best time to visit them is early in the morning, when the temperature difference is at the highest. On our way to the geysers, we were able to see the magnificient night sky in all its beauty including Venus hovering just over the horizon. The geysers were astonishing, especially in the dawn light, with steam and hot water fountains coming out of several pits at the same time. With Jorge carefully opening the way, we took a small tour around the place, learning about the different stages of the geysers.
We then made our way to some hot springs, nested close to a blue lagoon full with flamingos, at around 4500m high. While Charlotte jumped into the hot water, I decided to keep it safe after last night and just stayed outside and enjoyed the view. The experience looked amazing and I would have really liked to get in the hot springs as well. After soaking up for about one hour, Charlotte had to get out of the hot water: according to her, the temperature difference between the water and the cold air was harsh, but “less worse” than what she expected.
Our next stop brought us to the Salvatore Dali desert. This place was named after the painter as the landscape has a troubling similarity to Dali’s paintings, though he never went there! From here, we visited a green and white lagoon, before beeing dropped of at the Bolivian border. There, we had a little shock moment as the border policemen asked us 15BOB/person for administration fees. Actually we had given all our remaining Bolivianos to our guide and had litteraly no bolivian money with us. After asking us to pay in dollars – that we didn’t have either – we finally got an annoyed look and a stamp and could climb into the bus to Chili.
We felt strange in the bus. First of all, we were about to leave a country for another one, which is always something particular. But most of all, we were a little bit shocked by the clear difference between Bolivia and Chili. As soon as we passed the border, we arrived on a ASPHALTED road, with brand new signs. We had spent the last couple of days driving through a desert, with no sign of civilization around us. And suddenly, we were back into a developed country, with speed limits and mandatory safety belts. It was a weird moment…
Our feedback on this tour
We would definitely recommend this 3 days excursion through the Salar and its surrounding area. The landscape is stunning and the tour very well organised. We had a lot of fun during this excursion, most of it due to the fact that our group members were really nice and funny people. Olivier and Fanny even gave us one of their towels when we mentionned that we had lost ours in Sucre! We spent our time in the car learning a Bolivian songs, speaking about our lives and discussing our views on the world 🙂 if you are in the North of Chili or in Bolivia, book this tour, you won’t regret it!
Getting to Uyuni
From Sucre, we took a direct night bus to Uyuni, leaving around 09:00pm and arriving at 04:00am. The company is called 6 OF OCTOBRE and we paid 80OB/person.
If you arrive this early in Uyuni, know that there is one coffee shop which opens at 04:00am, NINA, where you can wait until the agencies open.
Agency and price
We book our tour with the Salty Desert Adventure agency. It is one of the best rated agencies on the Internet, so they charge a little bit more than some other less known agencies. The standard price for the tour is 800BOB/person, we paid 850BOB in order to be dropped at the Bolivian border and get our bus to San Pedro de Atacama. If you wish to book the English tour, you will pay around 1200BOB.
We would definitely recommend this agency as our guide was nice, the car in a good condition and the meals really tasty. The Salty Desert Adventure agency also provides you with private rooms for both nights, in opposite to the other agencies, which only offer a dormitory room for the second night.
The second night of the tour is COLD. So if you don’t have you own sleeping bag, check with your agency that they lend you one. Take some warm clothes as well as light clothes: it will be warm during the day, but cold as soon as the sun sets.
Even if you plan to leave Bolivia and enter Chili, take some Bolivianos with you. You will need:
- 30BOB to enter the Cactus Island
- 300 BOB to pay the national park fee
- Some money to tip you guide
- AND some money for toilet stops!! Be aware you will have to pay to use the toilets everywhere during the tour and you will be charged between 5 and 7BOB each time, which is a huge price for Bolivian standards…