South America – Adventuring in Bolivia, Part 2 – Uyuni Salt Flats

The Salt Flat tours are so much more than Salt Flats. I’ll do my best to describe, but you should really go there. With lagoons, alpacas, llamas, llama-alpaca mules, cacti, hot springs, Andean cats and borax … it’s really something.

When Kim arrived around 2am on Saturday morning, we slept a bit and then got straight to the business of booking with Red Planet (the company to beat according to several people I spoke to). We then somehow fandangled the last two seats on a tour bus for Saturday night and made our way to Uyuni. See my post about THAT trip here.

Travel Tip: Some people got lucky and just showed up, but if you’re heart is set on Red Planet it’s better to know for sure you have a spot and book at least 2 days in advance. Price in 2014 – $1,200bs with a transfer to the Chilean border).

 

SALT FLAT TOUR TIPS

  1. Pack warm clothes. It gets friggen cold! After just the bus ride to Uyuni I had frost bite on my toes. Pack at least 2-3 pairs of socks, good shoes, and layers, because white toes (or any other bits, for that matter) aren’t good.
  2. Pack hand and foot warmers! These saved us at night in our sleeping bags.
  3. Buy water and snacks ahead of time. You spend a lot of time in the vehicle, alternating between snacks and sleeping is nice. Plus you shake so much from the cold you burn all the snack calories.
  4. Bring a spare battery or car charger. There’s pretty much only one outlet in the hotel. So you can charge things sometimes, maybe.
  5. Our guide had a sweet mix of tunes, but in case yours doesn’t, bring a USB or your iPod.
  6. Plan your route. If you book a tour starting in Uyuni and want to go back to La Paz, be prepared for an 8 hour straight drive back from the Chilean border to Uyuni on the last day. THEN your 10-12 hour bus ride back to La Paz. Your choice, but Kim and I were quite pleased with our decision to end in Chile and spend a couple days there before heading up to Peru.

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THE TOUR

Our group of 12 was split into two Land Cruisers, and Kim and I had the pleasure of sharing with two American couples (one of which we also giggled with on the bus from La Paz). Here’s how our 3-day adventure broke down …

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Day 1: Abandoned Railcars.

Basically a giant adult playground, the area tells the story of Bolivia’s failed rail history, marred in politics and lack of funding.

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Evening 1: Uyuni Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni)

Twelve thousand square kilometres of salt. It’s breathtaking. We took our fun perspective photos and hiked a cactus oasis in the middle of nowhere.

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Night 1: Salt Hotel.

With sunset looming, we made our way to our sleep spot . Hot showers, a decent meal, and beer were available, but we all went to bed reasonably early because the next day started at 6:30am.

Day 2: Equals amazing? 

After a simple breakfast we set out just after sunrise to see beautiful rock formations, lagoons, and volcanic views. I’ll let the pictures describe them. A full day, so bring your energy.

Note: do not sit on what appears to be soft, plush grass. Nothing truly soft can survive this barren land, and you’ll definitely regret it if you sit on it. Kim’s bum sure did.

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Evening 2: Geysers

As the sun started to set, we made our way into another national park where we had the option of staying at a lagoon for 25 minutes or continuing on to some natural geysers. Our group chose to skip the lagoon (we’d seen at least 20?) and head straight to the geysers, but not before our guide Joscar surprised us with Snickers!! Let me tell you, after 2 days of dirt and dust and vehicle travel, when a person surprises you with a North American chocolate bar, you get very excited. Good thing we were sharing our vehicle with Americans, because they got just as excited as Kim and I.

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Anyway, back to the geysers. In North America, these would be sealed off for safety and litigatory reasons, but not in Bolivia! In Bolivia, your guide tells you to stay close behind him and follow his steps, but then you lose him because you’re busy taking photos of the bubbling hot mineral pools and get lost in the steam from the geysers and then immediately panic, just a little (a lot) because you don’t want to step in the wrong place and have the earth collapse …

… anyway …

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Night 2: Hot Springs

Post-geysers (obviously I survived) we watched falling stars from a warm pool of natural hot springs. Red Planet has exclusive night access to these hot springs, whereas most of the other tours go to the hot springs in the morning at 6:30am. It was so nice to feel warm after two days of being chilled.

 

Last Day

After a quick stop at the Laguna Verde (iced over because it’s winter, sigh), we bid a sad goodbye to our new friends and hopped on a transfer bus to the Chilean border. The transfer bus grabbed us in the middle of nowhere, and drove about an hour in no-mans-land (between Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia) until we reached the Chilean border.

Laguna not-so-verde

Laguna not-so-verde

 

Travel Tips: Crossing into Chile from Bolivia (at San Pedro de Atacama)

  1. They are most strict about agricultural products. This includes coca leaves, as the attitude toward them in Chile is different than in Bolivia.
  2. You have to have your passport stamped in Bolivia to exit. Sometimes they make you pay 15bs, but sometimes they don’t. Kim and I didn’t pay, but other people in the same bus did. I love Bolivia.
  3. Sometimes you’re advised to get your exit stamp in Uyuni, because the Bolivian immigration office after the salt flats can often be closed (and is quite literally in the middle of nowhere). We were fine, but you never know!
  4. If you didn’t arrange a transfer bus with your company ahead of time, you can still get on a transfer bus after your tour, but have to pay and sort it out then. Good luck with that …
  5. Once you get off your Land Cruiser and on your transfer bus, things go easily. You drive about an hour through No Man’s Land to the Chilean border, get off the bus with your belongings, have them scanned and your passport stamped, and then back on the transfer bus that takes you to the slightly warmer San Pedro de Atacama.

 

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