Salar de Uyuni: The Bolivian Salt Flats

So spending 3 days bouncing around in a four wheel drive may not sound appealing to most but if you’re travelling in South America it’s likely the Bolivian Salt Flats are on your “must see” list. For us this was certainly the case.

When we mentioned temperatures of -25 degrees and no showers to Sam, who usually travels with a 3 star minimum, we were worried he would be on the first plane home but even he’d admit roughing it was worth it.

From San Pedro we boarded a mini bus and made our way to the Chilean boarder. Although there was a bit of a wait, as all the tours leave at a similar hour in the morning, crossing it was a breeze. But once we crossed we fully appreciated just how much snow had fallen in the desert…and so did our driver who was willing the van up every slope, wheels spinning away. We made it to the Bolivian border…that’s if you can really call a few huts a boarder crossing.

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It really is as remote as it looks and for many of us this stop was also our first use of the “Baño naturale” that we would become very familiar with over the next few days. After our friend Victoria enquired as to the location of the bathroom, the guard pointed to the vast expanse of snow around.

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Passports stamped, next job was to transfer all our baggage to the 4WDs…

Thanks to Victoria for the picture!
Thanks to Victoria for the picture!

Then before we had chance to catch our breath, and at over 4,000m we really needed to, we were on our way with our excellent driver Jorge (Hor-hey) at the wheel. In a convoy of three we sped across the flats leaving a dust trail behind.

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During the 3 days the scenery was breath-taking and changed dramatically from sandy desert to of course salt…lots of salt.

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We toured the many lakes, from frozen to Flamingo filled…

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Only stopping briefly to warm up in a thermal spring…

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We admired mountains and rock formations…

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And gawped at geysers and boiling mud…

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We watched the sunrise over the salt flats and admired the cacti…

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We traversed train tracks…

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And like many before us we spent hours playing with our cameras on the Salt Flats…

 

Salar de Uyuni

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The Four Ramblers

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We finished up at the train cemetery; a truly fascinating place to explore…it brings out the kid in everyone…

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The food along the way was beautifully prepared and presented by our drivers…

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And the accommodation and facilities were basic but beautiful in their own way…

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It’s fair to say we spent every second of driving with our faces pressed against the windows barely blinking and we made some good friends along the way.

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We knew we would be roughing it but after 3 days our hearts sank a little as we pulled into the town of Uyuni and we realised the trip was over. Though the prospect of a warm shower and central heating was pretty appealing…

Preparing for your trip

We had heard some horror stories about some of the companies that operate on this route, so on our arrival in San Pedro we careful researched the companies. With a few recommendations we settled on Cordillera.

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This blog post isn’t meant as a plug for their company but we were happy with our experience and would recommend them. They are not the cheapest but you get what you pay for. Our drivers were safe, a lot of fun and looked after our every need. But even though with paying a little more for quality and safety here’s what to expect…

Cold weather – we cant emphasise this enough! Although it may not be the case all year round bring lots of layers, as our nights got really cold! You may not appreciate these layers until you are trying to sleep in minus 25 degrees with no central heating. We slept in about 3 layers with blankets piled high and we rented the extra optional sleeping bags!

Basic accommodation – with no showers for at least the first night! When booking with Cordillera you are pre-warned of this fact. Also this was not a problem for us as the last thing we wanted to do with freezing temperatures was take off our layers! The second night is spent in a salt hotel, were the bricks are made of salt and the floor is scattered with the stuff. I had to stop myself asking for some salt with dinner…

Basic food – it was plentiful but basic. Vegetarian options were the meals minus the meat but you serve yourself so you can fill up on the veg and carbs We stocked up on lots of snacks and really appreciated these as we bumped along in 4WDs.

Altitude sickness – our experience wasn’t as bad as some stories had made out but at nearly 5,000m on the first night the chances are some of you are going to suffer from it a little. Iain got his headache before bed whereas I got mine when I woke up the next morning. Stock up on some painkillers and cocoa leaves before you leave San Pedro and force yourselves to drink water as much as possible. If you wake up in the night, drink some more!!

You will be Vamos-ed! – with a lot of ground to cover expect shouts of “Vamos!” or ‘Lets go!” at regular intervals. The drivers were happy to stop and pull over for any photo opportunity but also need to keep to their schedule. We never felt rushed and our group began shouting “vamos’ ourselves to much hilarity…we blame it on the altitude.

Sunburn! – You are at altitude so despite it being very cold, wear some sun cream, especially when on the white sun reflecting salt flats! Or like Sam expect to be called “Ruby Lips” for the next week!

But most of all enjoy! It really is worth it!

 

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