Uyuni and the salt flats

The vast salt flats in the South of Bolivia were on our “to see” list since the very early stages of planning our trip. According to our initial plan, we were to get there in the first month of our journey, but as things so rarely go according to plan these days, we got to Uyuni on our eighth month in South America.
We were told it’s cheaper to book a tour directly in Uyuni rather than in La Paz, and we should not pay more than 650 Bolivianos* for it (although the price they usually quote is 800-900). With this valuable information in mind, we staggered out of the bus we had spent the night in ** (11 hours from la Paz to Uyuni) around 7 am, and were immediately approached by 3 individuals with tour offers. We knew there were over 70 tour agencies in Uyuni that offer identical tours, so we figured it didn’t matter that much which one we chose – if our instinct said “these are good people” and we could get it for 650, we would go for it. We went with the lady who had first approached us and eventually decided to accept their offer. The first price quoted was 800, but we did get our 650 in the end. Plus the 180 Bolivianos to be paid for entering the national parks, the 10 for the hot water shower (optional of course) in the salt hotel we would sleep in on the first night – yes baby, a hotel made entirely of salt!! – the 5 for using the plugs in the same hotel … ultimately not such a cheap endeavor as we thought.
The tour was to start at 10.30, so we had enough time for a big breakfast before we climbed into the jeep. We immediately met our driver and guide Alberto, and the other four people who we’d be spending the next 3 days with: Silke and Anna from Germany, and Vinny and Babi from Brazil. We realized pretty quickly we’d have quite an awesome little gang, and that proved to be the case! We had three days full of laughter and madness, evenings with Chilean wine and playing cards, early mornings with puffy eyes and shaggy hair … We will certainly miss them! 🙂

About the three days

I do not want to give too many details about the tour because some things deserve to be a surprise, but what I will mention is that it included a lot of natural wonders that make you think how much madness is upon us for not realizing what a magical planet we have as a home, and how we’re destroying it little by little each day. When we were told the magnificent pink flamingo lagoons would be dried out within 5 years, I could hardly contain my tears. It was not for the first time in the last eight months that I heard that phrase “In the next x years, there will be nothing here.” Indeed, the natural cycle of life and death, appearance and disappearance. But when this cycle is so greatly influenced by us… it does no longer seem so natural, does it?
Most of the things we saw during the three days were not new images for us, as we had seen pretty much all the same things in Northern Argentina and Chile, but what is unique about seeing them in Bolivia is that all these wonders are compressed together in the space of a few hundreds kilometers, and the whole experience of driving through them in a jeep is really worth it.

But as Boca and I have concluded, for someone who has already seen what we saw in the neighboring countries, the three days wouldn’t bring much extra to the enthusiastic traveler. So if you’re limited by time or money and you have already seen what I’ve mentioned (you can read about our Chile and Argentina travels in the relevant sections on the blog), you can skip the tour and not feel too bad about it either.

Our opinion, at least :).

What to keep in mind if you do this tour:

– Make sure your phone / camera / laptop are fully charged when you start the tour, as the first night you will have to pay 5 Bolivianos per piece of equipment for charging, and the second night is free, but there are about 5 sockets in total for the whole population

– Take clothes with you for very very cold weather (a sleeping bag is highly recommended) and for very very hot weather (including cap / hat, sunglasses, sunscreen) – The first night the hot water shower costs 10 Bolivian. The cold water shower … is free 😉

– If you’re a vegetarian or have other special dietary requirements, make sure this is understood and noted in writing when you register for the tour

– Alcoholic drinks are available at various locations along the way, but they’re more expensive than in the city (e.g. a bottle of wine that in La Paz is 20 Bolivianos here you will find for minimum 35/40). Not that it’s very expensive anyway, but if budget is a consideration … you know what I mean..

– On the first day in the salt flats you will stop at least three times, and the driver will probably tend to rush you. If you want to take pictures (make sure you have some funny objects with you) just know that the last stop, the one for lunch, you’ll have an hour for walking around and you can take as many photos as you desire.

– If the driver keeps rushing you all the time, know he doesn’t really have a reason to. So, within reasonable limits of course, take your time to enjoy the magical place.
In conclusion, if you come to South America with limited time or money, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is something we recommend you put at the top of your “wonders to discover” list. They’re 3 days that compress magical places and landscapes, and you won’t regret you were given the privilege to get to know them. 🙂

* 1 USD = 7 Bolivianos

** The bus to Uyuni leaves La Paz at 19 or 19.30 and costs 90 Bolivianos.

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