The Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt desert in the world (approximately 64 million tons of salt), with an altitude of 3,650 m and an extension of approximately 12 thousand km 2 , located in southwestern Bolivia. According to the guides of the region, it is supposed that the desert had been, for millions of years, a piece of sea that became a huge lake and, with the evaporation of water, the desert appeared.
Besides the desert and white landscape of the Salar de Uyuni, you can see in this trip: geysers, mountains, lakes of different colors and thousands of flamingos. I made this trip in November 2010, in conjunction with the Atacama Desert trip, in a 4 × 4 crossing from San Pedro to Uyuni that lasted 4 days, round trip, passing through different places. Soon I will make a post about the trip of the Atacama Desert.
- Exchange : I used US dollars to pay for the 4 day tour in Bolivia. Most San Pedro agencies accept credit cards. I bought a little Bolivian currency from the agency that made the tour.
- Mountain sickness : also called puna disease, is the malaise caused by rarefaction of oxygen at altitude, which on average exceeds 4 thousand meters. The guides always advise to ingest coca tea that helps to combat the discomfort and the reduction of physical efforts to the minimum. The ideal would be to acclimatize the first few days and increase the altitudes gradually. I had a lot of headaches in the days leading up to this trip through Bolivia, but during the trip I did not feel bad.
- I went through great thermal amplitudes, that is, I wore clothing both from cold (very cold) and from heat. In the lodgings there were bed linen and I did not feel cold with the blankets.
- As the weather is quite dry and windy, be sure to bring a lip moisturizer and something to “humidify” your nose, as well as sunglasses and sunscreen.
- We have not been asked to prove the yellow vaccine, but Bolivia is one of the countries that requires it.
- Take plenty of water to hydrate, because you have nowhere to buy. On our tour, the guide took several gallons.
- I recommend bringing your own toilet paper (rs!).
- There was no internet anywhere on this trip.
Best season :
The season with the lowest rainfall is from June to November. During the period of rains and summer thaws, a layer of water is formed on the Salar, reflecting the immensity of the sky, changing the landscape, but leaving it as interesting as in the dry season.
How to get:
To get to know the Salar de Uyuni it is common for people to go via San Pedro de Atacama in Chile or, alternatively, it would be for Bolivia, flying to the capital La Paz. I did via Chile because I was going to visit the Atacama Desert before Salar de Uyuni, so I flew from Brazil to Santiago with miles and I bought the aerial passage through the LAN between Santiago and Calama and another stretch in van de Calama to San Pedro of 100 Km made in approximately 2h of trip in asphalted road.
The best way to get to Salar de Uyuni is by hiring a travel agency. There are numerous options in San Pedro, as well as in the city of Uyuni, Bolivia. They say, but I’m not sure (you can research), that this trip comes out more if you start in Bolivian territory, because San Pedro is quite touristy.
Approximate distances from Uyuni to other cities:
- Potosi = 210km
- La Paz = 730km
- Santa Cruz de La Sierra = 865km
- San Pedro de Atacama = 500km
I hired the transfer Licancabur to go from Calama to San Pedro, where we would stay for 5 nights and I will tell you everything in the post about the Atacama Desert. On the way, you can appreciate the brown-orange nature of the desert. The closer to San Pedro, the more beautiful.
The tours of the agencies for the Salar de Uyuni include transportation in 4 × 4 for 6 people with driver, food and simple lodging for 3 or 4 days. There are several tour agencies in San Pedro that offer this tour. We chose to close a car for 3 people and we asked for hotels with private bathroom and hot water, we divided the total cost and it came to U $ 500,00 per person.
We chose the agency MYSTICAL ATACAMA to make a circular itinerary in 4 days until the Salar de Uyuni and this agency was the most flexible regarding our request of exchange of hostels for hotels with private bathroom and hot water. I had even researched before to find out if they existed and yes, there are. Negotiating the package at the agency, I indicated the hotels Tayka , they have 4 hotels in the area, but there were no vacancies.
Where to stay:
On the 1st night we stayed at Ecolodge Los Flamencos and it was very good.
On the 2nd night it was a disaster, we asked for a salt hotel and they put us in a fajuto hostel, the Villa Martin hostel. My husband wanted to kill me for the second time on the trip (rs!). The first is described in the Atacama account.
The 3rd night was in Mallku Villamar, a reasonable hotel.
Highlights of the trip:
- Laguna Verde
- Laguna Colorada
- Siloli Desert
- Laguna Cañapa
- Salar de Uyuni
- Geysers Sun of the Morning
4 DAY Script : FROM THE DESACTION OF THE ATACAMA IN CHILE TO THE SALT OF UYUNI in BOLIVIA and back
The agency MYSTICAL ATACAMA picked us up at the hotel in São Pedro do Atacama early in a micro bus with other people and took us, first of all, to where we were supposed to do the legal procedures for leaving Chile. There was a large line, and the border police scoured all the suitcases.
Then we went to the border with Bolivia, around 1h away from the Chilean station, by asphalted and winding roads. From there, the Chilean cars can not continue, so the agencies hire other Bolivian agencies, to take the tourists there on that border, a place called DRAWING CASE . Arriving there, we got a good breakfast, like one picnic . We did the legal entry procedures in Bolivia. We were the last and the two Bolivian immigration police said there was a cash value for that permit. We knew that there was not, because the driver of the van warned us of this and that, if it happened, it was to say that we knew him. So it was, we talked and paid nothing.
So far, the only bathroom available is a famous old tin can bus frontier (rs!).
It was time to take the road, we were the last to leave immigration, all other 4 × 4 had already left. David, our Bolivian guide, was a super shy, friendly guy and heavy foot. So … rock ‘n’ roll detonating on the radio and flying down the dirt road, leaving a trail of dust in that desert vastness.
A guide really is necessary, because you can not know which trail or trail to follow in that vast desert. The tracks are the tracks of the wheels of the vehicles and were many, but sometimes they are extinguished by the action of the wind. Soon there begins the National Reserve of Andean Fauna Eduardo Avaroa. About 10km from the border is the first stop: White lagoon and GREEN LAGOON (4,350m altitude), which together with the volcano Licancabur in the background form one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. The lagoons are salty and the green coloration is due to the sediments of magnesium, calcium carbonate and arsenic.
Continuing our journey, we could not stop stopping to register the immensity of the DESERT OF DALÍ , worthy of a surrealist painting of the famous painter of the same surname, still inside the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa and with an average altitude of 4 thousand meters. Then there is a stop at the Spa of Polques, small natural swimming pools with hot water at 4,400m altitude.
We stopped for lunch at a pool called Ildayllajara, where the guide did the food in the kitchen on loan (yes, the driver prepared all our meals). Meanwhile, we walked around the property and thought, “Thank God we’re not staying here.” The rooms smelled badly, the shared bathroom had no toilet paper or showers. The wind howled and made the roof of the house tremble. I did not see any guests.
David’s food was simple but delicious and he did not want to sit with us.
A few km ahead northbound, we come across a red lagoon, for real! THE COLOR LAGOON is spectacular, is only 35 cm deep of a unique red water! It is due to sediments and algae pigments ranging from brown to intense red. It is a place where the flamingos feed on minerals and are present, mainly, those of the James species, but also the Andean and Chilean flamingos can be found. Here the altitude was 4,560m.
From time to time, we passed another pickup truck, flying through the desert with other adventurous tourists, certainly dusty like us. A very beautiful image, seem to participate in a rally.
I believe all guides stop at the STONE TREE , since it was declared a natural monument, I just do not know by whom … It is a rock formation due to the erosion of the wind, located in the DESERT OF SILOLI and there was no one in those places.
Moving on, we came to the LAGOON HONDA , at an altitude of 4,115 m, where we could see more flamingos feeding. Soon after, in the LAGUNA HEDIONDA , at 4,530m altitude is the ECOLODGE THE FLAMINGOS , where we stayed the first night. The place is completely empty and silent. Only nature is present. In fact, there was a lot of sound: the wind. He was so strong that he imagined that hotel being gutted. The light is gone … everything was dark … the wind whistling … the fireplace was the only source of light. We wanted to go outside, but the cold was so intense and the wind so strong that we gave up instructed by the boy who was security, receptionist and do-it-yourself hotel. He spent the whole time with us in the living room and the next day he accompanied us on a walk in the neighborhood. There was no one else staying. It had a super comfy bed, clean white sheets, heavy blankets and hot water in the shower. Do not be fooled into thinking that you will find good showers with a flow that will massage your back. Even because, the spending with water there is controlled. As there was a lack of light, the room heaters did not work. To ease the cold, they placed a heater on by a small gas cylinder coupled. Ai ai ai !!! What a fear of that part exploding in the room and we fly through the icy air of the desert. They would never meet me because no one stopped or passed by during our stay.
We had asked the agency, whenever possible, for good hotels to stay overnight and we paid more for it. O ECOLODGE THE FLAMINGOS was good by the standards of the region, located about 300km from the border where we entered. The difference here were the meals: dinner the night we arrived and breakfast the next day simply spectacular and neat. The breakfast was very well served with milk, yogurts, cereals, freshly baked breads, coffee, biscuits also produced in the hotel, teas … a girl with very typical features of the Andean region served us with much sympathy. She seemed to be happy simply because she had guests. While we were eating, she kept looking. And this time, David accepted and sat with us at the table. The hotel’s maid made a sound to listen to during dinner, it was Brazilian music. I think we wanted to please and dance. Talked a lot during our stay, said they have no company and guests, only work on 3 people in the hotel. We slept one night very well asleep. Nor did I hear the sounds of the wind.
We went on a trip that cold morning, the water outside the hotel was frozen. The car had already been on, warmed for some time, all carefully calculated by David, who also took care of fueling the vehicle with the gallons he carried on the car. We said goodbye to the hotel staff and went on a trip.
The first stop on the second day of the trip was the LAGUNA CAÑAPA , at 4,140m altitude and where we saw many vicuñas, these cute little animals that do not let us get close and are only found in a region with more than 3,000 meters of altitude.
We parked the car and took a short walk to a natural lookout point for the OLLAGÜE VULCÃO . There were 2 or 3 other vehicles standing with 6 people in each. And those guys even broke the silence. David told us, they drank and smoked all the time and felt sorry for our guide friend. Let us be aware and be an example: leave traces only of your footprints, the dirt must be carried along with you.
Going back to what matters … the Ollagüe is an active volcano, located on the Chile-Bolivia border, in the Andes Mountains. It has 5,870m of height and we could see from afar its fumaroles.
Ahead, we cross the SALTO DE CHIGUANA , a railway line and a military post. I did not see any city or village. We drove a lot in this place, completely wild. It’s cold! There are no bathrooms, but do not stop drinking water, because the climate is very arid, there is a lot of dust and altitude is also important to hydrate.
We were about 200km away from the Salar de Uyuni and stopped at the PUEBLO SAN JUAN for a meal. I’m not sure if there are restaurants, I did not think there was. Our guide David was the one who cooked our lunches, dinners and breakfasts along the way. It was not the case at Los Flamingos that was included in the stay. I noticed that David knows the few people we met along the way in the tiny villages. That way it was easy to borrow a kitchen and a table so we could have a quiet meal and away from the dust outside. The food was always very simple, but made with care.
A few more kilometers and by the end of the day, we Villa Martin Hostel in the ‘ear’ of the SALT OF UYUNI . It has walls, floors, tables and salt benches. We left things in the rooms we chose and went to see the sunset in Salar. We ride by car everywhere, for everything is equally white, a vast, rigid, white plain. Too beautiful!!!
It was nightfall and we returned to the hostel, where the guide made our dinner, a delicious soup, warm to warm that cold early evening. After dinner, we went to take a shower and as I was the last one, the hot water ended well in my turn (rs!). Just like the light (help! Rs!). It was pitch black! Everyone had already retired and I did not even know to go back to the room. I think they had already warned the others, because I was the only ghost … Nobody told me that light and hot water ended at 9pm. And I did not even think to ask, after all remember that we had requested hotels with a certain comfort and such? The 2 bathrooms were communal and there is no reception. It was so cold, so good that there were blankets on the beds. I slept soundly.
We woke up very early, as on every day of this trip, and went to enjoy the white desert. The guide took us on a chamanda island INCAHUASI , full of giant cacti that can pass the 10m high. It is not the same Fish Island, with which they often confuse it. This is another thorny island in the Salar, farther away from where we were. As we walked around the island, David was preparing our breakfast at outdoor tables.
It is an immensity of salt that gives the impression that one is in the sky, for those who imagine a white sky (rs!). The Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat on the planet. It is located in the Andes Mountains and has an altitude of 3,650m. It is said to be an immense prehistoric lake called Lake Michin. It is estimated a depth of up to 120m of brine and lacustrine clay. He explained to us the guide that is the largest lithium reserve in the world and that the government allows exploitation only by national company.
The creativity rolls loose in the photos of this place, makes you want to spend hours and hours there. We passed by COLCHANI , a town of 580 inhabitants, where we visited a museum of unsightly salt. In its vicinity salt is harvested where we saw men working quietly on those salt mounts. David took samples of crystals that are under a layer of salt, even crystals of salt that glitter!
We went to the city of UYUNI to lunch. David left us in a restaurant and went to wash the car, we set the time to meet. In the restaurant a waitress came to meet and then disappeared, never again appeared. Crazy place. We spent more time waiting for the request, waste of time causes me irritation (rs!). A place I would not recommend, Restaurant 16 de Julio , in addition to the poor service, the food was awful. Result: We did not have much time to explore the little town.
The rest of the day was almost non-stop, treading the accelerator, spreading dust on anyone who came in behind. In whom ??? For hours we saw no one, no jeep … At sunset, we arrived in a very beautiful place, but it is obvious that the evening light helped a lot: VALLE DE LAS ROCAS . Photographic stop and to stretch our legs.
We arrived tonight at the lodge tonight at MALLKU VILLAMAR . It had hot bath, comfortable bed and a dinner prepared by, guess who ??? David! Our gourmet-guide. Pasta! Hmm, very good, made in the kitchen of the inn. There was no heating, so getting in and out of the bath was a difficult task as well as getting out of bed the next morning. I did not see anyone working in that inn. I saw no reception, no receptionist, no kitchen, no cleaning staff, no maid, no guests. No one. I think I’ve only seen two rooms.
I slept, like all other nights, deeply. I think it’s the effect of altitude, the fatigue hits hard and knocks us down at night.
We woke up very early to get to the time to see active geysers. The geothermal field SUN OF THE MORNING has an immense volcanic activity, small sulfuric lakes in boiling. It is 4,850m high and was quite cold. We took a lot of time, because we were halfway to San Pedro de Atacama and there was no one around.
There are long stretches without any facilities, so if you snack in the car, you go to the “bathroom” behind the stones with incredible views (pictured below), you hear a list of songs over and over again, but still worth every moment in the Bolivian desert .
We arrived in San Pedro de Atacama and went to the Atacama Mystica agency to complain about the hostel of salt, as we had requested and paid a higher amount to get better. We had even suggested the Luna Salada and there are others too. To compensate for the inconvenience, the agency gave us the transfer to Calama airport.
The trip was wonderful because nature made up for any effort. The landscapes are really breathtaking! It is an immensity, a silence, a peace … It is worth remembering that it is a destination for those who do not have “fruity”, because to start the air is rarefied, there is a lot of dust, a lot of wind, it is cold and there is no good infrastructure.
Soon I will tell you all about the Atacama Desert here! Wait!!
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