2nd-4th December 2018
To finish off my time in Bolivia I embarked upon a three-day journey through Bolivia’s crowning jewel, Solar de Uyuni.
Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat and to enter this natural wonder you need to go on a tour in a 4×4 vehicle. Lots of packages are available if you head to the town of Uyuni – the main launching point – but the most common is the three-day excursion which takes you all the way down to the south-west corner of Bolivia.
The only problem is getting the right guide as they seem to vary in quality. Whoever you get is not just your driver, they are also your cook, and a good one will provide you with some information about the area too. Although most of them seem to do a good job there are stories of some behaving badly, not delivering full itineraries, and even drinking while driving. Booking with a good agency is no guarantee as a lot of them will transfer you to another company if they can’t fill all the seats. It can be complete pot luck who you end up with.
I decided to book with Andes Salt Expeditions. They had some of the best reviews out of all the companies and were reasonably priced. They were also one of the bigger ones so I was less likely to be transferred. It paid off, as I was lucky and ended up with a guide called Vladimir who went out of his way to make it a fun experience for myself and the five other people I was matched with.
The first day, after a quick stop at the ‘Train Cemetary’ – a graveyard for the carriages which were abandoned when Bolivia transitioned from steam to diesel – we reached the salt flats. It took hours to drive through the entire expanse, but we stopped a few times to have some fun with the optical illusions you can create there. Such as this encounter I had with a dinosaur.
We also made a couple of funny videos, one of which you can watch by clicking here.
In the afternoon we reached Incahuasi, a rugged island of cactuses which rises up from the plane of white. It was actually once a massive colony of coral, back when this area was a vast sea, but when the bed dried up it rose to the surface and fossilised.
Not only is it an interesting place to walk around but it also gives you an opportunity to get some wonderful views of the plane.
To finish the day, Vladimir took us to a cave whose name I have forgotten. It was a bit quieter than the rest of the places we visited that day as most of the other groups go to a different set of caves. It was home to some interesting inner textures formed from fossilised algae. According to Vladimir, part of the latest Star Wars film was recorded here.
We stayed that night in a hostel in San Juan. It was just a place to eat and sleep at the end of the day and a little basic, but it was an interesting novelty that most of the furniture and fixtures were made of salt.
The following day the landscape changed. It wasn’t so flat anymore and the road became rocky as we entered the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, passing through yellow mountains. Our first stop was at a place with some very interesting rock formations and views of Ollagüe, a volcano with active fumaroles.
After that, we spent much of the day passing by lakes filled with flamboyances of flamingos, stopping every now and then to take photos.
There are three different species of which live in this area, Chileno, Andean, and James. They thrive here because the saltiness of the water creates algae that they thrive on and, apart from the occasional fox, this area doesn’t have many predators. One of the lakes we saw later that day, Laguna Colorada, was red because of the algae. I have uploaded a series of videos of the flamingos here.
We saw lots of other forms of wildlife that day. When we reached Laguna Ramaditas there was an Andean fox.
There was a pair of viscachas on the side of the road and we stopped for a while to feed them carrots.
I saw so many vicunas throughout this trip that I actually forgot to take any photos of them, which is a huge shame. We did end up having a roadside chase down with a pair of ostriches. I have a video of it here. Sorry for the shaky camera.
In the afternoon we went to see Arbol de Piedra, a series of other interesting rock formations. More exciting was Sol de Manana, the geysers. I have plenty of videos here. It was a surreal place, with clouds of smoke wafting out from crevices in the ground, water bursting out from holes like lava, and bubbling pools of grey mud.
To finish the day we went to a hot spring by the side of a lake in Chalviri just before sunset.
On the third and final day, some of the people on my tour were driving back to Uynui and making a few stops along the way, but for me and a couple others, it was a shorter itinerary because we were being dropped off at the border of Chile. We did make a little stop by Laguna Verde though, which wasn’t actually that green at this time of the year but still pleasant to see. From its shore, we also got a view of Licanabur Volcano and the border for not just Chile but Argentina too. This was true frontier land.
For more photos and videos from my last days in Bolivia, click here.