Uyuni Salt Flats

We wanted to do the 3 day tour of the Uyuni Salt Flats whilst in Bolivia and after lots of online research decided to go with Red Planet. They had good reviews, and although their tour is a little pricier than some of the other options we felt certain that we would get what we paid for.

You have no idea how hard it is to take a photograph here and not get swarms of people in the background/foreground.

The day before our tour began we got the night bus from Sucre. There was a lot of uncertainty about whether it would be possible to travel due to strikes in Potosi (en route to Uyuni) but the buses can only be booked 24 hours in advance so we had to trust that the company would let us know if the journey was impossible. Apart from being a little chilly the bus journey was fine – and there was a baño on board, result!

We arrived in Uyuni at about 5am, and had been told we would be collected by someone from Red Planet which actually turned out not to happen. The day before leaving I had contacted someone at their office to check the status of the protests and she had said she was uncertain if I would be able to travel, so perhaps they had assumed we weren’t coming. Either way it was 5am, freezing cold and I was stood in a desolate bus station with no taxi. A lady offered us the business card to a café that’s open from 3am so we followed her and sat in her strange living room/restaurant for a couple of hours. At least it was warm.

At 7:30 we headed to the Red Planet office where we checked in and had a shower. (Shortly after showering we recommended it to another guy who arrived, but when he asked if he could use it the guy in the office told him it couldn’t be used as it wasn’t working -oops). We went to a nearby café (this one seemed a lot more like a real coffee shop) and had a hearty healthy breakfast of apple pie and chocolate fudge cake whilst waiting for our 11am start. We also met a lovely French girl, Wided, who we passed the time with.

First we were split into 2 groups (with 2 different guides; Oscar and Luis), and then each group was split into 2 cars. Luis was our guide but we were in the other car with our driver Efrain. In the car with us were two other young couples; one couple from London and the other from England and Germany. They were really lovely which was a relief as we were about to be stuck in a car together for 3 days.

The first stop of the tour was the train graveyard which is actually extremely close to the center of Uyuni (about 5-10 minutes drive). Here we got to take lots of Mad Max-esque photos on the abandoned British import locomotives which have been abandoned since the collapse of the mining industry.

Then we visited a small village where they produce salt, and had some lunch. The man actually seals the bags of salt by putting the edge of the plastic bag into a massive flame which is not only insanely cool but also, well, insane.

After this we drove a while to reach the salt flats, and then a little further to get to a more secluded space to take photos and enjoy the vast space. Some things about the salt flats that I was not expecting:

  1. Our guide was extremely keen to take lots of group photographs and became very upset when we a) did not bring enough photo props and b) told him we had had enough group photos and wanted some time to enjoy the landscapes.
  2. The floor is very uncomfortable to sit or lay on what with it being salt.
  3. It really is a massive area – the guide said that the salt flats are approximately the same size as HOLLAND.
  4. It’s really easy to imagine that you are on the moon.

The rest of day 1 consisted of visiting a cactus island on the salt flats which is pretty cool – it used to be a coral but is now a big mound that you can walk to the top of, covered in cactuses which apparently flower in the summer months here. Then we stopped to enjoy sunset on the salt flats which was my favourite part of the day. It was incredibly beautiful.After that we drove to our salt hotel, had dinner and a hot shower and went to bed. The hotel was actually quite nice, with lots of blankets to keep you warm when the temperature dropped at night. Everyone had to shower before bed as there’s not hot water in the morning due to the pipes freezing at night!

On day 2 we started a little later than expected thanks to a lady in the other car and her massive hangover. Not only did she fail to get out of bed on time, eat breakfast or carry her own bag to the car but once she finally emerged from the building in her comically large sunglasses she then demanded the front seat (no I’m not kidding). And so ensued a 30 minute heated argument between her and a man in the car who was standing his ground on the concept of turn-taking. Eventually he conceded and gave her a window seat so that we could get going.

During day 2 we visited lagoons with flamingos, wild llamas, a desert of rocks, a geyser, and a rock that looked like a tree. Spoiler alert – the rock that looks like a tree is no more interesting than it sounds and also not really much bigger than a small-sized tree. The scenery of day 2 was beautiful but for us, nothing topped the salt flats that we had visited on day 1.

Day 2 also saw us reaching altitudes of up to 5000m and Fraz got quite bad altitude sickness. Fortunately everyone in out car was very kind and so Fraz managed to secure the front seat for the last hour or so of the day without having to throw a massive tantrum. When we reached the hotel our guide was very helpful and brought an oxygen tank for Fraz which took away his nausea and made him feel a little less light-headed.

For dinner on both days we were offered a starter of dry crackers and cookies, with tea or coffee (very strange but works for me). Then on the first night it was soup followed by chicken and rice, on the second night soup again followed by freshly cooked pizza. Considering we had driven into the middle of nowhere food was actually okay throughout the trip – and water and coke was provided at every meal too.

The gang enjoying our second sunset together.

One of the things we were most looking forward to about the 3 day tour was the hot springs of the second night. Sold as a private experience where we would have the opportunity to stargaze, learn about the constellations and even see the Milky Way. In reality it was a hot spring shared between a number of tour groups, on a night where you couldn’t see much at all due to the brightness of the moon. The guide did give us a 5 minute talk with a laser but that was before the hot springs, as he didn’t fancy braving the cold or the 5 minute walk there. Actually we almost didn’t go but were glad we did as it was a good way to warm ourselves up before bedtime – and the getting changed/walk back afterwards was fine. The lovely Wided we met on our first day was with us and helped to distract me with a commentary of sunbathing on the beach whilst we hurriedly got redressed after our dip, thus preventing me from freezing to death and dying (so thank you).

The third day was a little disappointing in that for people who had chosen to return starting point of Uyuni there was little to look forward to other than the 7 hour drive back. For those choosing to continue on to Chile it was a short drive to the border and then farewell at 11am. On the way to the border we did see one more lagoon and “Salvador Dali’s Desert” (disappointedly named by tourists who thought it reminded them of the painting as opposed to being the inspiration itself), however these stops seemed to be only because they were conveniently en route.

Technically we’ve been to Chile…

Overall I would recommend this tour to anyone travelling in Bolivia. Although the first day was the best day for us personally, the amazing sites you visit on the second day are well worth the time. However, the trip did seem to make much more sense for those continuing into Chile as day three was just a long journey back to the start for us. Also – make sure you are as acclimatised as you can be before doing this trip, and take plenty of altitude medicine (diamox) or alternatives with you.

Best Bit – Seeing the salt flats in person. You’ve probably seen lots of photos but in person the view is much more incredible, especially at sunset. Also we had a pretty cracking group which made the experience even more fun!

Worst Bit – Frazer getting sick on the second day, and having our trip affected by the childish and silly behaviour of a wannabe diva. Although this is not the fault of the tour company they should have done more to stop her aggression and her demands affecting the experience of everyone else in the group.

Are you thinking of booking a trip to Bolivia? Do you have any questions or recommendations? Leave your comment below…

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