After spending a great time with nice people and amazing activities in San Pedro de Atacama, it was time to day goodbye to Chile and travel to Bolivia. We had booked a 3 day/2 night tour from San Pedro to Uyuni over the Bolivian altiplano (high lands) and salt flats.
We got up early to pack the last of our stuff into our backpacks. At 7:30 AM we, and many others of the hostel, waited for the tour operators to pick us up. After we and plenty of other tourists in San Pedro were collected in the van, we had to wait in line at the Chilean border control. It took over an hour to get the stamp that we were good to go and leave Chile behind us. We continued onwards to the Bolivian border. No more than half an hour after the Chilean border our van broke down: an engine failure. Luckily another tour operator was friendly enough to help us out, and we could continue within the hour. The Bolivian border control post was no more than a small cabin in the middle of nowhere. The only sign of the border was a Bolivian flag and the gate that fenced off the road. We finally had our breakfast here — more than two hours behind schedule — and we were divided into groups of six for the jeeps. Angelo and I got into a jeep with four Germans: Eva, Nikola, Johanna and Norbert.
We started our trip by visiting multiple lakes on the Bolivian altiplano. The first stops where at Laguna Verde and Laguna Blanca, named for their green and white colors of water. We continued along the lakes, through the Salvador Dalí desert. Named for its likeness to Dalí’s paintings. We had a short stop at a hot springs pool, but we didn’t take a swim. The pool was too crowded, just as it was when we visited the El Tatio geysers. And due to the delays of this morning we arrived at each stop as last. After the hot springs we saw some more geysers. We had to drive for a bit to arrive at the “hostel” near Laguna Colorada, where we would spend our night. We unloaded our luggage and settled into the six bed dormitory. The hostel didn’t have warm water or electricity, and the lights were powered by car batteries.
We got our lunch at the hostel, sausages with mashed potatoes and some salad, and got back into the jeep to visit Laguna Colorada. The laguna is known for its pink/reddish color, and many thousands of flamingos. We got about an hour to walk along the shoreline of the Laguna, and to take pictures of the flamingos. We returned to the hostel for a cup of coffee or tea. Soon thereafter they served us dinner: a vegetable soup to start, followed by a vegetarian spaghetti bolognese, and half a peach as dessert. We played a German card game as entertainment that night: Wizard. It was loads of fun! Everybody was a bit tired, so we got to bed early. They gave us sleeping bags for the cold, high up on the alti plano it can freeze at night!
We had to get up at 6 AM, breakfast was served at 6:30 AM. They baked us some pancakes, which were very welcome after a cold night in a sleeping bag. This time we left as one of the first jeeps. After a short drive we arrived at Árbol de Piedra, a “tree of stone”. The stone formation was caused by wind and rain erosion, and forms an interesting sight. The better part about the area were the rocks that we were allowed to climb. We spent an hour climbing the various rock formations and taking funny pictures.
We continued our journey over the Bolivian altiplano visiting more lagunas. Each one had an unique view of the surroundings, often with flamingos in the lakes. Unfortunately, our driver/guide didn’t tell us the names of the lagunas. They will remain forever nameless for us. We stopped at the second to last laguna for our lunch. They parked the jeeps near a rock face, which we could climb whilst waiting for the lunch to be prepared. The lung was bread with a small salad bar, avocados, rice and tuna. During lunch we even got visited by a wild rabbit, who was after our food.
We continued our journey, first making a short stop at the nearby lake. Then we drove for about an hour to get to a viewpoint of the Ollague vulcano. We spent some time there, but the active vulcano was not very impressive. Only a small plume of smoke left the crater. The last stop of that day before we got to the hotel was a small salt flat. There is a railway that crosses the Chiguana salt flat. We had a small stop at the railway to take pictures. Our hotel was near the village of San Juan. From the outside it looked like it was still being built, but from the inside it was something completely different. Almost everything was made of salt(blocks): walls, chairs, tables, beds and dressers. Although it looked nice, the major downside was that the whole floor was covered in a mix of salt and sand. We had electricity and hot water now, so I could finally take a pleasant shower again. We got some tea and coffee, and soon after we had finished drinking they brought us dinner already. Another bowl of vegetable soup, but with a bottle of wine and a typical Bolivian dish: pique macho, fries covered with slices of beef and sausage, onions, lettuce and tomatoes. They only left the spicy peppers out, probably because we are tourists. We played a game of Wizard again and got to bed early.
The alarm was set for 4 AM. We quickly gathered our belongings and got into the truck. Today was all about the Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni salt flat). However, if we wanted to see the sun rise over the salt flats we had to be there on time. It took us two hours to reach the salt flat from our salt hotel. We found a nice spot and parked the jeep to enjoy the sunrise. It was definitely worth an early wake up and a short night of sleep. It was a bit cloudy though, but the moon on the other side showed us an even more beautiful view.
We drove further to an island in the middle of the salt flat. The island of Incanuasi is famous for its huge cactus population. We got the opportunity to explore the island and get a good view of the salt flats before breakfast. They even had a llama walking around, with which I took my best selfie ever! The breakfast was simple but filling. We had some time to take perspective pictures after breakfast. We soon continued to a better spot in the middle of the salt flat for taking more pictures. For an hour we were occupied by taking hundreds of pictures of each other in different poses. The final stop on the salt flat was a former hotel made of salt. They closed it because it had a too big impact on the surroundings with all the garbage. Nowadays it is a “museum”.
We left the Salar de Uyuni behind us and stopped in a small village nearby. A crafts market was set up for the hundreds of tourists that visit the salt flats every day. We strolled around, looking at the many small crafts that were for sale. We got a small lunch served in a hall behind the crafts market. A chicken schnitzel with pasta, a potato and some vegetables. We continued to the town of Uyuni, our final destination. Near the town we stopped at a train cemetery. The first trains arrived there in the 19th century. We took more pictures on and around the dozen train wrecks.
We returned to the town of Uyuni and had to get off at the office of the tour operator. We said goodbye to our new friends. It was an amazing couple of days together, I really enjoyed it! Eva and Nikola continued their journey back to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. Johanna and Norbert would stay in Uyuni for a night, just like us. We got some Bolivianos from a nearby ATM and walked to our hotel. It was a bit further form the town center than we expected, but we could find it nonetheless. We relaxed for a while in the hotel, and made arrangements with Johanna and Norbert for one more dinner together. We met each other at the bell tower in town and we picked a small restaurant. We enjoyed some local beers and llama meat (tastes good!) to conclude the amazing three day trip over the Bolivian altiplano and salt flat!