3 Day Uyuni Salt Flat and Lagoon Tour

Published: November 22nd 2009
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Nov 1, 2009

I expected to wake up late since we didn’t go to sleep around 3:30AM, but when I looked at my watch, it was only 7:00AM. We only slept for 3.5 hours but we both slept well and were wide awake.

We were still in awe and partially in denial that my pack got stolen the night before. Since my clothing didn’t take up too much space, I had all of our toiletries and other items we used daily, such as our toothbrush, toothpaste, face soap, lotion, sunscreen, make-up, bug spray, plug adapters, sleeping bag, fleece blanket, and Justin’s shaving stuff (beard growing process commenced once again!). In addition, I lost my bathing suits, micro-cloth towel, brand new hiking shoes (but I got to use them a few times before they were taken!), sandals, a cute dress Justin bought for me while he was in Thailand, a US Marine Corps shirt that Justin got for me in Iwakuni, and my little Canon camera that had been with me for four years of insane picture taking and survived me dropping it a bunch of times. Also, this was the one time that I had packed my everyday purse in my big luggage, so I lost some IDs, emergency contact numbers, and some Canadian cash. Not fun.

The only things I had were the clothes that I had on wearing (shoes, socks, yoga pants, white tank top, black university shirt and my purple running jacket). Before I left for the trip, my Dad gave me a hand sized rosary for me to keep with me. I was very worried about bringing it and even told him that I wanted to keep it at home because I was afraid it would get stolen. He reassured me that it wouldn’t be stolen and ironically, it was the one thing I had left because I had left it in my jacket pocket.

We considered staying in Uyuni for a day to buy all of the necessities that we needed, but we were so excited for the Uyuni salt flat tour (and we just wanted to get out of Bolivia) that we booked our trip and decided to leave that morning. Because we’d be in the middle of nowhere and there wouldn’t be any stores along the way, we bought everything we needed within 30 minutes of shopping at the street market. We bought two toothbrushes, toothpaste, tweezers, lip balm, a very good eyeliner (for very cheap!), compact foundation, two deodorant sticks, soap and 2 rolls of toilet paper from the same person for just $10US (70 BSB)! I also got an Incan toque (toboggan/beanie for all of the Americans reading this) and a cute knit sweater! Something Justin wanted to buy me as a souvenir was an Incan bag, so I got a very colourful (mainly red) bag and a smaller little Incan purse that we call the ‘llama’ bag because there was a picture of a llama on the front. We bought 6 litres of water and oreo cookies as snacks!

Hungry as usual, we walked past a breakfast place a bunch of foreigners were just leaving, saying that the food was delicious. We were sold. They had a huge variety of choices. Justin went for the traditional English breakfast, which included toast, eggs, potatoes, sausage, bacon, and tomato. I treated myself to a dessert type breakfast and went for a chocolate and banana pancake! It was absolutely delish!

Our Uyuni Salt Flat tour was going to be 3 days long. The first day was all about
Mini Rumi and Giant JustinMini Rumi and Giant JustinMini Rumi and Giant Justin

It's an optical illusion!
the salt flats where the second and third days were mainly to see lagoons and flamingos before continuing our journey to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat in the world! Our original plan was to spend some time in the Atacama Desert and then work our way to La Paz, Bolivia and do the Pampas Tour in the Amazon area of Rurrenabaque, a day trip to Tiwanaku, go to Copacabana and visit Isla del Sol. Because of all of the unluckiness that had happened to us in Bolivia, Justin was disappointed and considered skipping the rest of Bolivia and head straight to Peru. It was an option but I was still keen on seeing the rest of Bolivia, despite what had happened. We decided that we’d see how easy it would be to get back to Bolivia from San Pedro de Atacama.

Before we left for our tour, we were told that we needed to obtain exit stamps at one of the shops before leaving. Normally, an exit stamp was given at the border, but since we weren’t going to an official border, we had to get them in Uyuni. It was a 21 BSB fee for getting an exit stamp, and the first time we ever had to pay for one! Very strange.

The tour consisted of our tour guide, a cook and four other foreigners, Juan (from Spain), two Polish men and Kinu-san (from Japan). We were hoping (and heard that we would be able to) get an English speaking guide for our trip, and instead had a guide who knew no English and didn’t really talk much. In our Toyota Land Cruiser, Justin, Kinu-san and I sat in the back seats, the two Polish men and the cook sat in the middle row, and Juan called shotgun. Unfortunately, Justin’s legs started to cramp up because there was no leg room for him. Occasionally, he would stick his legs out in the open window beside him to stretch them out.

Leaving around 10:30AM, we started our journey at the cemetery of trains. It was a site where there were lots of super old trains and railway tracks that went to other countries (we can’t remember which ones but I think Argentina was one of them). Our non-talkative guide gave us a brief one liner of each place we went to (not sure if that was normal or if he was just quiet) so we probably didn’t have all of the details of each place.

We hopped back on the Land Cruiser and headed to a little town. It was basically a town where tourists bought souvenirs. Anything from handicrafts such as llama scarves, and Incan bags to items made of salt (typical of any Salt Flat Tour) were sold. We ended up buying something for my Dad for Christmas (Dad, you’ll find out what it is when I get back!) and a couple of things for Kyleigh (Justin’s adorable 1 year old niece).

During the car rides, Justin and I became very close to Kinu-san. We started talking in Japanese and had great conversations. Kinu-san had been traveling by herself for several months! I thought it was very brave of her as a solo female traveler in South America! She was very good at speaking Spanish and English so that really helped. Justin ended up mixing his Japanese and Spanish and ended up having conversations mixing Japanese, Spanish and English! It was very fun being able to talk in Japanese, even though Justin was exhausted with the whole language confusion.

As we drove further away from Uyuni and closer to Salar de Uyuni, we saw the ground getting whiter. All around us, the flat land expanded over the horizon. It looked as if it went on forever. Some parts of it were completely flat, and others were cracked (which we thought looked more fun).

We got out of the car and all we could see was whiteness on the ground against a brilliant blue sky. It was so bright out, Justin and I had a hard time seeing. Since we had glasses on, we attempted to put our sunglasses over our glasses. It didn’t look very good and it added a lot of pressure on our heads so we just bit the bullet and went without sunglasses. Justin, being up for anything, decided that he wanted to eat some of the salt off the ground. He did just that and described the taste to be super salty with a slight bitter taste.

One of the most famous things about the salt flats was taking “optical illusion” photos. Justin, Kinu-san and I had a lot of fun taking these pictures! At out next stop, we were at an area where there was some shallow water bubbling. The air came from the volcanoes but our guide wasn’t sure where the real source was. Despite the lack of info, it was very cool to see.

The next drive was to the very first salt hotel made. The entire hotel was made of salt! The walls were made of salt bricks and all of the chairs, tables, countertops, and statues were made of salt too! Even the ground was covered with loose salt. Beside the salt hotel, there were many flags from different nations in a circle. The flags Justin and I couldn’t find were the Canadian and American ones. Why were they missing? There were even two Japanese flags! It didn’t make sense to us.

Our next long drive was on Salar de Uyuni to Incahuasi Island aka Fish Island. On the salt flat, we were approaching an ‘island’. There were many large cacti with a lot of people climbing to the top. We were guessing that all of the tour groups stopped there at the same time. Our guide had told us that he’d prepare lunch for us while we looked around.

Even though we paid for the salt flat tour, the tour didn’t include the entrance fees to Fish Island and Laguna Colorado. The entrance fee to Fish Island was 15 BSB (~US$2). The two Polish men were slightly annoyed about paying the entrance fee because when they had booked the tour, they were told that the entrance fees to both parks were included in the tour. Even though US$2 wasn’t much, little things like that added up and everything seemed to be a scam to make tourists pay more.

While we were on the island, we met a 20 year old Japanese guy named Hiroki who happened to be from Ishiyama, Shiga, Japan! Shiga-Ken is the prefecture where my Mom’s from. It’s not exactly the biggest place in the country but it is close to Kyoto. And even better, he’s from the little town where my Aunt and Uncle live! We couldn’t help what a small world it was!

Just before we went for lunch, Justin spotted a wild ostrich. We’re not sure if it was an ostrich or an emu but it was something along that family line. He was trying to get up and close

It looks like Mars!
to it and play with him but the bird just wasn’t feeling it. It was a little disappointing but Justin got to see a wild ostrich so he was happy.

Lunch was delicious. We sat on hot stones under the sun that we decided standing was almost better than sitting. We had some rice, chicken and veggies. It was super warm out but since we had an hour at that location, Justin and I used that time to take more fun photos and play with the ostrich. He got so close that the bird let him pet him!

Our next stop was at an area where they made salt bricks for the salt hotels. When we got there, some of the bricks were in the form of letters and shapes. We found one that said ‘Uyuni’ and some that were in the shape of a heart, and pyramids. We also lied down on a salt sofa, but it definitely wasn’t that comfy.

I was very excited for our next stop because we’d see Salar de Uyuni at sunset. There was no one around us. It felt like we had the whole expansion of land to ourselves. The sun started to set and we all waited anxiously for the oranges and pinks to fill the sky. Unfortunately, the sky was a bit cloudy but it was still beautiful to see the sun set behind the mountains. We even saw the moon and have a picture of Justin ‘capturing’ the moon!

We got in a little late at our salt hotel (where we’d be spending the night). It was much bigger than the first salt hotel we went to in the morning. Again, everything was made of salt. Before I got there, I pictured the hotel to be very cold but it wasn’t too bad. Kinu wasn’t feeling too good so after our dinner she headed straight to sleep. Dinner was again, delicious. Veggie soup and spaghetti. It definitely doesn’t beat my Mom’s spaghetti but it was good enough!

Even though there was a shower available, none of us were awake enough to use it. We were all pretty exhausted from the day’s activities and the best news? Wake up time for the next morning was 5:30AM!

Nov 2, 2009

Rise and shine! Breakfast was prepared at 6:00AM and we left the hotel at 6:30AM on the dot! We drove up to San Juan, which turned out to be more of a ghost town than Uyuni. It was a little town with a grocery store. Our guide warned us that if we wanted to buy any essentials, we’d have to buy it there since we wouldn’t run into another grocery store until we got to San Pedro de Atacama. Justin eagerly bought some M&Ms chocolate.

On our way to our next destination, we drove past tons of alpacas and desert. The mountains and the scenery were just incredible. See pictures for details.

Driving through a desert-like area, we took a break at Ollague. It was an area with lots of rock formations and Justin even found a comfortable spot to sit. This rock formation covered the ‘seat’, providing shade from the sun. He much preferred to sit there than in the Land Cruiser since he was able to spread his legs out comfortably.

In the background, there was an active volcano. It was kind of far off in the distance but nice to see. We even saw smoke coming out, evidence that it was active.

Back into the cramped land
Old Toyota Land CruiserOld Toyota Land CruiserOld Toyota Land Cruiser

Justin's Grandpa had one back in the day
cruiser, Justin stuck his legs out the window again. We saw a huge lagoon with lots of mountains in the background. And even better? Our first flamingo sighting! There were tons of flamingos and surprisingly, there were some white ones. Juan called them the ugly ducklings, which was kind of true since we all wanted to take pictures of the pink flamingos. We took way too many pictures of flamingos for our own good but we got some really good shots that we were pretty happy about.

Back in the car, we proceeded to another lagoon with literally thousands of flamingos. It was overwhelming but really beautiful. I thought they were pink buoys at first but the closer we got to them, I realized they were definitely not. Our tour guide dropped us off at the lagoon and said that he and the cook were going to prepare our lunches. Some of the flamingos were super close and Justin and I attempted to get as close as we could before falling into the marshes. Justin went first with the camera and got some awesome shots. When it was my turn, I got there with no problems and got even closer than Justin did. But on the way back, I stepped on a grassy patch of land that completely sunk down into the marshes. By that time, some of the other tourists were right by me and I had an audience while I screamed and ran out to solid ground. My only pair of shoes, socks and the bottom of my pants was wet.

Hungry, we went to the lunch place to eat. It was incredible to be eating with such nice scenery. Unfortunately for us, we were sitting under the hot sun with no shade. Eventually, I couldn’t take the heat anymore and went to a different site for shade. Justin, Kinu-san and Juan followed suit and we all enjoyed being in the shade until we had to leave.

We past many more beautiful settings including the mountain with 7 colours, deserts and lagoons before arriving to Laguna Colorada. The entrance fee to Laguna Colorada was 30 BSB (~$4 US). Not a big deal but little things like that added up. Kinu-san was told us that we were very lucky with only having to pay 30 BSBs. Why? Because in a matter of days, the price of admission was being bumped up from 30 to 150 BSB (~$21 US). We counted our blessings since we missed that huge increase in price.

Laguna Colorada, also known as the Red Lagoon, was beautiful. The lagoon was a terra cotta red with mountains in the background, deep blue sky, and some whitish borax islands here and there. Gorgeous as it was, the area was completely windy! I had a hard time getting up on the hill where our car was because the wind was so strong. The intensity of the red colour was due to the wind. Algae in the water contained red sediments and pigmentation that induced a deep red in combination with the wind.

At this point, I started to get a headache and not feel very well. We were at a very high altitude (~4000+ meters) so I thought it was that. Once we got to our hotel, it was too early for dinner so I decided to nap (which ended up being 3 hours long!) while Justin and Kinu-san talked a lot in Jaspanglish (Japanese-Spanish-English)! Before my nap, Kinu-san generously gave me an altitude sickness pill since my headache was unbearable. We all wanted to take a shower and since we had arrived early, we thought we’d might as well. To our unluckiness, there were no showers at the hotel, and the lights didn’t work in the room they put us in. We thought it was very strange since there were at least 5 rooms that were unoccupied and all had lights on. Very peculiar.

Justin woke me up in time for dinner and ended up having veggie soup and Chorrillana (French fries with lots of meat and veg mixed in). My headache was a little better but still hurting. One of the Polish men was actually a doctor and he had told me that from the moment I wasn’t feeling well at lunch, he knew I had some sort of sun stroke. In addition, he prescribed me a Bayer aspirin with wine. I learned from school that mixing alcohol with medicine wasn’t the best combination, so I didn’t take his advice, but I did drink some tasty red Bolivian wine. We all got into a conversation about politics and it was interesting to hear the point of view of people from countries. Since Kinu-san and I didn’t know much about world politics and found out that we had to wake up at 4AM (it was already almost 11PM), we headed off to bed early and left the boys to talk politics.

Apparently after us girls left, the conversation got stranger. According to the Polish men, there were four criteria to Polish prediction of the end of the world. Due to splitting two bottles of wine between the four men, the first two criteria escaped Justin’s mind, but the third and fourth were very interesting. The third criterion was the election of an African American President. The fourth was the election of an African American Pope. After hearing these theories, Justin ignored the rest of their “great” theories. When they finally finished their two bottles of wine, they went to bed.

Nov 3, 2009

Rise and shine? I think not. It was still dark out. Waking up at 4:30AM was quite a feat but we were pretty excited about our first destination of the morning. The sun was starting to rise while we drove towards geysers! There must’ve been geysers 20m high. Some of the landscapes glowed as the sun rose and smoke came out of the craters in the ground. Justin thought it looked liked planet Mars…but we didn’t see little green gremlins walking around. The air had a strong scent of sulphur and reminded Justin and I of the smell of hot springs in Hakone, Japan.

At our next stop, we enjoyed our last breakfast together. We talked about how much we loved the tour, highlights and where we were going next. Our guide surprised us with pancakes and we quickly ate it before we went out to the hot springs located 10 meters away from us. We noticed that our tour guide always had a time limit for the entire day but when we were having breakfast, he told us that we only had 15 minutes left before we had to leave. Juan tried to figure out how long it would take to get to the border and if we could stay a little longer so that we could all enjoy the hot springs but he didn’t budge. It took me a little while to figure out that he gave us a 15 minute limit and I guess my morning crankiness just didn’t settle well with him. I tried to ask if we were going to Laguna Verde after the hot springs in my broken Spanish but according to Justin, I looked stern, pissed off and my tone of voice was scary. So scary, that the guide extended our stay for 30 minutes. Much better. I hadn’t even tried to reason with him yet and he already extended the time. My mood was much happier after that.

Unfortunately, right before the salt tour, my entire luggage got stolen (in the Potosi blog) and that included my bathing suit. I really wanted to relax in the hot springs so I just hopped in, wearing my bra and panties. This was the only time I’ll ever go out in public in my bra and panties and as soon as I got in the water, it was so relaxing that I didn’t care. My biggest problem was getting out of the water. I wasn’t smart enough to think that I needed dry clothes when I got out.

We stayed in the hot spring until the very last minute and rushed back into our land cruiser. We were on a desert where we could see the ‘mountains with seven colours’. I was pretty sure I spotted more than seven colours but I didn’t argue about it. It was a beautiful site to see. We past some more flamingos in Laguna Blanco and headed to our last destination.

Last but not least was one site I’d been looking forward to seeing: Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon). In all of the pictures I’ve seen of it, the lagoon was an intense emerald green with a beautiful mountain backdrop. When we arrived there, I was a little surprise at how faint the green colour was. I started to think that all of the photos I’d seen previously were photo-shopped but due to the lack of wind, the colour didn’t come out to its full potential. There were copper minerals in the lake that made the lagoon appear green. Justin, never seeing pictures of it before, was in awe of its beauty and was actually surprised to see how green it could get… (He saw a picture of it at a tour agency after the tour). We took a group photo and headed towards the Chilean border. Justin was pretty excited for Chile because of the issues we had in Bolivia. This was our third time back in Chile and we were both excited for the Atacama Desert.

Additional photos below
Photos: 115, Displayed: 38


Salt HotelSalt Hotel
Salt Hotel

The first one ever built!

Where's the American and Canadian flags?
Monkey TailMonkey Tail
Monkey Tail

Justin's fav pic! It looks like Rumi has a tail!

3rd February 2010

Great entry
Sorry to read about your bag. Another great entry! Which agency did you used? how much did your three days cost? Another place on our July itinery.
3rd February 2010

Salar tour
We both don't remember the name of the agency...sorry! It was a last minute thing. However, it was around 100USD per person. That is on the high end. We thought we were paying extra for an "English guide" who turned out not speaking any English! A lot of other tours promise the English guide as well and don't follow through. All the tours are pretty much identical, so use cost as a the primary decision factor.

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