Across the Salar- San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni, Bolivia


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Published: June 28th 2016
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San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni

Our 3 day, 2 night 4WD adventure across the largest salt flats in the world.

Well, after nearly 3 years since this trip, I've decided it's about time I finished this blog! (And many more besides!)

The inspiration for me finally restarting, came from Sita & Miri, two lovely ladies I met during my time in South America & who are currently back there exploring once again!

Now where were we? Ahh San Pedro de Atacama.......

Day 1 October 12, 2013

My 3 day adventure began with a pick up at my hostel by minibus at about 8.30am in the morning, where I joined a group of 7 others from around the world, namely: Anna Maria (Brasil), Fabio (Brasil), Kristina & Andreas (Germany), Diederik (The Netherlands via UK), Emma & Lovisa (Sweden). From San Pedro we drove out into the desert towards the Bolivian Border, with a short stop at Chilean Aduana (customs) just out of town. We drove past gorgeous volcanic scenery continually climbing until we saw a small shack in a really desolate place- Bolivian Customs! Here we met our drivers & 4WD vehicles (Toyota Landcruisers) for the crossing. The cars looked a bit worse for wear, but ok..... We had 2 vehicles, meaning only 4 passengers in each &
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Climbing towards the Bolivian border-volcanoes & llamas.
all our gear fitted in the back. One of the benefits of paying a little more. Most other groups we saw had 6 passengers, which meant all their gear was strapped to the roof. I imagine it was absolutely filthy by the end of the trip. Not to mention the higher centre of gravity of the vehicle in very difficult terrain... Enough said.

After sorting paperwork & a quick breakfast we were on our way. No point in hanging around- it was really cold outside- besides let the adventures begin!!!

So across the Bolivian High Plains we went entering Eduardo Abaroa National Fauna Reserve (ent fee 150 Bolivianos) where we experienced volcanoes , thermal springs, smoky geysers and coloured lakes. Highlights were Lagunas Verde & Blanca (Green & White Lagoons) located at the bottom of Licancabur Volcano, Daly Desert landscapes, swimming in thermal pools with an outside temperature of -12 degrees celsius, Sol de Manana geysers, finally ending up at Laguna Colorada which is a main nesting area for 30,000 flamingos of 3 different species. Just magic!

Accommodation for the night was a small hotel where we stayed in groups of 6 in spacious share rooms. Much better than we had expected. We had been warned it would get very cold at night, so we all rugged up in thermals, extra clothing , sleeping bags as well as the provided blankets ready for the worst. I, for one, was way too hot, so threw off some of the extra bedding, but couldn't sleep much with Fabio being a champion snorer!!!

Day 2 October 13, 2013

After breakfast we headed off towards the Siloli Desert with its interesting set of rock formations created as a result of wind erosion. Later we came across more coloured lagoons and lots of flamingos once again. Our driver looked very hungover & we were a little uncomfortable after hearing a number of "horror" stories about accidents on the Salar. We also developed a leaky tyre which was causing some concern, not least amongst us! After lunch on the road we continued across surreal landscapes and on to the Chiguana Salt Flat, passing a lone cyclist painfully making his way through the sand! Crazy or what??? Second night was spent in a new salt hotel (yes, the whole hotel was made of blocks of salt!) in a "town" known as San Juan, a local outpost with some accommodation & one of only a couple of communication posts across the Salar. Accommodation was very comfortable twin rooms. Again, so much better than we had anticipated! We were so looking forward to our evening meal, only to be presented with llama steaks & chips! Not exactly traditional, but I guess they thought westerners would enjoy it! The reality was that the "steaks" were so crisp, they were inedible! I think they must have been dehydrated llama strips, which were then deep fried........... Needless to say I went hungry that night!! To add insult to injury, my last camera battery had given up the ghost, so with no power supply to remedy the situation, I faced the prospect of not being able to take any photos on the final day. Very disappointing. Boo!

Day 3

Our third and final day and our day on the Salar proper. The previous night we had all voted to leave early so we could experience sunrise on the Salar. At least that was the plan..... Not far from the hotel, it was soon discovered we had a flat tyre and it was obvious that the drivers hadn't sorted the leaking tyre from the day before.. After much tearing hair out & banging the steering wheel by the driver (really helpful), it became obvious that he had no tools in order to effect repairs, not even a functioning torch - and no emergency contingency plan to contact the other vehicle. Great! Thankfully, the other vehicle returned about 30mins later to see what had happened . The other driver thought it was hilarious, then proceeded to drag out this pathetic looking foot pump that looked like it would have trouble inflating a bicycle tyre- never mind a 4WD!

Finally back on the road with a decidedly dodgy looking sort of inflated spare tyre, we realized that we were not going to have a spectacular sunrise experience, as it was very overcast. Oh well, at least we were safe- for the moment!!!

The Salar de Uyuni extends across an area of 10,500- 12,000 square kilometres, much of it at a height of around 3,500-4000m. In the middle of this salt flat is a mysterious "island" called Isla de Incahuasi (Fish Island), remnant of an ancient coral reef with chalky rock formations and traces of coral & shells.
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Bolivian customs/immigration building with our minibus & 4WD.
Add to this mixed vegetation, mostly giant cactus and it all points to evidence of a previous inland sea. Amazing! We wandered around for about 45mins , joined by several other groups converging on the island for a look see & breakfast. A driver from another company had a proper compressor, so we were able to properly inflate our tyre, much to our relief! I made it obvious to our lead driver that that would be a good idea for them to have. He was not amused!!!!

We quickly had breakfast in the howling wind, then we were off again across the Salar. What had started off as a dull, overcast day with no real sunrise, now cleared to help us enjoy the Salar at its best. We spent about an hour or so gallivanting around on the Salar taking ridiculous tourist shots with perspective etc. Lots of fun!

Continuing on we visited the site of the original salt hotel, now just ruins, but nearby was a display of dozens of international flags "planted" to commemorate it. Sadly, there was no Australian flag to pose next to! Boo! Further on we stopped at Montanas del Sal (Mountains of
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Quick, welcome breakfast before sorting paperwork
Salt), where piles of salt had been harvested and were awaiting packing & transport. Nearby was the small town of Colcani where we had a quick look around and some of the crew indulged in some "retail therapy". Our final meal of the trip was in the worst place possible-ugly doesn't do it "justice". We finally reached the outskirts of Uyuni where we were horrified to see huge amounts of plastic garbage spread for kms. Visited the Railway Graveyard for a bit of fun, then back to town to end the trip. Despite the ups and downs (flat tyres, flat batteries, dessicated llama etc), it was a spectacular trip & one we will all remember for a lifetime. Definitely recommended!

Thanks again to my travel mates- couldn't have wished for better companions- and thanks for your photo contributions, especially for day 3.


Additional photos below
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Day 1 Heading for the Bolivian High Plains

Kristina outside Bolivian Immigration
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Day 1 Bolivian High Plains

Gorgeous scenery in every direction
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Day 1 Bolivian High Plains

Isolated to be sure!
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Day 1 Bolivian High Plains

Laguna Blanca. Light/white colour in the water is caused by borax.
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Day 1 Bolivian High Plains

Laguna Blanca again
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Day 1 Bolivian High Plains

Uniform pants, Laguna Verde, courtesy of Fabio.
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Day 1 Bolivian High Plains

More fun at Laguna Verde, courtesy of Kristina
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Day 1 Bolivian High Plains

Taking a photo of taking a photo? Courtesy of Kristina.
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Day 1 Bolivian High Plains

Daly Desert, surreal landscapes
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Day 1 Bolivian High Plains

Termes de Poques near the adjacent Salar de Chalviri. Nothing like a dip in thermal springs at around 3,800m and -12 degree celsius temperature!
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Day 1 Bolivian High Plains

Under the water is warmer!!


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