Salt as far as the eye can see

Published: December 22nd 2013
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It’s easy to describe our three day trip to Salar de Uyuni with one word: a-ma-zing. Probably you have never even heard of such a place (unless you are reading our blog to get information about it), and we hadn’t either, until we were planning for this trip. Now that we have seen it, it’s hard to believe Salar de Uyuni is not world famous- it should be. And after all, most of it is only salt. Salt, and a few flamingo filled lagoons in all colors of the rainbow, of course. And oh yea, some geysirs and thermal pools as well.

To reach this wonderful place we took a night bus from La Paz to the desert town of Uyuni. It was a rough ride with several hundred kilometers of bumpy unpaved road, so again we barely slept. I had worried beforehand that the sleepless nights on the bus and potentially in the basic dorm accommodation during the trip would ruin things, as we would be too tired to enjoy. Luckily, thanks to the awesomeness of the views and probably also to a fair amount of coca leaves, we were nevertheless not tired even on the first day.

After arriving to Uyuni in the morning, we were met by our tour operator. Finding a decent tour operator had been a challenge: there are plenty of companies, but a lot of them were trashed harshly on Tripadvisor with complaints ranging from severely drunken jeep drivers to guides acting offensive towards female customers. Finally we did find a company (Quechua Connection) which hadn’t received too bad reviews and booked our three day tour with them. Some of the complaints were true also on our trip, such as the guide didn’t speak much, but we ended up being happy with our choice.

So, fresh from the night bus we settled into our jeep with two other couples, both of which happened to be from London. First destination was the train cemetery, meaning wrecks of trains lying in the desert. Then it was a small salt factory, or actually only a site where they dry and pack salt, and a crafts market. At this point it was well past noon and we hadn’t seen any gorgeous salt views yet, so I was starting to think we would probably see just few hours of salt before it would be time to get to our accommodation. Luckily, the next destination was already unbelievable. The entire Salar de Uyuni salt flat is ancient ocean bottom, which explains its saltiness, and at this place it’s covered with few centimeters of salty water, making it look like a light blue mirror. There are also people working to dig salt and gather it in piles to dry, making for weird scenery of light blue water dotted with white piles of salt.

The next destination was a dry salt flat, where we had our lunch catered from the trunk of the jeep. It was a good lunch consisting of a huge lama steak, vegetables, quinoa, cheese and apple pie for dessert. Lama tastes a lot like beef, in case you didn't know 😊 Many people on these tours utilize the vast flat landscape to pose for funny photos taking advantage of weird perspective impressions, which we also did. The sun was beaming hot, it felt like no amount of sunscreen would be enough. Not only was the sky perfectly blue, but also the salty ground reflects the sun, and few of our tour group members got burned pretty badly, but we were pretty much saved by our sunscreen with strength 70.

After lunch we continued to even more amazing salt flat. As far as the eye can see, it was bright white salt organized in hexagon shapes. It was so bright that taking off your sunglasses even for a few seconds was hard. We continued here posing for pictures and gazing at the incredible view for as long as we could bare the sun.

Next it was an island filled with big cacti. We took a small hike to walk around the island and to climb on the top of it. Looking around us in every direction from the top, all we could see was white salt surrounded by some mountains. If you saw a picture of the view, you would probably think it’s a frozen lake. But no, it was salt, and it was still hot, despite the wintry views. We visited another island too, where the main attraction was a cave, but that wasn’t closely as exciting the cacti island. By now it was close to dusk and we drove to another amazing place with white salt as far as you can see to see the sunset. As soon as the sun went down, the temperature dropped from hot to cold enough to wear our warmest clothes and still feel kind of chilly.

We were lucky about our accommodation. The specification of the tour promised a dorm accommodation at the Salt Hostel, but each of the couples in our jeep got a private room. That was great as we needed to sleep well after the night on the bus. The hostel was, as the name suggests, almost entirely made of salt: walls, beds, tables, all was salt, also the floor was covered by a layer of lose salt.

Next day we started early to drive through quinoa fields and gorgeous mountainous desert landscape. It was no longer all about salt, but the agenda of the day was to visit various lagoons, first of which we reached by lunch time, before visiting a volcano surrounded by lava rock formations. The lagoons were wonderful; the first one was shimmering blue and smooth like a mirror – and full of flamingos. The second had more like pastel green colors, and it also inhabited flamingos. This was the first time we had ever seen wild flamingos. Still, the last lagoon was the weirdest one. It had fewer flamingos, but the color of the lagoon was really something; it was almost bright red due to special algae in the water. The day went by really quick and soon it was already time to get to our accommodation for the second night, this time it was a dorm room in a very basic desert hostel. Well, we had to get up at 4.30 in the morning anyway to continue sightseeing, so it wasn’t like we would have a great night sleep in any case.

We had thought that day three would mostly consist of driving us to the Chilean border and saying goodbye to the group, but we were quite wrong, as the desert had very cool things to offer also for the last day. It was just dawn and still very cold when we reached a group of steaming geysirs – they looked really cool in the dawn light and cold air. Then it was a soak in a hot thermal pool, and that was absolutely fantastic. None of us had showered for a few days (one brave soul from our group attempted to use the cold shower of the hostel, but at the end not a drop of water came out), and in the cool air it was so nice to get to the hot water. Not to mention the views; pastel colored lagoon/mountain views and lamas walking behind the pool now and then – nice! Last but not least we drove to Laguna Verde, which, unlike the name suggests, is not green, but beautiful in any case. Few more stops to take the last pictures, and then we were driven to the Chilean border, boarded a bus and were taken to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, tired but happy.

Additional photos below
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23rd December 2013

What Great Pictures
I have been following your blogs in anticipation of my upcoming trip. It sounds like you have seen some great things. Your Peru blogs brought back good memories of my trip in March. Enjoy the rest of your time and keep the great pictures coming.
24th December 2013

Hi! Thanks! Are you planning on a longer trip in South America? Indeed, we have seen a lot of cool things on this continent, and are in anticipation to soon move on to the South Pacific. Stay tuned :-)
24th December 2013

South Pacific, that should be a blast. I am looking forward to reading about it. With my job, I am only able to take about 3 weeks off at a time, so I swoop in, power travel and try to do as much as I can in my time.

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