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Published: November 9th 2015
I booked a 3 day tour which included a transfer into San Pedro de Atacama on the last day as my travels were continuing in Chile. I must admit that I only decided to go to Bolivia in order to see the salt flats after repeatedly being told how amazing it was, having not planned on entering the country originally so this tour had a lot to live up to! How I got there:
I took the tourist bus from Todo Turismo which took 10 hours to reach Uyuni from La Paz. We arrived in Uyuni at 8:30am as the bus was delayed by a roadblock (common in Bolivia) so we boarded in La Paz at 10:30 instead of 9pm.
At the bus terminal we got picked up by someone from Quechua connection & taken to their offices about 2 blocks away. Day One:
We checked ourselves in with the company & they confirmed whether we were transferring or not then we had about an hour to kill as the tour didn't start till 10:30 so we headed up the street to get some breakfast.
On return to the office we met
our guide Jose (ho-zay) & we got divided into our jeeps - with 16 of us on the tour we had 3 jeeps with 2 drivers other than Jose. I was in a jeep with Stephan (Germany) who'd I'd sat next to on the bus to Uyuni & 3 Belgians - Celine, Laurent & Alexander & our driver was Luis (Lucho).
A quick check of how many sleeping bags were needed & we loaded our luggage & spare water on to the roof to be covered & tied down before heading to our 1st stop of the day.
The train graveyard is just outside of Uyuni & is homage to the old transportation of minerals from Bolivia into Chile and Argentina. Where the train line now only operates as cargo to Chile although Argentina has an infrequent passenger service that still runs. They could remove the trains and reuse the iron but it has quickly become an attraction, encouraging tourists to the town & is a staple on the salt flat tours so they are staying where they are!
Next was a stop for our food to be loaded into the cars before heading to
a small village which lies on the outskirts of the salt flats. Here the main employment is the harvesting and processing of salt as the village has rights to take salt up to 10km into the salt flats with the rest being a national reserve. A quick ride and we were on the salt to get our 1st look at the flats we'd be crossing although we all thought they'd be a bit whiter!
Continuing on to the flats we stopped about 3km out from where we would be having lunch & got the chance to bike across the salt. It was a good way to really appreciate the salt flats stretching out for miles to the surrounding mountains & a nice break from the jeeps as we'd be in them for so much time later. Turns out where we'd stopped first was still in the villages harvesting rights, here the salt was definitely white! The glare from the snow was the same as when you are on snow.
We reached the Dakar rally statue and our jeeps and it was time for lunch. You certainly wouldn't be going hungry as we had more than enough quinoa, llama
& vegetables to feed 16! Also the most amazing lemon meringue pie for dessert! I don't normally eat this but it was so good I would have had 2nds if I hadn't already been stuffed.
After lunch we had some free time to take the must-have messing with perception shots! So we got chased by a dinosaur & got eaten as a group before doing a few of our own things. Then it was a bit of a longer drive to get to Incahuasi (cactus island) - known as fish island as in the wet season the reflection makes it look like a fish. This island is full of really old cacti although the biggest fell over not that long ago being blown down by the strong winds. Some of the cacti are 10m high! & the only grow 0.5-1cm a year! There is also an arc made of coral (from when it was under water) & they have tables made of blocks of salt.
We continued across the salt to a cave which is full of coral stalactites & we had a group silhouette photo before heading out to the middle of the flats in order to
Playing with torches
watch the sunset. This was a pretty cool sunset and Quechua connection is one of the only tour companies that offer this as part of the tour.
Time to make our way off the salt flats to our accommodation for the night which is about 15km away from the salt. For a "basic" hostel this was actually pretty nice with plenty of blankets on the bed & warm rooms. We also had dinner of soup with focaccia & chicken with potatoes /veg here. Day 2:
A standard breakfast of tea/coffee, bread, jam, dulche de leche & a weird apple soy milk drink to start the day & then it was back to packing everything on the roof & making our way to our 1st stop of the day which was a small village where we'd be able to buy water/snacks if needed. This turned out to be the village that Luchos parents live in & as it was the All saints day (Nov 1st) they were laying a table for the dead including Luchos sister who had died the previous year. We all went to visit the house and observe this tradition as it is
believed that the souls come back to visit on this day & it is especially important for the 1st 3 years after a person dies to build a big table. We were also given popcorn, biscuits, sweets & a drink as gifts for visiting.
After we continued with the normal course of the tour & headed to a coral field where the shapes all form to the left & imitate a sea. A few photos & then hopping back in the jeeps to continue to the volcano lookout which is on an old lava field. On the way we passed llamas roaming and took in the ever changing scenery. From the lookout we could see the smoking volcano & observe the shapes in the lava made when cooling & by wind erosion. I saw a whale, a hawk & a croc - an active imagination may be needed here but if you see cloud shapes you'll definitely see a few things here!
Next stop was for lunch by the side of a lake with lots of flamingos surrounded by colourful mountains. We saw a few dust devils (mini tornadoes) & then settled down to another hearty
lunch of chicken schnitzel pasta & veg... no lemon meringue pie today ( 😞 haha) it was a more healthy dessert of an apple. We then walked around the lake as the guys had their lunch & tidying up before driving round and picking us up.
The next lake we stopped at was even bigger & had more flamingos. There are 3 different types of flamingo on the lakes, the Chilean, Andean & James flamingos. The James flamingo is white and considerably smaller, the other 2 are pink but the Andean flamingo has a black rear & is the largest. These lakes are all at altitude over 3500m (at one point we went over 5000m) & are pretty cold especially as the wind is fast & very cold.
On the way to the Arbol de Piedra (stone tree) we saw an Andean Fox! So Lucho stopped & gave it some llama bones from lunch the previous day & we managed to get some good photos. The stone tree is another formation that was formed by wind erosion and there are a couple of other interesting rock formations here. *There is a free toilet here but Be Warned it is pretty grim! Hold you breath and don't look at the toilet!! You'll also need your own loo roll*.
Our final stop of the day was at Laguna Colorado (the Red Lake) which has a large connection of a specific algae which gives the lake its red colour & also provides food for the flamingos. A few photos & then we dropped back down to the edge of the lake to pay our national park entry fee of BOB 150 & then cross into the park & drive into our accommodation for the evening.
Tonights accommodation could definitely be classed as basic where you even had to pay to use the shower... No one bothered because we were all to cheap & also it looked more likely to electrocute you than wash you! We were in dorms with the guys from our jeeps & it was lucky there was only 5 of us as the 6th bed was a top bunk which was a little less than stable to say the least! Stephan was worried that the bags we stored up there were enough to cause it to come down on top of him ( I can safely report that no such thing happened).
1 plus point of being in this hostel meant that we were in an area with almost no light pollution so when we went out to look at the stars you could see millions of stars so clearly including the Milky Way! We also played around with some of the cameras & torches to create photos in the pitch black where we were lit up which was cool. Day 3:
A very early start at 4am after not such a great nights sleep and breakfast of Granola, yoghurt, pancakes, jam & dulche de leche with tea/coffee. Getting everything on top of the jeeps in the dark was bit more interesting & then off as the sun began to rise to see the Geysers about 45mins away. These are bubbling geysers of sulphur and you can only see the plumes in the early morning as the rising sun causes the steam to rise from the cold earth (it was v. cold!) ... they do however honk of rotten eggs! Some surreal & cool sun / steam photos & then we headed to some hot springs past frozen lakes which were steaming as the days sun started to hit them & flamingos slept.
I didn't bother getting in the springs as I couldn't be bothered to take all the layers I had on to make a dash into the pool & then freeze when I climbed back out.. also it was pretty busy & I'd done hot springs in Ecuador & Peru so I took a walk along the lake & admired the hot water running alongside still frozen pools. We then made our way towards our last stop passing through the desert to the White & Green lakes. The colour of the lakes is due to there mineral concentration and they change colour depending on whether it's windy or not. Green lake has no animals on it as 1 of the minerals is arsenic so it poisons anything that drinks out of it.
Just a few quick photos here as we were running a bit behind schedule and about 1/2 the group had a connection to make at the Bolivian border to get into Chile.
We had to have our park tickets stamped to exit if we were crossing the border & then we drove up to the hut which serves as Bolivian immigration here. It costs BOB 15 to get your Bolivian exit stamp so don't spend all your money!
Once we'd all got our exit stamps we got on the bus got handed 2 forms for Chile - 1 police & 1 customs which were to be filled in as we made our way to San Pedro de Atacama & Chilean immigration.
I had a really good time on my trip with Quechua connection, being a family run business it has a more personal feel & it is cheaper than Red Planet who are the longest standing company. Jose has great English, is welcoming & has tons of energy which makes the trip much more interesting.
Lucho was great when it came to taking photos as he always seemed to know the best photos stops sometimes taking slightly alternative routes over the hills etc & stopping the truck to allow us all to take photos. He always managed to catch up the others as well whilst never driving dangerously & our truck only had 1 problem on the 1st night which he fixed with speed (it's pretty common for the jeeps to break down as they clog with salt & sand! - the older manual trucks seem to fair better).
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