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Published: April 17th 2015
The most obvious way to Bolivia from San Pedro de Atacama is via the salt flats of Uyuni. In San Pedro plenty of operators compete to take travelers through the southern Bolivian highland desert and across the salt flats to Uyuni. We quickly found out that this intense competition has lead to low prices, some times even too low as safety was comprised for the sake of lower prices. In 2008 this led to some accidents with fatalities. According to rumors there are also operators that use this tour to smuggle drugs across the border, and as a result don't care about the income from the actual tour but in turn the drivers aren't always sober and careful.
Regardless of whether this was necessary or not, these things made us a bit concerned and led us to choose the operator that was marked as safest by the Lonely Planet and recommended by other travelers (Cordillera). We quickly found that our driver (Selso) was indeed a very careful driver and friendly as well.
The trip to Uyuni takes three days. And though the salt flats are often mentioned as the highlight, there is much more to this trip than that.
In the first two days we passed between impressive mountain ranges, while driving on the outstretched desert valley floor at 4500m. Large parts didnt really have roads because the whole valley floor was very flat and driveable. So everyone just drove where they wanted. We passed by interesting rock formations carved out by the wind, saw more geysers and swam in thermals pools. We stopped at various nice lakes filled with minerals (Bolivia's number one export product) with interesting colors: white, green and pink.
In the pink lake we saw thousands of flamingos, who get their color from the same algae that give the water its color. Impressive to see them from so close by in their natural environment, with a mix of older and baby flamingos: still pretty big but with grey feathers. During the three days we also saw many vicunas (highly valued for their fine wool; related to llamas and alpacas), a fox and several types of birds.
Both nights were an experience: the first night we slept restlessly at 4600m and the second night we slept in the Salt Hotel, where the building and most of its furniture were made of salt.
the third day we arrived at the salt flats. A very bizarre experience: white wherever you look. Not a place to visit without sunglasses! Driving across feels like hovering in a spacecraft. With very few points of reference we seemed to be gliding either fast or slow – it was had to tell - while hearing just the buzzing sound of the tires on the salt. We visited an 'island' in the middle of the salt flats, and stopped somewhere in the middle of nowhere to take advantage of the fact that having few reference points makes for some interesting photos.
After arriving in Uyuni we finished it off in a a nice bar and restaurant with the people we had met during the tour. Yet again a very nice adventure!
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