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Published: November 8th 2015
From San Pedro de Atacama, we booked a three-day Uyuni jeep tour with Atacama Mistica. A friend we made in Santiago recommended them after travelling with them, and a tour agency in San Pedro also highly recommended them, hence we decided to go with this reputable company.
We were picked up from our hostel and taken to the border of Chile and Bolivia. Both the Chilean and Bolivian immigration was very quick as the queue was not very big. We were given sandwiches with Coca tea for breakfast; Coca tea is pretty big in the Atacama region of Chile and in places of higher altitude in Bolivia to help the body to acclimatise. The Coca leaf is used to make cocaine, but the leaves have other health properties, as I've just mentioned. The tea itself, once brewed, did smell a bit like drugs but it tasted like herbs.
We were split into groups at the border, and our luggage was put on the top of the 4 x 4 vehicle, covered with a plastic sheet and tied with a tarpaulin. We were given the usual 'jamon y queso' aka ham and cheese breakfast with coca
tea before we set out into the desert.
There were six of us in the vehicle, two Brits, three Brazilians and the driver, who was also the tour guide. The driver's did not speak English, so we were grateful that the Brazilians spoke English and were able to translate the information from the driver for us.
The first day was relaxing, we didn't do too much. This was so that we had the chance to adapt to the climate as we were climbing to a high altitude. We stopped at the Bolivian geysers, but we couldn't be bothered to exit the car as it was very windy with sand blowing in all directions, ands we'd been to Geyser Del Tatio the previous day. The Bolivian geysers had nothing on the ones in San Pedro! We also stopped at hot springs, but it wasn't that hot or warm to step into, so we gave it a miss. We visited a few of the lakes, which were very pretty but looked similar to the ones we'd seen in San Pedro, with same names such as Laguna Verde! Nonetheless, we still did the touristy thing and took
photos. We also got to see Laguna Colorado, which was a reddish shade and had lot of flamingoes there! We realised that where there is a lot of salt, you'll find a lot of flamingoes. The flamingoes weren't shy here, like they were in San Pedro, they just drank their water in groups, in a very systematic fashion as if they didn't have a care in the world. The ones in front bent down to drink the water whilst the others behind them brought their necks back up after their turn, and vice versa. It was absolutely phenomena to watch! I was really lucky to find a pink flamingo feather on this site, which I've kept as a souvenir.
On the second day, we visited some more lakes, flamingoes and canyon-like areas with large rocks and with the volcanoes in the background.
The accommodation for the first night was pretty basic and is probably the most basic accommodation we've stayed in so far on our trip. It did fulfil our basic needs of food, water and shelter, but that's as far as it went. It was very, very cold and there was no heating
provided, just blankets in our beds. The water was freezing; no one dared take a shower here. The toilets were not the cleanest either. The second night was far better; we stayed in a hotel made of salt - I licked the wall just to make sure (I wasn't the only one who did this). This place was not as cold and they had a hot shower for 10 Bolivianos, which everyone took advantage of. The bathrooms and toilets were modern and clean, which was a bonus.
On the third day, we woke up very early to head to Salar de Uyuni, the salt flats. Salar de Uyuni was definitely the highlight of our Uyuni Trip. The salt flats felt like they were never ending as they went on for acres! Salar de Uyuni was truly was one of the most magnificent places we have been to. It was just amazing how the ground was covered in hexagon-like shapes made out of salt. We saw the sunrise on the salt flats and also got a beautiful view of the salt flats from Fisher island, which we climbed just before breakfast. It was $30 Bolivianos to climb, and
it was optional, so if you don't fancy it, don't feel obliged to pay and climb the island like we did! We took lots of photos and videos at the salt flats; Alex being eaten by me, the group dancing into the Pringle can, Alex holding me in his hand, another where we were balancing on a shoe string, also sitting on a deck of cards and so on. We visited a small market in Uyuni and also the train cemetery, which had old trains that are no longer in use.
At the end of the three days, our luggage was filthy; it had been kissed by the desert. We arrived in the city of Uyuni and we had to sign a form to say that we had arrived. The agency were kind enough to let us leave our luggage with them while we explored the town. There wasn't much to do in this town and we were glad we were only there for a few hours as the place didn't seem that appealing, and we got starred at way too much!
I would highly recommend doing the three or four day tour of
Uyuni as the salt flats are really a must-do in Bolivia. It is also a good and cheap way of travelling to Bolivia or Chile, while exploring the beauty that the desert and salt flats have to offer. A few pointers:
Ensure you take baby wipes as it does get quite dusty and it helps when it is too cold to take a shower!
Bring extra Bolivianos; we only brought $200 BOB each and that really wasn't enough for all of the toilet stops, extra drinks and souvenirs. The entrance fee was $150 BOB, and the Fisher Island entrance was $30 BOB, so you can work out the spare change we had!
Bring toilet paper as the hostels do not provide them.
Bring sacks and plenty of water - we munched through our snacks quite quickly. We should have consumed more water to help with the high altitude.
Don't bring brand new suitcases or bags as they tend to get very dusty and dirty.
The toilets that you pay to use were very smelly and were really not worth paying for, they didn't have water so you had to 'flush' using
some sand/mud. The guide does stop at points for 'baños natural' which, in my opinion, was better than using the man-made pay toilets.
It gets pretty cold so bring warm clothes, hat and scarf. Ensure your hat is secure on your head - just after a photo, my hat flew off into the algae water, but luckily, Alex managed to fetch it before it flew further away!
Haggle for the price of the tour - we got £10 each off ours as we asked for a discount.
In Uyuni, there are a lot of coach agencies around, so instead of buying your tickets online like we did, you can pay a much better fare going to one of the agency offices, as long as you leave plenty of time before your bus.
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