A Spectacular Journey Through Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia

November 27, 2009

After Lake Titicaca, we crossed the border over to Bolivia. We were not only suffering from severe altitude sickness at this point, but also from food poisoning because of the cheese we ate at the market. We took the bus over to Bolivia. At the border village we had to get off the bus and walk across the border with all our stuff. At the border the Bolivian border patrol looked at my passport and asked me: “De que pais es Usted”? He probably had never seen a Hungarian passport before. I told him I was from Europe and he let me pass through. He probably does not meet too many Hungarians on that border. We spent our first days in Bolivia in a small town called Copacabana by the border. Copacabana was a hippy town by the lake. It was refreshing to rest there for a day, trying to recover from the headache I had. We were trying to get acclimated to the height, as we were only going higher and higher in altitude. We were not in a good shape at all to be honest. After spending a day resting in this funky town, we took a mini bus to La Paz the next day. By the time we got to La Paz I was getting even sicker and the food was terrible everywhere, so I could not really eat anything. Every restaurant was pretty dirty, so I did not want to take any more risk on my already sick stomach. In the end we ended up eating at a local fried chicken place. All I could eat was French fries at this point. In La Paz they did not have any American establishments such as McDonalds or Burger King. The whole town was slightly intimidating. People were staring at us everywhere we went. We obviously stood out. The city was ugly. La Paz has the shape of a cone.  Salar de Uyuni

Check out this insightful Bolivia travel guide by fellow bloggers, Two Scots Abroad.

View of La Paz, Bolivia

View of La Paz, Bolivia

The edges of the city are very tall but the city centre is the deepest part of the city. It is the city with the highest altitude all over the World. We decided to cut our visit shorter than we initially planned it in La Paz. There were photos of missing people everywhere around the bus station, so that did not make me feel more comfortable about the place. There were lots of anti-American graffiti everywhere. The place was not pleasant. The shoeshiners were dressed up as ninjas.

Shoeshiners in La Paz, Bolivia

Shoeshiners in La Paz, Bolivia

We decided to catch a bus to Uyuni in the evening and visit the salt desert that I have heard so much about. The bus left the station at around 8pm in the evening. Once we reached the outskirts of La Paz the town looked more and more intimidating. At one point we reached a toll gate and I saw some photos of all these robbed cars. I was a bit freaked out but decided the best thing was to fall asleep and not think of what can happen to us there. The locals were looking at us as if we were aliens on their bus. I woke up around 5am in the morning, because the bus was traveling on a dirt road and it was shaking so hard that I could not sleep any longer on the bus. The bus trip was probably one of the worst bus trips of my life, but in retrospect it was all worth it, because the salt flats were one of the most spectacular thing I have ever seen with my own eyes.

Discovering Salar de Uyuni

Once we arrived to Uyuni we paid for our 3 day tour around the World’s largest salt desert. Before the tour took off, we showered and ate breakfast. After that we got into a Jeep with a few other French tourists and toured the most spectacular desert I had ever seen with my own eyes. First stop was at Train Graveyard with lots of wrecked old steamed locomotives. Next stop was at Colchani, Bloques de Sal it was a salt processing centre. It was white all around us everywhere we looked.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

There was a table and chairs made out of salt as well. It was amazing, everything was white. They also sold some souvenirs made out of salt. They also showed us the salt mining area. Next stop was at Isla de los Pescados, or Isla Incahuasi, which was an island full of 1000 year old cacti in the middle of the salt flats. Some of them were 9-10 meter tall.

Field of Cacti, Uyuni, Bolivia

Field of Cacti, Uyuni, Bolivia

We slept at a very basic accommodation in a local village. We had some home cooked meal in the house for dinner. Next morning we woke up early to continue our tour around the desert. We started at Laguna Hedionda which was a colourful lagoon full of flamingos.

White Lagoon, Uyuni, Bolivia

White Lagoon, Uyuni, Bolivia

Flamingos in the Lagoon, Uyuni, Bolivia

Flamingos in the Lagoon, Uyuni, Bolivia

From there, we continued to the Laguna Colorada the lake is colored red by the red algae that live in it. The whole lake looks like a tomato soup.

Laguna Colorada, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Laguna Colorada, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

It also had lots of flamingos. The mountains around the lagoons made the place look even more spectacular. They were in the shades of brown, pink and white. We also visited the Valles de Rocas which was an valley populated by strange shaped rocks. Some of them reminded me of the paintings of Dali.

Dali Stones, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Dali Stones, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

We again slept at a local house and ate the local food that the owner cooked for us. The food was pretty good.

Next morning we reached the highest point of our trip. We were up at almost 5000m, so my headache was killing me. We went to see the Termas de Polques hot springs it’s a collection of bubbling pools and geyser.

Bathing in the Thermal Water, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Bathing in the Thermal Water, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Geyser in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Geyser in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Outside it was so cold, but the water was really hot. Many people were bathing. It was too cold for me to get changed for my bathing suit. Next stop was at the Laguna Verde which was colored by the arsenic content of the soil.

Laguna Verde, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Laguna Verde, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Behind the lagoon you can see Vulcán Lincacabur. We drove for a while to the Chilean border and left the French guys there. They continued to Chile from there. The Chilean border was the smallest border in the middle of the desert one can imagine. This was basically a small hut in the middle of nowhere.

Chile-Bolivia Border

Chile-Bolivia Border

After that we turned around and drove for about 6 hours across the desert to head back to Uyuni. At one point we stopped in a small town to eat. The only water we could find was in a small river, so we ended up washing the dishes in the river. In the early evening we got off the Jeep and got on the bus to Uyuni. We were not looking forward to another torturous overnight ride on the bus on dirt roads. The toilet window was completely broken so anyone could see you on the toilet. It was a crazy ride. We arrived to La Paz bus station the next morning. It was sketchy and we stood out as tall Europeans, so I was very keen on getting out of La Paz at this point. We continued the journey to Arequipa in Peru. It was another long and painful trip on the bus. Overall, Salar de Uyuni was a very spectacular journey and one of the most incredible places I have ever seen with my own eyes. Bolivia is underdeveloped, it is poor and sometimes unsafe, however it is worth venturing out in the wild and discovering this natural beauty that the salt flats offer. So I strongly encourage everyone to pay a visit there.

Read more about adventures in Bolivia such as biking the Death Road here.

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About Barbara

Barbara is a London based luxury travel and lifestyle blogger. She started traveling through Paris, London, New York, Milan, Tokyo at the age of 17 to conquer the World as a model. Ever since, she has visited 67 countries. She writes about the most exclusive jet-set destinations such as Cannes, Venice Film Festivals, Monaco Grand Prix, Oscar Parties in LA, Fashion Weeks in Milan or Paris as well as yacht parties in St-Tropez, Miami Art Basel, Biennale in Venice, Frieze in London or the Royal Wedding in Monaco.

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