Back in 2011 I travelled around the world visiting places I had dreamt of visiting for years. Bolivia was really on my list, but I still decided to travel through the country on my way to Peru from Argentina and man, I am happy that I did that! I knew that a trip to Salar de Uyuni was a must-do in Bolivia so it was one of the first things I did in Bolivia. I had no idea what to expect beside beautiful nature, but this trip offered so much more than just beautiful nature.
Tupiza – the city from where we departed
Visiting ghost towns
It was early in the morning when we checked out of our hostel and headed towards the street where we met our driver, Ruben and our cook, Jeannet. Yes, they are both Bolivians even though their names may not be a typical Bolivian name. We were a group of four travellers: Alex from Australia, Paul from Ireland, Seth from USA and me. We started the tour to Salar de Uyuni by driving pass some tall and thin red mountain – Quebrada de Palala. They were unlike anything I have ever seen before. My expectations to this trip became higher after that moment! I wish they hadn’t because after a small stop at the top of a mountain we took photos of El Sillar (Valley of the moon) we just drove through a dull landscape into small villages.
Valley of the moon – Sillar
The villages were almost like ghost towns – the streets were usually completely dead and we only saw people once this day. We stopped in a village with about 250 inhabitants where we were suppose to spend the night. It was already gettting dark, but Ruben assured us that there wasn’t really anything to see between this village and the next, so we drove further with Ace of Base played loudly from the speakers. It was Ruben who choose Ace of Base, it wasn’t really a choice any of us would have made, but never the less that was what we heard for the next four days (yes, pretty much the same cd for four days, at least we learned all of their best hits during those days 😉 ). Arriving at the next village we could only see the houses and the surrounding mountains. In this small place we were joined by another car from the same company.
First car problems
Beautiful hot springs
It had been a cold night – even with a sleeping bag and several blankets we were still cold! I truly regretted that I didn’t have a winter jacket (as the only one in the group) – a ton of layers didn’t help this time. When it got to windy I just ran out of the car to take photos and ran inside to wait for the others. After a cold night we woke up to a magnificent view. The sun had risen and revealed a huge lagoon surrounded by the mountains just next to the village. The day offered a lot of huge and beautiful lagoons. We had to spend a bit more time at the first lagoon than participated. The car tire was a bit flat so Ruben pumped it by hand…as it turned out this was the only problem we would have with the cars…At lunch time we stopped at a small village – all right village might be the wrong word for a place with less than 5 houses. Here we had lunch and a small swim in some hot springs. Imagine being in a hot spring while you are in 4400 m – surrounded by mountains and just next to a small salt desert – magical is what it is! Needless to say it was hard to get up of the water again 😉
Just after we got stuck
A horrible decision that ended up with a fight for our lifes
We drove a bit further, but all the sudden Ruben didn’t wanted to go further to Laguna Verde. The roads were covered in snow, so he had no idea what was on the roads or how deep the snow was. But Alex and Seth insisted – they had paid to see the lagoon so they wanted to see the lagoon! I tried to argue against then Ruben is after all most familiar with this area. But they kept insisting until Ruben gave in. We drove around a volcano and drove a bit further but ended up getting stuck after a short distance. We had no shovel nor did the other car travelling with us. We tried to dig out the car and carried rocks to make a path for the car. All the sudden did the other car disappeared. It disappeared for a long time, but they had found another car with a shovel and came back to help us get out. After about an hour the car was free from the snow. But it quickly turned out that something underneath the car was broken and the front wheels couldn’t turn. Ruben and the driver of the other car climbed under the car to try to fix it.
Ruben fixing the car
Meanwhile the guys (or at least Paul and Alex) tried to shovel the snow to make a better path for the car. I offered to help, but they wouldn’t allow me to help. Instead, I tried to lighten the mood of everyone and help out a little here and there. After about two hours the car was finally free from snow and fixed. It was such a relief to see the car move. We drove further and the car was filled with silence. We were still in the same snow covered area and we all feared it would happen again – which it almost did. My heart skipped a beat when we all felt the same bump as before, luckily Ruben saved us in the last second. We reached the lagoon.
It was worth the entire ride, but I think we all learned how important it is to listen to the locals. We got out of the area and finally started to talk again. It turned out that we had all had the same thoughts: We would probably not survive a night in the car with that cold. So for all of us is was really a fight for our lives. If Ruben could not fix the car or if the other car had not been there then we might not have made it. We passed by the Dalí desert, geysers and all the way to Huaylljara were we would spend the night.
Alex chasing flamingos for a nice photo at Laguna Colorada
The problems continued
The first highlight of the third day was Laguna Colorada which is known for the amazing red colour and its many flamingos. We only saw a few flamingos because most of them had left the lagoon for the winter. We made it to another two lagoons before the problems started again. This time it wasn’t our car. Smoke came out of the other car we drove with. We had an early lunch while the drivers looked at the car. Amazing what they can do with a few tools. We drove further, but after only about 5 minutes we saw smoke coming from the engine again. They tried to fix it again and again and again, but nothing seemed to be helping. The drivers decided to gather everyone in one car while leaving the driver and cook from the other car with the broken one right there in the desert. Then they would try to get it back to Tupiza somehow. The car was packed. You could be comfortable with about four travellers in the back and we were now eight, I am not sure how we fitted everyone in, but we tried to take it with a smile. We had already lost about four hours, so we made less stops on the way and arrived really late at the hotel for the night. We spend that night in a hotel where everything (except from the mattresses) was made out of salt and it turned out to be the warmest hotel we stayed in on that tour.
Isla del Pescado in Salar de Uyuni
Reaching Salar de Uyuni
The next morning we drove to the main target of this tour – Salar de Uyuni! We made it there in the dark and arrived just in time for the sunrise. In that very moment we all forgot all of the troubles we had been through! It was so wonderful. We visit a coral island in the middle of the salt flat. Nature is one thing that keeps amazing me where ever I go, but this was really something special and I would recommend a tour to Salar de Uyuni for everyone, but make sure that you take the long trip!
1300 BOB (about 1267 kroner)
Some tours should be cheaper from Uyuni. However when starting from Tupiza it can hardly be done cheaper, but all the tours starting from Tupiza have a good reputation
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