Pass the salt please!
06.09.2013 - 08.09.2013 5 °C
Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia
The Salar de Uyuni is the world's largest salt flat at 12,106 km² and sits at 3653m. The reason for the salt flats is there used to be a sea there; however due to movement is the tectonic plates, the sea is fine and there's only water metres below.
Our first stop was just outside Uyuni, where there are a load of trains just dumped. There are not too many carriages, but a lot of old fashioned engines. They are 40 years old and have since become a tourist attraction and playground for adults.
After a quick stop at a market set up for tourists, where we bought a T-Rex, we drove out onto the salt flats. After about 20 minutes driving, we got a puncture and so stopped for lunch while our driver put on a boiler suit and changed the tyre. While we waited for lunch to be prepared, we took some pictures on the flats, taking advantage of the lack of depth perception.
Once again, our internet connection is awful, so I will try and upload photos when we have a better connection, until then, if you're our frown on Facebook, you can already enjoy then there. :-)
After lunch, we visited cactus island, which is a rock formation in the middle of the flats, which has hundreds of massive cactuses growing amongst the rocks. As you look down from the island, you expect to see the sea, and the salt does almost look like the sea, with what looks like wave lines in black towards the base of the rock.
We headed out of the salt flats and found a small hotel, which nobody else was staying at. There were little huts made out of salt, with thatched roofs. The floor is covered in large salt granules and the bed is made out of salt. It got very cold at night, but we managed to stay warm with a few blankets, a couple of sleeping bags and I wore my thermals and a fleece.
The next morning, we got up just after 6 and got dressed quickly as it was freezing cold. We left just after 7 and had about a 3½hour drive to our first stop, an active volcano.
This volcano has not erupted for 120 years. The last time it erupted the lava only went as far as the foot of the volcano.
We visited 4 similar lagoons, each with flamingoes. The first lake was very blue, whereas the second was more of a frosty colour and had a lot more salt around it. The first lake was half frozen, and so it made it look like the flamingoes were walking on water.
Mountain of seven colours
We drove to 4550m where we could see a beautiful mountain, which had seven different colours in its rocks. It was really impressive but so cold and windy!
In the middle of this dessert are some rock formations which they have named 'stone trees'. They were formed by lava from the volcanoes, but are interesting due to them being in the middle of nowhere and very neat and tidy. There was snow on the ground around the base of these rocks, but they sheltered you from the worst of the wind.
The final lagoon for today is a large red lagoon, which is red from marine algae. It is a deep opaque red the whole way across, with the odd salt island in the middle. It was absolutely stunning and like nothing else we had ever seen before. This lake made the pink flamingoes look white.
After this we headed to our hostel, where we are sharing a room with the other four people on our trip. The hostel we were taken to was supposedly the best hostel out of all the hostels for that overnight stop; however there were at least 4 dorms, yet we were the only group to stay at the 'best' hostel.
This hostel was freezing cold, with no heating, and only an hour and a half's electricity, so come 8pm, it was pitch black. There were no showers, but there were at least proper toilets.
We had been warned that this was the cold night and so wore thermals and a fleece to bed, inside a fleece lined sleeping bag with two blankets. Apart from when my hat came off of my ears, I wasn't cold at all and slept pretty well.
We set off at about 6am to see the geysers. These were amazing as we were at the top of the mountain and it was freezing cold at about -10 yet there was stream everywhere with various outlets shooting high up into the sky. There were mud pools which were bumbling furiously. There was one geyser which our guide said was artificial, and so was nowhere near as hot and so you could run through it, which kind of felt like running through a tumble dryer.
After the geysers, we went for a soak in the naturally occurring thermal baths. It was absolutely freezing as you stripped off all your thermals and layers, but the water was the perfect temperature. They had built a pool out of rocks at the edge of the lake and it was the most beautiful setting ever for a thermal bath.
Laguna Verde and Laguna Blanca
Our final stop was to some green and white lagoons. They change colour and look better when it's windy, which unfortunately it was not for us. They were still pretty spectacular, reflecting the mountains perfectly in the water.
After this, Chris and I took a one hour transfer to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, which was lovely and hot (too hot for Chris) when we arrived. At 27 degrees in the non-existent shade, it was a huge contrast to the -10 we'd started at!
Salt Flat Tours
If you're planning to go to Bolivia, you must do the Salt Flats tour and should really find the time to do the 3 day tour but must do at least 2 days. Our tour company was 'Bettotours' who we were actually quite disappointed with; however still feel that the £95 we paid for everything on the 3 day tour (meals, accommodation, 4x4 vehicle, entry fees to 2 national reserves plus a fairly lousy guide - other companies sounded better) was definitely worth it for the unforgettable landscapes we saw.
reasons to potentially avoid Bettotours
Our driver, who is also the guide seemed to put in the bare minimum effort. He offered us very little information to the point where we had to ask all the right questions to find anything out. How do you know what to ask sometimes?
He didn't even introduce himself, but another couple seemed to be calling him Herbert?
He was completely oblivious to the fact that Chris and I were not returning to Uyuni but transferring to San Pedro de Atacama until at the end of the second day he told us we had a 9 hour drive back to Uyuni and I made a joke about how we didn't have to.
He tried to ditch us at the Chilean border at 9.30, when the transfer should have been 11am. This would have meant missing the last few places. I asked if we could get the 11am bus and he claimed 9.30 was the last one. He eventually left us at 10.30.
On the last night, he said we had to be up at 5 for breakfast at 5.30 and that we wanted to leave by 6 at the latest if not earlier. He suggested it would be better to have breakfast at 5.15, so we did, bags all packed. We were ready by half 5 and had to wait for him for 15 minutes before he even started packing the car!
The second night, we were told there would be a rush for the best hostels and that we would want to get there first to secure the best hostel. Our hostel had at least 4 dorms, yet despite it being 'the best' no one else stayed there. One group came and left. This 'best' hostel had no heating and no electric after 7.30pm. There was no hot water, no showers, the toilets weren't great and it was freezing cold.
Although it was freezing cold out on the flats, the sun was still incredibly hot, particularly on the car. We were all absolutely baking in the car and stripped right down to shorts and t-shirts. The company advertised that they had air-con but it turned out it needed new gas so didn't work. We weren't allowed the windows open because of the dust. It was not comfortable in there at all, and rather annoying having to constantly strip off and layer up.
The advertised heating didn't appear to work either in the morning when it was still dark, we were at an altitude of 4950m, the stream had frozen and there was snow on the ground.
At one point, the car stopped randomly, we thought potentially another puncture. The driver gets out, walks behind the car, stretches a bit before getting back in and announcing 'me dormí' - I fell asleep...
Finally, we were supposed to get lunch on the final day, but because we were going to San Pedro de Atacama, despite paying for the lunch, we were not going to get it.
Although the rubbish guide could be a one off, he's still representing the company and they clearly allow him to work like this. The poor maintenance of the heating and air-con is obviously a company decision to miss-sell you comfort. Had we been going back to Uyuni, we'd have complained. Instead, we'll try and send an email which will no doubt be ignored.
Thankfully, the scenery more than made up for any negatives of the tour company.