After a quick layover in Potosí, a historical silver mining town and one of the highest cities in the world at around 4000 meters, we caught our bus heading to small town of Uyuni. We checked into a hostel close to the bus station (well everything is close because this is a tiny town), before heading out to check tour prices for the 3-day Salar de Uyuni tours leaving the following day. We had heard that you could negotiate the price of this tour, but every tour company seemed to have about the same price, except for the high-end trip advisor recommended ones.
We ended up waiting to purchase our tour until the next morning so that if the seats weren’t full we could get a discount. One tour company gave a detailed PowerPoint presentation of each day, food, and accommodation so we decided to go with them and paid 675 Bolivian pesos per person (around $90), which included transportation around the 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq. mi.) salt flats, meals, housing, and bus transfer from the Bolivian border to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
Our tour guide, Omar, picked us up, along with another couple from Czech Republic who were in their 30’s (thank you for clarifying Pavla, haha), from the agency around noon in his Nissan Pathfinder (every other tour agency had a similar vehicle). Within 10 minutes of driving we stopped at the train cemetery right outside the city where several graffiti covered trains were abandoned that tourists could climb on and take pictures. We should mention that at every stop you are with several other groups so no matter what agency you pick everyone goes to the same places.
Next we were on our way to pick up our other two passengers who had left a day earlier to climb a volcano. We drove almost an hour across expansive salt flats which had us hallucinating from only seeing white for miles. We finally reached an island on the other side of the flats and stopped at a hostal to eat lunch and pick up a German girl and a guy from Colorado. For lunch we were served a simple meal of alpaca meat (very lean), quinoa, potatoes, lettuce and tomato.
After finishing lunch we continued to drive another few hours around the island and quinoa fields before reaching a salt hotel where we would spend the night. The hotel was made completely of salt, even the beds were large slabs of salt with mattresses on top. After unloading the car and showering we were exhausted and looked forward to dinner. There was a large dining room where 4 tour groups ate at separate tables. We drank tea and coffee and got to know our group. Finally dinner was served–roasted chicken, potatoes, vegetables and bread. After dinner, Victor the Czech husband, disappeared into his room and came back with two bottles of red wine. That bottle led to the guy from Colorado grabbing his bottle (of terrible sweet wine) from Peru, before we proceeded to buy two more bottles from the hotel. We laughed past the point of exhaustion and only went to bed after being kicked out of the dining room.
The second day was very busy. We had breakfast and coffee in the morning before getting back on the road. We stopped at a local handicraft market where we all bought wine to drink later that night. Next we took pictures of the Arbol de Piedra (the rock tree) amid brutal winds. Then we stopped at several lagoons that smelled like sulfur and were inhabited by many flamingos. We stopped at one lagoon for lunch, which consisted of pasta, vegetables, chicken, and apples served on our tailgate. After that we went to Laguna Colorada, famous for its red color and pink flamingos. We finished the day back in the Salar de Uyuni, massive salt flats that stretch for miles in every direction. There is an “island” of vegetation in the middle of the flats that you we explored that provided panoramic views of our surroundings. Because of the white salt all around we were able to take pictures that toyed with depth perception and mirages.
After getting enough photos we loaded into the car and drove to our new hostel, where all 6 of us slept in the same room. Dinner took forever to be served but we were happy to have pasta and bread with red wine to warm us up from the chilly weather outside. Once again our group had a good share of wine, and we even took holiday pictures next to the out-of-place Christmas tree, lights and decorations, before having to turn over our glasses to the cleaning crew.
Our third and final day started with an extremely early and frigid morning. We had to be ready to leave by 5AM in order to make it to the geysers by sunrise. We were all very cranky and hungover but once we saw the geysers our dispositions improved. The geysers are the most active early in the morning and are so powerful we could hear the whizzing and bubbling before we exited the vehicle. We admired their beauty, power and sulfur smell, until we couldn’t take the cold anymore, and jumped back in the car to head to thermal baths a few miles away. The natural thermal baths were just what we needed. One pool, enclosed by natural stone, looked out over a nearby lagoon, and was the perfect soothing and relaxing way to end our tour. Finally, Omar beckoned us from the heavenly baths and drove us to the Bolivian border, where we said our good-byes, before getting into another van to take us 20 min to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile.