* We visited Uyuni April 3-6, 2015
It was in 2007 that the travel bug bit me, and I planned my first international trip which ended up being to Peru. During my research, I heard about this magical place called Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, a massive salt flat as far as the eye can see, nothing like I have ever seen before or will ever see again. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fit Uyuni into that 8 day trip, but I vowed one day I would make it there. And I did, Lindsey, Stef and Doug in tow.
It wasn’t a soft landing into Uyuni, having taken a very bumpy and hot overnight bus from La Paz. But bleary eyed, we started making our way around town, making sure our plans were set for the next couple days.
To give you a sense of what Uyuni feels like, I suggest watching an old John Wayne movie. It feels right out of the wild, wild west, being in a completely flat desert as far as the eye can see, which is miles and miles, with very few trees and plants growing out of the endless dirt, mainly just patches of shrubs. The town itself historically had industry, but is now run almost solely on tourism, restaurants and stores lining the few streets that make up the town.
But the attraction of Uyuni isn’t the town. It’s the massive salt flat adjacent to the town, the Salar de Uyuni and the adjacent Bolivian Andes. This salt flat is the world’s largest, an amazing flat 4,086 square miles of pure white stretching as far as the eye can see. Historically it was a massive salt lake before the Andes mountains rose to towering heights, drying out the sea in the process; Uyuni sits at 11,995 feet above sea level. All that remains is the salty bottom, which varies between 2 and 20 meters of salt brine depending on the location, and certain areas where fossilized coral stick out of the ground like rocks. After the two days spent exploring the salt flat, we ventured high into the Bolivian mountains to see a smattering of interesting and beautiful geological sites, lagoons, and wildlife, well, mainly flamingos.
Culturally, there wasn’t a whole lot we experienced over these final 4 days with Doug and Stef, but this let us have some high quality hang out time while we enjoyed the nature porn Bolivia had to offer
You’ll see that the pictures here say a lot more than my words ever will, but I will include a quick recap below so you have some fun context.
- On our first day, per another traveler’s recommendation, we rented bikes, hired a guide and went out into the salt flat searching for water. Not drinking water, but water to create some amazing reflections over the desert landscape, especially at sunset. I feel comfortable saying that this was the longest bike ride any of us had ever been on; it started late afternoon and went into the evening past dusk. I think in the end we were out for about 5 hours, with maybe 45 minutes of breaks for pictures and groin stretching. It was painful, but worth it. The sunset was amazing and the full moon rising and lighting our way over the moon-like landscape was incredible, especially the sections where we were riding over fossilized coral.
- The next morning we began an organized jeep tour which was comprised of 2 jeeps of us 4 and then 5 other tourists, respectively. We toured a railroad graveyard filled with eerie rusty train cars from the days when Uyuni was a booming nitrous production town. The next stop was a salt factory, the highlight of which was the salt bagger sneezing on his hand prior to filling and sealing by hand, the same hand, a small salt bag that was destined for sale in a store. We respectfully decided not to buy any. After lunch in a building legitimately made out of salt blocks, we headed out into the salt flat to take some crazy fun forced perspective shots. This is where I finally was able to fulfill my life long dreams of kissing barbie and having Lindsey eaten by a shark. We had a ton of fun taking these pics and pretty much had to be forced to leave by our jeep driver. After driving for miles on the crazy smooth salt surface (no roads, just drive wherever), we visited what was at one time an island on the salt lake that Uyuni used to be, now a cacti filled mound on the salt flat, finishing the day chatting with our tour group over a couple drinks and sleeping in a building made of salt bricks, on beds made of salt bricks (with a mattress on top).
- The following day, we spent a ton of time in the jeep traversing bumpy dirt mountain roads from geological attraction to geological attraction, caravanning with a number of jeeps from other tours. For those of you that have been, it felt like a really spread out Yellowstone. The highlights included beautiful flamingo-laden colorful lagoons, mountain scenery, and strange rock formations. We topped off our last night with Stef and Doug and the rest of our new tour buddies sipping on rum and laughing in a natural hot spring outside of our hostel under the light of the almost full moon reflecting over the lake connected to the hot spring. The scenery may have been the best we had in Uyuni, but we didn’t get any pictures, so you’ll just have to take our word for it.
- Although a little groggy from our high altitude rum hot spring party, we finished off our final day with Stef and Doug in style, visiting the Dali Rock formation in the morning sunlight, and seeing (but unfortunately also smelling) some beautiful natural sulfur geysers at a breathtaking 15,000 feet, the highest any one of us had ever been before (well at least as far as altitude goes). We sadly then made our way to the nearby Bolivia/Chile border where we departed from Stef and Doug who had to turn back to La Paz to fly home. Stef and Doug wept like little children to such an extent that it was a bit embarrassing. Ok, maybe that didn’t happen, but we were all sad to leave each other, having been on such an amazing 3 week adventure, and especially for me, having been able to grow so much closer with Stef and Doug, who previously I had only hung out with for maybe a week in total. We said our goodbyes, and Lindsey and I continued on our adventure, back into Chile.
To see the full album of Uyuni photos click here, but awesome highlights are below.