In the morning, we were picked up from our hostel In San Pedro de Atacama Chile by a mini bus and taken to border control before crossing into Bolivia and transferring to our 4×4 jeep. Here, myself, Milly, Debs and Shaun were joined by a German girl called Marian (who spoke good spanish so could bridge the communication gap with our driver)! Thankfully our driver, although not overly friendly, was a really safe driver and gave us plenty of time for photo ops and stop offs during the day. Having heard horror stories of drunken drivers, food poisoning, altitude sickness, freezing accommodation and awful food we had set our expectations low – little did we know we were in for three spectacular and unforgettable days.
Off we set on our three day adventure. The landscape was initially similar to San Pedro de Atacama with vast open desert spaces and huge mountains. Nothing can demonstrate just how vast and desolate the landscape truly is. Bar the little line of tourist jeeps there is not a sole around for miles. The tour really only involved the salt flats on the third and final day…Bolivia undersells the rest of the amazing scenery you see along the way – mind blowing lagoons, strange rock formations, geysers, alpacas and llamas, flamingos, mountains, volcanos, more different coloured lagoons and even more flamingos.
On the first day we visited the following sites: Laguna blanco ( a mass of white water with a thin sheet of overlying ice), Laguna Verde (apparantly usually deep green but not for us due to the stillness of the water), some Geysers – (the geysers were not as impressive as the ones in Atacama, but still plenty of steam and more importantly…a very hot pool that we all went swimming in)! Despite being freezing outside, the hot springs were a welcome warm up! The lagoons were absolutely incredible, no photography can demonstrate the amazing beauty and stillness that these places possess.
Our next port of call was our first hostel. We arrived mid afternoon for some much needed lunch – sausage and mash with salad and fruit for desert. Our room was fairly basic, but we were pleased with the number of blankets on the bed as it was absolutely freezing (being over 4000m above sea level). After lunch we headed to Laguna Colorado – a deep red lagoon, so coloured because of the minerals it contained, and crammed full of flamingos! For such a desolate and barren landscape to see so many flamingos seemed like an odd contrast, but apparantly this area in Bolivia is one of their main breeding grounds.
After our excursion we headed back to the hostel for tea and biscuits and then a dinner of warming soup, followed by spaghetti with tomato sauce and a peach desert – yum! Unfortunately as the sun had gone down the temperature dropped even further. With no showers, we all had a baby wipe shower before jumping into bed wearing hats, scarves, and fully clothed! Marian and I shared our single bed for body warmth as did Millie and debs, but even with six layers of blankets and two of us in the bed it was freezing!
The next morning we woke up to tea, coffee and pancakes for breakfast. Still chilled from the night before, we hopped into the car ready for our day of excursions! Our stops on this day included huge stones in the middle of the desert and a “stone tree”, Laguna Honda, even more Flamingos, the “Smelly” lagoon, a smoking volcano and a visit to an old unused train. After another full day we were taken to our salt Hostel, which had walls consisting of salt bricks and a rock salt sand like floor! Thankfully this hostel had a shower you could pay for and was generally about ten degrees warmer! After several rounds of card games, dinner and wine we went to bed ready for our 4.30am rise the next morning.
The following morning we awoke excited and what seemed like in the middle of the night for our final leg of the trip. Today was the day we got to see the salt flats and in time for sunrise. No photos can do this incredible place justice – it really is somewhere that just has to be experienced. At over 3600m above sea level and covering a distance of 12000 square km, Salar de Uyuni is absolutely huge and stunningly beautiful. The original lake dried up under the fierce sun, leaving behind huge amounts of salt deposits that form a tiled flooring pattern. It is the largest salt flat in the world and contains half the world’s lithium reserves. We arrived to the expanse of salt flats at the crack of dawn to witness one of the most beautiful sunrises I have seen.
After the sun had risen we continued further into the salt flats to A rather bizarre island full of cactus plants, followed by a picnic breakfast.
After refuelling we were ready to take our many perspective photos on the salt flats – fun was had! Here are just a few of the “loco” snapshots….
If Bolivia had never been on your list of places to visit, I hope it now is. With some of the most diverse and beautiful landscapes I have ever seen, Bolivia truly is a special place. And this was just my first stop….