In the southwestern corner of Bolivia, about an hour’s flight from La Paz, the blinding white Salar de Uyuni salt flat stretches for more than 4,500 square miles. There is no place else like it in the world.
At nearly 12,000 feet above sea level, the Salar dazzles the eye and plays optical tricks on you with what looks like a white plain that seem to go on forever. You can drive across it all year. When it rains, the Salar becomes a giant puddle, and the reflection of sky and clouds seems to reflect the entire world.
We arrived at Uyuni by bus after 2 am. After seeking a place where we could rest for as few hours we found a small hostel that agreed to make us a discount of 20 Bolivians. Unfortunately on the next morning we found that the discount meant that we couldn’t take a shower.
We advise you to ask what it really means to accept a discount!
After a brief discussion with the hostel owner he let us use the shower for 6 minutes each! But that was fine by us.
After taking a bath we left the hostel and set off in search of a rent- a-car. Our initial idea was to rent a jeep and venture by ourselves in the giant Salar de Uyuni, the reason why we were there.
There was no way to rent a jeep in Uyuni. We were disappointed because we are not great fans of using paid tours for knowing places.
We are the kind of travelers that believe that touristic tours limit what we can see and do what makes our experience less rewarding than having the freedom to choose our own way of enjoying a place.
But in the absence of an alternative we accepted that the only way we would get to see the Salar was to paid a one day jeep tour. We found an agency that would get us there for 120 bolivianos. The tour would start the next day at 10:30 am and would finish at 19:00 pm giving us the opportunity to see the sunset in the Salar. It also included lunch and a visit to the Train Graveyard and to the base of the Tunupa volcano. This last one was not initially included on the one day tour but we negotiated with the agency and they accepted to also take us there.
Always try to negotiate!
We found another hostel with a kitchen we could use and we spent the afternoon resting. Uyuni, as a city, doesn’t have much to see.
The next morning we set off for our adventure in the Salar de Uyuni. Apart from us in the jeep were other three people and the driver. An Argentine man and a Brazilian couple. We were pleased with the company. They were all friendly and we talked a little bit.
THE TRAIN GRAVEYARD
The tour stops in a touristic area that allowed people to buy souvenirs and tipical bolivian clothes if someone wanted to. Next the driver took us to the Train Graveyard.
Unfortunately those pictures we usually see of the Train Graveyard where the trains seem abandoned in the desert don’t quite depict the reality. The Graveyard is very close to Uyuni and when we got there we were not alone. As we expected there were already about 10 tourist jeeps parked. It is not easy to take pictures without catching other people on the background. That’s the problem with touristic places. But it is a site which, by its peculiarity, is worth visiting.
The best-known photos of the Salar portray it as an immense mirror of water. However we were not in the rainy season so, when we entered the Salar, we faced an immense white plain. This meant it was easy to track the other jeeps which left marks on the salt. We stopped to see some kind of fountains from which flows cold water. Then we went to the salt hotel where most of the jeeps stopped for people to have lunch. We did not had lunch there.
Our driver took us to the Isla Incahuasi where he served us the lunch he had in the trunk. His wife had cooked it. It was a really nice experience. We had the opportunity to try a tipical dish: lama steak with quinoa and cucumber salad. We were happy with where we were so we decided not to climb to the top of the island (which costs 30 extra bolivianos) and instead we took the opportunity to take some pictures in the white plain surrounding it and have fun by ourselves, away from the rest of the crowd.
We left Isla Incahuasi straight to the Tunupa Volcano. It was really worth to negotiate this detour with the agency. The volcano is beautiful.
It was the moment that we felt sorrier to have not been able to rent a jeep in Uyuni. We wanted to have stayed longer there. Maybe camp there, near the lamas and alpacas.
We stayed there around 45 minutes and then we had to go back to Uyuni. In the way back we watched the amazing sunset in that white magical plain.
That said, and althought we continue to prefer doing things on our own, we think that this tour is worth it. You can have a nice day for a relatively low price and visit some beautiful places. And the truth is you are never surrounded by many people.
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