Hmmm…sea salt at nearly 4000m above sea level? Yes indeed! The Tour we’d booked ages ago would take us from the town of Uyuni, in south-west Bolivia, to the town of San Pedro de Atacama, in north-east Chile, over the course of two & a half days. We’d spend Tour Day 1 going west then south-west across the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest ‘salt lake’ or slat flat, before spending the night in a ‘salt hotel’, that is a hotel constructed almost completely out of blocks of salt (not the bedding silly!).
(Note: Salar de Uyuni [or Salar de Thunupa in Aymaran] info – the salt lake has a depth of upto 120m, of layers of saturated salt with a hard top crust upto 20cm thick that can take being covered with water & large 4×4 vehicles. It’s all that remains of 2 much larger/older lakes, and the salt is there because…well over 100 million years ago before the Andes & Altiplano existed, this land was under the sea! See history & geology articles here and here. Note also the Salar is under threat, not just from increased tourism, but particularly from potential mining of its natural underground resources such as lithium, as capital’s greed strikes again – see article here and here).
This Tour is supposed to be one of those once-in-a-lifetime other worldly experiences, especially if you get clear skies and a fine sunset on Day 1, as the water on the surface of the salt creates a mirage effect during the day removing at times any sense of a horizon, whilst at sunset it creates a classic mirror image of reflections onto the surface (see pics below!). And Day 2 just gets even more dramatic & surreal. Horror stories abound however of dodgy & heavily overcrowded vehicles, drunken underpaid drivers, english-speaking guides who only speak Spanish, very iffy & unsubstantial food, freezing cold nights in ancient huts at over 4500m, idiots on the tour with you, and so on. Absolutely none of this happened to us!
We’d booked our Tour through the reliable Kanoo Tours agency and it was operated by the mainly Uyuni-based ‘Perla de Bolivia’ company (tour info). It cost us $200 each for everything – vehicle & driver, guide, food & meals & drinks, accommodation, and transfer across the border to San Pedro. You can take a chance on a cheaper tour…or pay a hell of a lot more (however long your tour may be). But we think we got this one about right. Things kicked off around 9.30-10am on the Monday morning, and it was a good start – there’s only be 5 of us tourists in the 4×4 transport (not 6 or 7 or 8 – very uncomfortable). And there were no idots in sight, just 3 friendly Aussies who were fun but not overly intrusive, younger than us but not too young! Our driver ‘Grobert’ was extremely professional, sober and took loving care of his 4×4. Our guide ‘Dioni’ spoke english well, had a fun sense of humour, and kept telling us to trust him – by the end of Day 1 we did. He was also a magician & good at photography direction!
On Day 1 we left Uyuni around 10.30am, visited some salt-works in the nearby town of Colchani (and a tourist market – we’re crap tourists at places like this as we never buy anything – no room in our bags for things we don’t need!); headed out onto the Salar de Uyuni at a point where there was an inch or two of water on the surface; checked out some hot springs bubbling up to the surface of the salt lake; had lunch on the salt in the middle of nowhere, just whiteness; visited an early salt hotel (also the start of the 2015 Dakar rally!?) & scuplture; stopped at and climbed up the cactus infested Inca Huasi island (Inca House island, also known as Fish Island, once a stopover place for Inca traders); spent an hour watching the sun drop behind mountains and its reflection on the water covered surface of the salt lake; and then raced for dry land to the south-west of the Salar before it became too dark & dangerous to drive; and finally stopped off at our overnight salt hostel for a decent meal, beer, shower & bed. An amazing day – pics in sequence below…..