Drunk, kamikaze drivers, freezing cold nights, and crippling altitude sickness was enough to make us apprehensive about venturing into Bolivia’s salt flats – but it definitely wasn’t enough to put us off exploring what promised to be some of the planet’s most other-worldly landscapes. Here’s our journey in photos.
There are a few different starting points for a tour of the salt flats: Uyuni or Tupiza in Bolivia, or San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. We were heading to Chile anyway so chose to start there. You cross the border into Bolivia almost immediately, passing through what may be one of the world’s most tiny migration points.
Our first stop was this thermal water pool. It took a bit of courage to shed the woolens and strip down to a bikini, but Steve and I never say no to a thermal bath, and this one was in perhaps the most spectacular setting yet.
The colours of the landscape were stunning and Steve couldn’t resist setting my hair against it.
As you drive deeper into Bolivia, coloured lagoons dot the route to the salt flats, and have inspired many a cairn. I added a final pebble to the one above.
These geysers were one of the highlights of day one, spouting their sulfurous steam. Be careful not to get to close though – many tourists have been burned.
Next to some of the geysers, you can see bubbling, boiling mud cracking through the surface of the land. I’d love to paint with the palette above.
One of the main concerns on any tour of the salt flats is safety. There are endless reports of accidents and drunk or reckless drivers. Our operator, Cordillera Traveller, claimed to have a 100% safety record, and our driver was certainly responsible. But what he had in safety, he lacked in charm, seeming to wish he was anywhere but in the car with six tourists. We were at his mercy and it was a shame to feel hated.
But of course, the scenery dwarfed those concerns, and the Laguna Colorada was the jewel in the crown of a mind-blowingly colourful day.
It was definitely worthy of an ‘Excellent splendour of the universe’ moment.
And then to bed. Our resting pace was this basic, but beautifully situated, lodge looking out towards the coloured lagoon. The sunset was stunning and, along with the splendour of the day, helped abate the uncomfortable altitude.
This is the first in a three-part photo story on our journey into the Salar de Uyuni. Come back soon for the next installment.
Useful information on day one of the salt flats tour in Bolivia
To visit the salt flats, you have to go with a tour company. We did our research, asking around and reading reviews online, and settled on Cordillera Traveller because of their 100% safety record. Their reviews weren’t perfect but they seemed like the best of the bunch. We travelled in two jeeps of six people each and it didn’t feel uncomfortably cramped.
The altitude on the first day (if starting from Chile) is the highest you’ll experience throughout the tour. We acclimatised for a few days in San Pedro de Atacama prior to the tour, drinking lots of coca tea and steering clear of too much alcohol. We had also taken the road from Argentina, which passes through altitudes as high as the salt flats tour. We felt very uncomfortable on the journey, struggling to breath and getting headaches, but things got better while in San Pedro. If you haven’t come from Argentina, it’s recommended that you do a day trip to some high-altitude geysers in Chile to help prepare more (we were delighted not to do this as the start time is abou 4:30am in the morning!).
Despite our preparation, Steve still suffered from terrible headaches on day one of the tour. I was okay, but about half of the tour group felt unwell, especially two girls who had splitting headaches and had to go to bed. Nearly everyone felt short of breath in the night and struggled to sleep well. We weren’t, however, cold, which is a common complaint. Perhaps we were lucky with the weather, but the blankets provided, combined with our clothes (I definitely overdid it with the woolens!), were more than sufficient. Good news – everyone’s headaches improved on the second day. Despite these difficulties, the tour is definitely worth it.