Sightseeing in Bolivia: Salar de Uyuni - Adventures of Anette

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sightseeing in Bolivia: Salar de Uyuni

Last weekend me and Lotte went to the Salar de Uyuni, which is Bolivia's best know tourist destination and also the biggest salt flat in the world.
From La Paz we took the 21:00 night bus to Uyuni. It was not exactly cheap; we payed 230 Bol for one way, but it was the only alternative we had. The reason for that is that it was a tourist bus, the local busses costs between 80-155 Bol and they had already left the terminal at 19:00.
The good thing about the tourist bus though, is that you get some meals on the way; you both get dinner, breakfast and a bottle of water for later.
But if you want to take the night bus you should be aware that no matter which company you go with you'll have to prepare for bad roads! The first part of the way is quite alright, but for the last 4-or-so hours there was no pavement so it was extremely difficult to get any sleep at all.

The buss arrived in Uyuni a little later than sceduled, which normally is 7 am. But still, it was more then enough time to check out the place, and the first thing we did was to go looking for a travel agency who could take us on the trip to the Salar.
It is not hard to find a travel agency, because they'll be there waiting outside the bus in the morning and contact you on the street to try and sell you their tickets. The problem is that not all of them can be trusted, and you might end up in a rusty old car that should have been trashed a long time ago.
Therefor it might be a good idea to do a little bit of research before you go there, so at least you have some alternative companies to choose from, or just to know which ones you should avoid.
The train cemetery
In the end we ended up with a company that was called Andrea Tours, and we payed 450 Bol for a two-day trip.
So together with 4 other tourists from South-Korea, Germany and Spain and a local Bolivian guide we headed of towards the desert. The first stop we came to was the so-called train graveyard, where you can look at old steam locomotives, or if you prefer it you could always climb on them as well.. Anyway, it isn't really a pretty sight since the trains are covered in graffiti. Not that it would have been that much more fantastic if there weren't any graffiti, but still..

Me and Lotte climbed up one of the trains
After the short stop we finally were going to see the salt flat itself. And the view didn't disappoint, it is really beautiful with the landscape, the air is so fresh (especially when you are used to the smelly air in La Paz) and not to mention that it is really peaceful as well.
I have to say though, that I thought it would be more fantastic than it was. I mean, if it weren't for the salty taste it might as well have been snow. And we do have quite a lot of snow in Norway, my home country.. So actually, rather than Salar de Uyuni I would recommend a trip to Svalbard instead, if you can handle the cold.
Anyway, for some reason I just think that the salt flat looked more like a lake covered with ice. A couple of times I found myself thinking that "I hope the ice can hold this van" while we were driving through what looked like a winter landscape.
The landscape actually made me think that we were walking on ice - not salt..
A pile of salt
After some quick photos on the ice - I mean salt - we went to a tiny tourist where they were selling souvenirs - if you're looking for sweaters and accessories made from alpaca wool, items made of salt etc then you can find it here. And the stuff made of salt is really cheap, because there is so much raw material to take from.
Our next stop: a tourist market..!
On the market you can buy nice gifts made of salt, and they only cost around 10-15 Bol..!
Beside the market there is also a museum here, where you can take a look at some sculptures made of salt. It doesn't anything to go in and take a look, but they do have a souvenir shop there as well so it is possible to support the museum by buying something there instead.
There is also a tiny museum there, where they have some statues made of salt.
A salt llama, along with some items that are for sale
Lotte and a clock tower, also this one made of salt.
After the stop at the market it was time to travel further out into the desert. We stopped in a place in the middle of nowhere to have lunch and to take some more pictures. There was only one building here, and that was a hotel made of salt.
A salt hotel to the left.
Of course we had to take some silly pictures too :p
And make some salt-angles(..?)
After a while it was time for lunch, and it was llama-meat with quinua and vegetables. It was really good! Afterwards the guide told us that we were going to have a 30 minutes break before we continued the trip. We had kind of already taken the pictures we wanted, but decided to spend some minutes relaxing in the sun. The only thing was that the guide didn't return after 30 minutes, I guess we must have waited nearly an hour when he finally decided to show up again..
All the cars lined up. To the right there are some salt tables where we ate lunch.
After the guide finally had returned we continued our trip through the flats, and stopped at the island Incahuasi, which is more known under the name Isla del Pescado because it apparently is shaped like a fish. On this island you have the opportunity to pay 30 Bol to climb the island. The guide gave us an hour to check it out, but me and Lotte decided that we would rather go around it than climbing it.
Which actually turned out to be quite a good idea!
On our way around the island we did see a lot of huge cactuses, and not to  mention we also got to see a special type of rabbit which goes under the name viscacha.
A house and some cactuses at Incahuasi Island
Me and a pretty huge cactus we passed by
Strange formations in the salt
The others told us that the trip up to the island hadn't been all too impressive, so I'm quite glad that we decided to walk around it instead. It took us about 45-50 minutes, so the timing was perfect.!

After Incahuasi we were supposed to travel to our hotel in the village close to the volcano Uturuncu, but for some reason the hotel was full, according to our guide, and we had to go to another hotel quite far from where we were supposed to be.
Inside our salt hotel room
Evening view from the salt hotel
Fair enough, at least this hotel also was made of salt.
But when it was time for dinner it turned out that our hosts at the hotel didn't have any food for us since we came on such a short notice. First we had to wait for two hours watching the other groups getting their delicious-looking food, and then when it finally was our turn to get food then all we got was a plate of spaghetti. I guess all of us went to bed a little bit hungry that evening.

The second day of our trip we had a quick breakfast, and then it was off again. But when we were about to leave the guide asked us if it was fine that we brought with us a girl that was going to town. We said that it was alright, of course, but then it turned out not only to be a lady, but also her 5-6 year old kid. Suddenly me and Lotte didn't have any space anymore; the lady wouldn't take the kid on her lap so the four of us sat quite squeezed together in the back seat.

The village by the foot of the volcano
We drove back passed the island we had visited the day before, and to the root of the volcano where there was a little village. Here we once again had to pay a small fee, this time to be able to visit the volcano. By the volcano there was also a cave where they had some old mummies, apparently they were supposed to be 500 years old or something but I'm not quite certain if that is true..

The entrance to the cave of the mummies
A couple of the mummies from the cave
After the short trip to the cave we had the opportunity to climb up to the volcano. Unfortunately we didn't have the time to go all the way to the top of the volcano though, but it was quite alright anyway.
View towards the volcano
On our way down we passed by a lot of llamas too.! They are so cute.. Haha..
A curious llama
Back down again we had our last lunch, and finally we got some good food unlike the dinner we had the day before.
Time for a group picture!
Before going back to Uyuni the last thing we got to see were some flamingos..!
We arrived in Uyuni at 4 o'clock, so we decided to buy some souvenirs and have dinner before our bus to La Paz was leaving. We soon discovered that the souvenirs in Uyuni actually are cheaper than in La Paz (or perhaps we just were lucky with the shops we visited), and the people working in the small shops we went to in the street next to the bus station were both polite and helpful so we did buy quite a lot of souvenirs here.

The bus back to La Paz left at 8 o'clock, and this time we went with a local company and the ticket only costed us 80 Bol each. The only problem was that the bus weren't direct, which nobody really told us.. The bus stopped in a small town a couple of hours from La Paz, and most of the bolivians left the bus. I was half asleep when the driver came to us and told us that "se ceda en dos horas". So we presumed that the bus was going to leave for La Paz in two hours, which it never did. The bus driver was just sleeping, and after the two hours had passed I waked him up and asked when he was going to take us to La Paz. But he said he wasn't going to La Paz after all.
In the end he followed us to the bus station and found us another bus for La Paz. He did pay our ticket, but it was still a bit annoying that nobody had bothered to tell us that the first bus weren't going to La Paz when it was clearly written La Paz on the bus and everything..
People in El Alto busy with their blockade
And our problems weren't over: When we arrived in El Alto around half past 7 in the morning there was another strike going on, and the roads were blocked. Typical Bolivia. The driver couldn't get any further, so we had to walk from the outskirts of El Alto to get to a place where it was possible to find some transport.
I don't think I'd ever knew that El Alto actually was this big if I hadn't tried to walk through it.. It took forever (and it didn't really help that we already were quite tired after an unpleasantly bumpy trip with the night bus)
We had walked for more than 2 hours when we passed the last part of the blockade and finally could find a bus to take us down to La Paz.

Though it would have been nicer if we had avoided all the trouble on the way I must say that all in all we did have a really great trip to Salar de Uyuni. It was a very special trip, which I'm pretty sure won't be forgotten anytime soon..


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About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who'd gladly trade a trip to the shoppingmall for a hike in the forest any day.

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Adventures ofAnette


The classical story about a girl who went for a one-year exchange program to Japan, fell in love and got stuck there. Starting out as a student in Kyoto in 2010 I now work full-time in Tokyo as a hotel consultant, and write mostly about my travels, working life in Japan as well as a bunch of random stuff.
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