Everything you read about the Uyuni Salt Flats in the high Altiplano of Bolivia makes you desperate to see it but a little fearful that it maybe can’t live up to its reputation.
We’d hoped for a three day trip which would take us across the salt flats into Chile but tour companies weren’t running them due to the rains. The one day trip is said by some to make for a very second rate experience to the three day expedition!
Zoe wakes in our Salt hotel feeling really breathless and has some oxygen before we check out, since its sitting on reception for anyone to help themselves! We’re at 3650m above sea level. Thankfully she rallies and we can set off.
Our day is fabulous! Each family has a jeep and driver and we share a guide with Quechua Connections. We’d asked for a visit to caves with mummies, the village of Colchani to see the salt production process and then as much time on the salt flats as possible.
The caves were amazing. If they are truly authentic, then they’re simply remarkable! To just walk in and see a whole family of mummies, one clutching a baby or perhaps a foetus! Locals visit and there are small gifts of money and coca leaves pushed into their hands. Drinks and cigarettes given. A mummified or just shrivelled puma fixed above the doorway!
Next off to see the bleak village of Colchani where salt is processed. There are huge piles of the stuff, apparently selling at around 3 uk pence per kilo – incredibly cheap and only sold within Bolivia, none exported.
The Salar de Uyuni apparently has around 10 billion tons of salt with less than 25000 tons extracted each year. Its origins are in a pre Andean era in fact as we stood above the mummy caves looking across the salt we picked up pre-Andean coral around our feet – surreal! What a geology lesson!
Then finally we head towards the flats and seem to slide right into the most amazing landscape! You can’t see where sky and land meet – it’s a completely surreal and magical feeling as we glide across the salt. Covered with a couple of inches of water, reflecting blue sky and clouds which simple wrap around us! The photos cannot do it justice but you get a little bit of an idea I hope:)
There are other vehicles heading out across the flats – the further ones look like ants, the nearer ones silhouetted and reflected in the water. We pass some piles of salt and a solitary guy digging with a pick axe, his bicycle parked up alongside a mound of salt. Every view is surreal bit almost impossible to capture on film.
We’ve been advised to wear flip flops and when we get out we’re wading around on/in the salt. Our legs, feet and flip flops are soon white with salt crystals. We can pick up crystals that look like tiny pyramids.
The Bremners inspire us with a ton of ideas for taking fun perspective photos and videos and we spend a happy hour or two creating them. Here are some of our better efforts!
And here links to our favourite movies on our friends’ blog 🙂
The kids travel together in the Bremner jeep and later, after seeing others do the same, get on top of the jeep and travel back up there across the flats.
We stop at the original (closed due to salt contamination) salt hotel, now just a small tourist shop in the middle of the vastness but with a scenic collection of world flags outside.
Then it’s sadly time to head back and say a final farewell to our friends who are off for a second night at the Salt Palace before driving further south, whilst we head back to Uyuni for half a night in a rather un-glamorous hostel. In stark contrast to the $140 a night salt hotel, the only similarity is that the room is about the same size and has three single beds. There’s one grotty bathroom for all rooms to share, no running water but it’s about $10 a night and a perfectly fine place to rest a few hours before checking out at 3am to catch a bus across the Andes and across the border to Calama in Northern Chile.
To my horror, Martin suggested we actually kip at the bus station (I’m still not sure how serious he was) but on discovery there isn’t even a bus station and hearing him ask our guide if he thought it would be safe to wait/sleep on a bench by the bus stop (!) it was a delight to find and book up our $10 place right across the road from the bus stop and no worse than a lot of the places I stayed on a tighter budget 20 years ago!! We realise we’re pretty spoilt most of the time!
We’re not very happy leaving our things in the room unattended, so the girls and I go our for pizza then later Martin and Ben go, leaving me to persuade the girls to get an early night!
We’re all gutted to have said goodbye to the Bremners again so soon although we’ve all promised to stay in touch and meet up back home!
The Salt Flats day trip is brilliant if you don’t have time or conditions aren’t good for a three day trip and it should be on anyone’s South America short list!