In another one of my adventures out I ended up stopping at this place .. white ground, blue sky and a thin layer of water to give a final touch, that there is the famous Salar de Uyuni salt desert or known also as “mirror heaven”.
Formerly the Salar was a salty and prehistoric lake called Michin, when the lake dried, left all the salt. The Salar is huge, an approximate size to 12.000Km², it can be seen from space and is known as the largest salt flat in the world. In addition the area is large and salt depth is immense, are 120 meters salt down and esteem that can take away the equivalent of 10 billion tons of salt.
How to get to Salar de Uyuni?
There are several ways to go to the Salar de Uyuni, the first and I used was going by bus from Santa Cruz de La Sierra. Are two days of road stopping in Sucre and Potosí to arrive in Uyuni. I don’t remember the value of the tickets but weren’t expensive.
The other option is to go by plane. You can take flights from La Paz to Uyuni. They are small businesses that make this way, so it’s good to pay attention to schedules and reservations, as they may change at any time.
What to bring to the Salar de Uyuni?
The only item that I find indispensable to take to Salar is water, as much as possible. When I went I took it, if I’m not mistaken a few gallons of 5 liters, everything not to miss. Also take some snacks like cookies and sandwiches, just to fool the hunger, as the main meals are included in the tour.
About the clothes, it will depend on what time of year you go. I went on the winter, and I admit I didn’t take any specific clothes like fleece, windbreaker or anorak. I took cold clothes that I bought and I thought they were still strong here in Brazil. In fact, a pair of sweatpants and a tactel, plus a T-shirt, a thick thick sweater, scarf, cap, gloves and socks will hold up during the day, as it was with me. I had only one problem at night, one of the most terrible of my life, that not even the 2 blankets of the salt hotel were enough to withstand the extreme cold, but neither did I die. So cold clothes are at your discretion.
2 days tour on Salar de Uyuni
The tourism in Salar de Uyuni is immense, people from all over the world go there to see the place. Usually people take a 3 day desert tour in a 4×4 by staying in salt hotels along the way. I had to do only 2 days of tour because at that time there was a blizzard reaching the region and if we risk we could risk being trapped in the snow, we chose to do 2 days and at the end that the guide would leave us on the border with Chile.
We made the tour with Colques Tour and we paid B$466.00 (value for the year 2011). Whoever was our guide was Luis, a very attentive gentleman and his daughter Mari who helped us with our meals.
1st day on Salar
On our first day we met Luis at his travel agency, we packed our things and the car and left. The first stop is at the Trains Cemetery, an old railroad that linked Uyuni to the other cities for heavy mining of the region, after a crisis in the 1940s the railroad closed, leaving only the memories. In the place has a great carcass of trains, that makes the landscape very interesting. You can get on the trains to take pictures and sign your name.
Then we headed for Salar. The arrival there is impressive, as the ground changes color, from brown to white. We arrived in an area that looked like salt mining, there were a few salt mounds and Luis said we could not go up but could take photos. It is really beautiful that first contact and that can only be done using dark glasses, without this it is impossible to keep your eyes open for long.
We took some photos and left for lunch, Luís took us to lunch in a restaurant / hotel totally made of salt, it is called Hotel Playa Blanca. Today it no longer functions as a hotel, just like one of the several sights of Salar, all Make a stop because that’s where there is a point with several flags from several countries. In this hotel we ate a very good Bolivian home-made meal that was delicious, a grain that looked like rice but it was called quinoa, llama meat, salad and soda. On the outside of this salt building stands the famous place with many flags from many countries, probably from travelers who passed by and left their mark.
After lunch the trip is long, it’s a few hours heading into the desert. Gradually the mountains disappear and we find ourselves in the middle of that blue immensity, because the layer of water reflected the blue sky we didn’t have much to differentiate where the sky ended and the ground began. In a moment we stopped and went down to take some photos and I kept getting more and more speechless. A few more minutes by car and we arrive at Isla Del Pescado, which is a small piece of land in the middle of the desert, giving the impression that it is an island. Its vegetation is very different, they are cacti, millennial and giant cacti, reaching up to 9 meters in height. The island is huge and has a lot of climbing, to enter it has to pay 15 Bolivianos and then make the trail to climb to the top, due to the altitude we are very breathless but nothing to spoil the adventure, from above the view of the Salar is to die for , An endless panoramic view.
When we got off Luis was anxious waiting for us, he didn’t want us to lose the sunset. Very fast we got in the car and we went for about 10 minutes at a point that I could see the farewell of the sun and I’ll tell you, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life, nothing in those years all the traveling the world made me feel What I felt there, nothing made me cry as I cried at that moment. The effects caused by the reflexes are really beautiful.
At nightfall we went to a hotel made entirely of salt where we spent the night. After dinner, which was very well served and a little tea that would leave Ms Elizabeth envious and see the sky with an absurd amount of stars, the challenge was to withstand the cold of -16º where my water bottles froze. It was the worst night of my life, despite being in all the possible coats I could not sleep in any moment with cold.
2nd day of Salar
After the icy hell of dawn, we “woke up” early in the morning to have breakfast and continue our journey. The day was beautiful, the sky clear, the wind cool and cold, I couldn’t complain about anything else. At that moment we had already crossed the part that was salt, from then on it would be desert and pure dust. We went to the first stop of the day, it was the Galaxia 2 Estrellas, few people go there. The Galaxia 2 Estrellas is a cave with very strange and beautiful formations, it is in the middle of the desert and is run by a little man who lives there alone. The entrance costs 20 Bolivianos, and is more to help the man who lives there. On the side of the Galaxy is an ancient cemetery of the natives who lived there many years ago. In these cemeteries they practiced various rituals with Coca leaves, so there were many tombs with exposed skulls surrounded by Coca leaves.
Following the journey we pass by the “Ejercito de Piedras”, a large vertical formation of stones that if looked from above looks like a great army ready to attack. What makes the vision more interesting is the Ollagüe Volcano in the background. There we stopped a bit to take some pictures and go to the bathroom, then we continued our journey until we reached Laguna Turquiri, a semi-frozen lagoon with extreme beauty and stone formations around which were carved by the wind, the kind of wind that beat on the face and hurt it. There we had a leisurely lunch and rested a little.
Then Luis took us to know the best part, the snow! It was a great, totally giant, snowy valley. It was the first time I had seen it in my life, so I could see that I wasn’t even a child. We play there until we say enough! In the beginning it is good to run and do things in the snow, but then you get tire.
From there Luis took us to Alvaroa Station in Ollagüe, already on the border with Chile. There a friend of his that we hired waited for us to take us to San Pedro de Atacama. Getting to know Salar and its surrounding deserts was simply sensational. It is among the most incredible places I have ever been in my life and one of the few where I could feel on another planet. Bolivia, despite a poor country, reserves great and beautiful attractions for people, worth checking out.