Bolivia is a spectacular country – and if there is any trip that captures the highlight, it is this trip: A 3 day trip from Uyuni, including Salt Flats, lagoons and the national park. Before going to Bolivia we had a lot of questions about the trip we would like to choose as there are many companies offering the trip and the prices vary a lot too. A tip – Please dont go with the cheapest one. They are cheap for a reason. I am glad we did not choose a cheap operator, but a decent priced trip for a decent operator. We got a lot back in return, in terms of quality and quantity of food as well as good location/places for the 2 nights. During our trip we met other travelers from other trips and heard a lot of horror stories about many such companies.
We chose Quechua Connection 4wd and were absolutely happy with our choice. While reading many horror stories on the internet, we were constantly pleasantly surprised. This report will give you an idea what to expect on such trip and at the end I will give a keep summary of what to bring on such trip.
A map our trip is shown below. You are picked up at Uyuni (at hotel/airport) and then you go to the train graveyard right next to the city. After that you go to the Salar (where you spend all day) and then cross the Salar to Isla Pescado and spend that night on the western edge of Bolivia. We spent our night at S. Pedro de Quemes. Then the second day you visit all the lagoons and spend the night next to hot springs on the southern tip. We did that at the Chaviri Hot springs. While the third day you visit some sights on the way back to Uyuni.
DAY 1: Salar de Uyuni (Salt flats)
We had booked our 3D/2N trip with Quechua connection 4wd – and they were spectacular. They picked us from the Uyuni airport in the morning and directly drove us to the office. Where we packed our 4×4 for the 3 day trip. All the bags are packed in a waterproof tarp that protects them from the elements. Before heading on the tour, we went to the nearby shop to get 6 liters of water – 2liters/day/person.
Immediately after boarding, we were driven to the Train Graveyard. At one point Uyuni was an important station, but not anymore. Thus many old trains linger in the yard and it is a first stop before you head to the Salt flats.
The Salar is beautiful. This year, my brother and I, both could take a week off in February – which is the rainy season in Bolivia. It was an ideal time to visit the salt flats. This is also the summer season – but please do not expect very warm temperatures, especially in the evenings and nights, which are always cool and windy.
The Salt Flats are very close to Uyuni – and you can chose to do a 1day tour, where you are driven back to Uyuni at the end of the day or continue further for a multiple day tour (which we chose). The 1 day trip is more or less similar to the first day of the multiple day tour.
We started for the Salar around 11:30 and we stopped by some souvenir shops right before entering the Salar. This is a small town that is the gateway to the Salar. After the souvenir shopping and information about the Salt – we entered the Salar. The first stop is the salt hotel – where there is a nice (Dakar) Bolivia monument made of salt and lot of international flags on display.
After a quick stop at the flags and the ice hotel, we had a nice lunch next to it. Our guides found a nice spot and prepared the table. I was impressed with the offerings. The food was impressive (as it was just sourced from Uyuni) before we left an hour or two ago. We had nice steak, salad and even a apple cake as dessert. The salt hotel is a stop where most of the tourist head for using the restroom and then having a lunch around the hotel. The salt hotel also has a nice cafe for small snack items and most importantly pay-by-use restrooms.
You can visit the salt flats during the dry season, but at this point you just see the salt flats, but there is no reflection/mirror effect. While if you go during the rainy season, there is a small layer of water over the entire flats and it gives this special mirror effect. It is an absolutely sureal experience.
The first night we spent at Pedrejal Rustic Hotel, on the west of the Salar, in a city called S. Pedro de Quemes. It was a nice and clean place. With warm showers and tasty warm food. We were surprised by the quantity and quality of the food. We learnt that cheap tours really skimp on the food – thus, you get what you pay for. Even the morning breakfast was tasty with warm tea/coffee to go along.
Day 2: Lagoons (you head south all day towards the southern tip of the country)
The next morning we headed to a small shop for people who would like to stock up on things or buy some souvenirs and then headed to the lagoons. On the way, we helped another vehicle who had a flat. I was impressed by the speed with which the guys change tires. 15 mins and you are on your way back. Once you leave Uyuni (which is a few minutes after your begin your trip) you leave paved roads and you drive on dirt roads. These are pretty well maintained too. The last photo here is a 6000M peak on the Chilean border.
Around lunch time we headed to Laguna Canapa. It is a nice looking lagoon with a lot of flamingos with snow capped mountains as a backdrop.
By the time we were wandering around the lagoon, our guides again setup our lunch table. We had quinoa lasagna and nice cheeses/salads. Fabulous!
The lagoon was a nice place to relax and chill after a long morning drive.
A nice panoramic photo on the way…
A stop at the rock monuments. Do remember though – bring windbreakers and scarf…it is windy!
The highlight of the day was the red-lagoon. The lagoon looks surreal, seems like you are on some another planet. But then you see the flamingos and you know you are back on earth. This trip is a feast for your eyes…
The last stop before he headed to our hotel for the night was the geysers. It is a beautiful sight, but I was exhausted…totally and utterly exhausted, after a long driving day and the cold wind can really get to your bones.
I was glad to be at our hotel for the 2nd night. We were told that it will be basic, but it was way better than I expected. We were told that we will be sleeping in sleeping bags, but that wasnt the case. We had proper beds and blankets. The only thing missing was a warm shower, but not a problem as we were a stones throw from the hot springs. We shared our room with other 4 people, and the electricity was on only until 10pm. We charged our mobiles immediately and were set for the next day. The food here was basic but warm and tasty. We had spagetti and soup. Our drivers had a wine for us, which was a pleasant surprise.
This evening was one of the highlights of my travel-life. After dinner we headed to the hot springs. It was cold outside but the hot water was amazing. It was nice to dip in the water and look at the millions of stars above. At this elevation, without any light source around, you see every possible star and milky way. I hoped I had my SLR camera with me to capture it, but in the end thought that it is better I dont have it on my camera but just my mind.
Day 3: Heading back to Uyuni (driving north)
After a nice evening in the hot springs I could sleep well. We were told that we could use the same ticket for our visit the next morning. It was totally refreshing… just us, enjoying the nice warm dip, with clear skies above you.
Half way to Uyuni, we stopped at our lunch place. It was someones house, who had cooked for us. We had grilled chicken and soup.
Very close to this place was a nice lagoon, and rock canyon. We knew this was our last stop before heading back to Uyuni. The sight was breathtaking.
We headed back to Uyuni after this, and after a quick stop at the Tour agency office, we were brought to the airport by our driver. What a wonderful trip – The salar and the hot springs were the 2 of the best highlights of my entire travel life. A fantastic trip!
What to pack for this trip:
Some important things to take, other than what you usually bring…
-Swim pants to be used at the hot springs
-Face mask for dust
-A LOT of water
-Sweater & layers of clothing woolen garments as it is COLD and WINDY.
-Headlamp, for the second night as they dont have lights
-Wet tissues or disinfectant, as running water is no easily available.