It’s toted as one of the top experiences for any traveller of South America, and folks, believe the hype. It’s every bit as amazing as you’d expect, and hope, for it to be.
We totally lucked out with our jeep – we were with an amazing bunch of people, and the 6 of us gelled immediately: cue 3 days of excitable giggling, group photo ops and shared wonderment at all the once-in-a-lifetime scenery coming our way.
Team dos-dos-dos! Plus our lovely, long-suffering driver Felix
Because what people don’t really talk about with the Salt Flats tour is that it’s actually about a lot more than just the Salt Flats. Sure, they’re hands-down the crowning glory of the few days’ voyage, but you also see a ton of other cool things too, and you’re basically driven around on a cruise of the Bolivian altiplano, with regular stops to marvel at the varied, diverse scenery.
The arbeolis – mad upside-down desert rock thing…
Enjoying the view at Laguna Blanca
You also, over the course of the few days, become great mates with your jeep and the other jeeps in your tour group, as you stay over in the same hotels, eat dinner and lunch together, and meet up at each stop, so it’s super social. Our car was made up of me and Sam, an amazing couple from Orange County (Angelo and Johanna) and two super fun girls from Rio (Juliana and Dani), and we had such a blast. From hyper singalongs of 80s power ballads on day 1, to tolerating Bolivian folk music chosen by our driver Felix (think recorder-group trance music), to getting over excited by lunch and dinner (hot dogs and mash; spag bol; and the most exciting of all… chicken and chips and WINE on the last night!
An over-excitable lunch on Day 1!
Team boots line-up… mine are the least fashionable, manly brown ones on the left!
…group jumping shots in the desert and on the flats; to stalking llamas and flamingos for photos. We also adopted fellow Brit Lucy from another jeep as her jeep folk were a wee bit cliquey, so our group name was decided as ‘team dos-dos-dos-Lucy’ due to our origins plus addition of Lucy! Angelo and Johanna also had a selfie stick and Go Pro so we had some fun making time-lapse videos and taking ‘super selfies’ with our jeep and generally messing around! We were so loud and giggly at points that our long-suffering Bolivian guide Felix had to keep shouting ‘ESCUCHE ME!’ so we’d listen to his introductions to where we were stopping…!
Perfecting the jump (finally!) on the salt flats
Lunch of tuna mayo, rice and salad, put on by our lovely guides
Llama bombing! A surprisingly difficult affair.
Over the course of the few days we visited a few truly stunning lagoons – Laguna Blanca, Laguna Verde and Laguna Colorado – which are all different colours due to the microorganisms living in the water. From blinding white, to emerald green, to rosy pink (the latter being because of the shrimp that live there) – all lagoons were beautiful in their own ways, and the last was super cool because tons of flamingos live there and you could literally stand right next to them as the swooped around in the water and dipped their head up and down munching on the shrimp. They’re actually pretty hilarious close-up as they’re so big and bright and their legs are so skinny! They kind of walk like drag queens, with a lot of attitude… Their flying is pretty funny too.
Watching flamingos – endlessly entertaining!
We also visited some awesome desert formations, including ‘Dali Desert’ (which looks like his paintings) and the ‘arebolis’ which is a mad upside-down rock formation that looks like it defies gravity, and is surrounding by multi-coloured rocks that we climbed over. We also visited a bit of the desert where Bolivia and Chile meet, with a nice mirador; and we drove through tons of quinoa farms (they grow so much here but most Bolivians can’t afford to eat it because the export has driven the price up so much. So sad!)
Vicuna family and desert-scapes…
We also visited yet more geysers and hot springs, which seem pretty old hat after San Pedro…!
More hot springs and geysers!
Sam (the unicorn) enjoyed his moment in the spotlight, managing to make his way into many photos on the day we visited the Flats. To keep his energy up (and prevent any altitude sickness) he got pretty heavily involved with coca leaves…
We stayed over in a couple of awesome places – the first was in the middle of nowhere in the desert, and we all slept in a 6 bed dorm but ended up having trippy dreams and light sleep because of the altitude, so we woke ourselves up slowly with some dancing around to pop music in our room! The second place was the SALT HOTEL, which was SO cool. Basically as it says on the tin, the Salt Hotel is entirely made of salt! Salt on the floor, salt walls, salt furniture, salt ceiling. We waded through salt to get around. It was awesome! As a mineral, salt is supposed to help you relax, and we all slept REALLY soundly in our salty rooms (probably helped by the red wine and chicken feast dinner) which was for the best because…
DAY THREE WAS THE BEST DAY EVER! The day we actually hit the Salt Flats! We were really lucky because we were visiting the flats just after rainy season, and there was a chance they’d be too flooded to visit, (and the day before Felix had said we’d only be able to get to the edge) But after a long sunny day beforehand, we ended up with the best of both worlds: partly melted salt flats, meaning we had a perfect reflection of the sky (it felt like walking in clouds); and partly perfect dazzling whiteness out to the horizon.
As we drove in, we all started screaming and giggling hysterically, it was just so beautiful. We’d been the first group ready to go in our jeep that morning, and by the time we stepped foot onto the Flats, our excitement just overran. For the next hour or so, we just ran around like kids, taking photos of each other, doing silly perspective poses, jumps, and marvelling at the dazzling beauty of it all.
After the initial high, we stopped for a lunch of llama steaks and rice (your guides also put on a full lunch for you each day, on picnic tables by the jeep… it was very nice too!) then we walked around Fisher Island, which is a mad island in the middle of the Salt Flats with cacti growing all over it. We were soon tired of climbing around the rocky island though, so after about 10 minutes we ran back out onto the flats to take more photos instead!
The last bit of the day, we stopped at the ‘Salt Museum’ which I didn’t really understand… it looked like a load of flags, a cafe and a statue of some kind (we were pretty exhausted by this point!) BUT we did have an AMAZING stroke of luck in that we ran into Hannah and India – our buddies from Pucon – actually ON the Salt Flats! What are the odds?! We’d decided by this point that we should probably study some Spanish and turned out they’d booked onto a course in Sucre, so we decided to try and sync up with them (rather than going it alone to Cochabamba as we were planning)
The final couple of stops on the tour were a craft market, where we bought a toy dressed-up llama carrying corn, quinoa and salt-flat salt (that we named Llamelie, in honour of Amelie) and then last stop, the ‘Train cemetery’ which is a bizarre collection of rusty disused steam trains that you can clamber over. There was some pretty dramatic lightning going on at that point so it looked pretty cool over all the train skeletons!
With a heavy heart, we arrived in Uyuni and said an emotional goodbye to our Salt Flats crew and spent the night there, a sleepy little tourist town, where we found a cute little hostel with a kitten and a parakeet, and we were so exhausted by all the excitement, we barely managed to snaffle a packet of cookies before passing out dead to the world. What an unforgettable few days!