As mentioned in my last blog post we were reluctant at first to take the multiple days tour from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile to Uyuni in Bolivia. But finally knowing we would go with people we liked made the decision easier. We paid 90000 Chilean pesos per person (instead of 115000) for a 3days 2nights tour including food and lodging. There are numerous agencies in San Pedro, most of them work with the same operator so most of them will offer the same prices, negotiate hard and read the many reviews you’ll find online. Be aware that most of them will tell you that you spend the second night is the Salt hotel on the salt flats, that’s a complete lie as staying on the flats has been recently outlawed due to the pollution generated.
We started our first day at 8am leaving with a van for 12 which would drop us at the border. Again, don’t forget the paper you received when entering Chile as it’s needed to exit the country. The line at the border might be very long as every tour is basically leaving at the same time.
We drove for half a hour until the border, already gaining significant altitude. The views were scenic and promising. At the border, once the immigration procedures completed we had a great breakfast (in fact really good French baguettes). At that moment we were met by the Bolivian guides/drivers who were in fact coming down from the Uyuni flats with the clients doing the tour the other way around ( from Bolivia to Chile) we were split in 2 groups of 6 persons each and started our adventure with Cali, our guide, and his 4×4.
Our first stop after a few hours drive was the Laguna Verde where the blue water, green algaes and red ground made for a nice contrast. The snow covered mountains tips and volcanoes in the back added to the magic.
For lunch we arrived at a hot spring where most people took a dip. We decided to only dip our feet, considering the smell of certain fellow backpackers 😂😂 and the limited size of the pool. Be aware that if you do the tour the other way around descending from Bolivia you actually spend a night near the hot spring, can access the pool early morning and enjoy a spectacular sunrise while soaking in a warm bath.
Lunch was simple but good, sausage and mashed potato. However we saw that each group had different food (most looked better than ours haha) and some Chinese tourists even had wine – I guess you do get what you pay for…
After lunch we stopped at some active geysers for some scary pictures and then headed to the Laguna Roja featuring reddish waters and thousands of flamingos. The coloration of the water is due to tiny red microorganisms which also give the reddish colour to the flamingos who are eating them.
During that first day we went up to an altitude of nearly 5000m above sea level, quite tough in terms of altitude sickness. We all had a headache, coca leaves worked for most of us but one of us was actually not well at all. Luckily the next day we would go back to a lower altitude of 3200m. Some advices to fight altitude sickness: chew coca leaves, don’t eat too much, and avoid alcohol.
The accommodation on the first night was extremely basic, one could easily have thought the hostel wasn’t finished. We shared 2 rooms of 3 and I’ve never been that cold at night, we were at 4200m above sea level on a deserted plateau and the house insulation was non existent so be ready to sleep with your warm clothes on or rent a sleeping bag to the tour agency.
The second day was the least spectacular, we went to see some rock formations and the Laguna Misterioso. Both quite nice but less impressive. We did see some cute llamas and alpacas along the way though.
Our lodging for the second night was located in the outskirts of Uyuni in the house of the agency owner. Again the hostel wasn’t really fully functional but as we were among the very first guests everything was very clean and the lady host was a very good cook. We were not very happy to be so far from the city centre but Cali was kind enough to drop us in town and to pick us up, allowing us to go to an internet cafe and/or grab a drink.
Our alarms for the next day were set at 4am to catch sunrise on the Uyuni flats. The world famous ‘Salar de Uyuni’ is 11’000 square km large, the saltcrust is several meters thick and beneath the crust and under the water lay actually 50 to 70% of the world’s lithium reserves (the stuff needed for batteries in your smartphone 😉 imagine how interesting and attractive Bolivia got with this!).
We were in the right season to catch the reflections as some parts of the flats were covered by a layer of water. This made it freezing cold but gave us a stunning sunrise reflected on the flats.
After 1 hour of shooting pictures we moved to a non flodded location of the flats and had a frugal but welcomed breakfast. Then we had another hour of pictures shooting. Using all our power of imagination to come up with ‘perspective’ pics. We had quite some fun during this photo session which was in fact the crowning moment of our 3 days tour.
Cali our guide was sleeping so he missed all of our tries. When he woke up we drove to the Salt hostel – entirely build out of salt (repairs are necessary every time after it rains). As previously said it is not possible anymore to stay overnight at this location bit it still hosts a shop, a museum and a restaurant. We’ve heard it is possible to bribe your way to spend a night there but honestly it doesn’t look very appealing.
Not having witnessed our photoshooting earlier because of intense doozing Cali was now on fire and showed us all his tricks for funny pictures – a lot of which we had already done but of course we played along ^^
We were brought back to the hostel for our lunch and then Cali drove us to the bus station so we could catch our bus to Potosi.
All in all the tour turned out to be very nice, we never felt rushed and obviously you can’t expect it to be luxurious (but that’s not the reason you go to Bolivia, right?), our guide was nice and responsible (meaning he didn’t get wasted like hell, a thing we heard about other drivers). Again we kind of chose our group members so that also contributed to having a such nice time, the only add-on was a gut named Xabi from the Basque country and he was funny like hell.
We definitely don’t regret having taken the tour over a simple bus ride and a day tour because: 1) we wouldn’t have seen as much ; 2) we wouldn’t have saved that much; 3) we were lucky to have a good guide and excellent company. For future travelers who wonder if they should do the Piedras Rochas Tour in San Pedro be aware that you see pretty much the same things (flamingos, lagunas, rock formations…), that’s the reason we didn’t do it.
Talk soon about our stay in Potosi and Sucre!