After an overnight bus from La Paz we arrived in Uyuni – the starting point for our Salt Flats Tour. We booked a tour that morning with a company called Lipez and by 11am we were off on our 3 day / 2 night adventure. We had two other couples in our truck – 1 from Italy and the other from Holland. Our guide/driver, Roberto, only spoke Spanish (which is typical of these tours) and while the other couples could understand him Andrew and I were left feeling like idiots most of the time and needed to rely on the others for translations.
The tour started with a quick trip to the train cemetery – these trains were abandoned in the 1940s when the mining industry collasped. From there we started our journey onto the Salar.
Salar de Uyuni is the worldest largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometres, located at 3,656m altitude. It contains 50 to 70% of the world’s lithium reserves and is also a major breeding ground for several species of flamingos.
We had plently of fun (and frustration) trying to get those perfect perspective shots on the Salar. In the middle of the ‘ocean’ of salt was Isla Incahuasi, a large island which hosts giant cacti and is covered in coral like structures. It’s crazy to think that 40,000 years ago this area was an underwater reef. That evening we watched the sunset over the Salar and then were driven to our accommodation for the night – a Salt Hotel. Everything was made from salt – the walls, floor, tables and chairs, even our bed bases – it was pretty cool!
Day two consisted of a LOT of driving! We left the Salt Flats and travelled through the desert, seeing many lagoons, volcanoes and mountains, crops, and swampy plains with lots of llamas. Today we saw our first flocks of flamingo but the real highlight was the thousands we saw in Laguna Colorada in the National Park. The Laguna is the main nesting site of three species of Andean flamingos. The bright red colour of the lagoon is due to microscopic algae – this is also why the flamingos are pink (you are what you eat!). That evening we stayed within the Park in a basic dorm room with our group – at night the temperature dropped to around -10 degrees so needless to say we did not have a comfortable sleep!
We woke at 5am on the third day for breakfast and then set off to see the geysers (which reminded us of our youth in Rotorua!) and then went for a swim in a natural hot spring. When we got there the ground was frozen and it was a mission getting changed into our swimwear but once we were in the 40 degree pool it was unreal. Because the air was so cold, the hot steam coming from the pool was real thick you could barely see 1 metre. Our final stop was the Laguna Verde (the green lagoon) which gets its colour from high levels of arsenic and copper. The Laguna Verde is on the Chile border and many tourists opt to hop off the tour here to head down to San Pedro. We back tracked our way back to Uyuni – absolutely covered in dust and thankful to get out of that truck.
It was such an unforgettable trip through a vast variety of landscapes which felt truly out of this world.