A vast sea of hardened salt, blood red lakes, lava-spewing geysers, islands of cacti, freezing windy deserts, volcanoes, flamingos, alpaca, thermal waters, and fields of red and yellow Quinoa.
My 4-day tour leading to and finishing on the Salar de Uyuni remains the most geographically diverse experience I’ve had in my 15 months of travel, making it a perfect conclusion to the seven weeks I spent in Bolivia.
This blog post is my longest yet (29 pages double-spaced in MSWord) so you may need to break up the reading if you intend to read the whole thing. If you just want to read about the the Salar de Uyuni itself you can scroll to the bottom of this page and click yourself to the last page but trust me, there is lots of equally good stuff before it.
The Salar de Uyuni itself (the “Salar”, ie, the salt flats) is undeniably Bolivia’s most incredible geographical phenomenon.
And that’s saying a lot, considering some of the incredible peaks (Illimani), lakes (Titicaca), and rainforest jungles (Amazon near Rurrenabaque) in Bolivia.
Bolivia has turned the Salar into an industry in and of itself.
Surprisingly they have done it without ruining the ecological areas people come to see, which is a sustainable plus.
Tours can last between one and four days and launch from Tupiza or the small town of Uyuni.
Huge caravans of jeeps load up with backpackers and cart them over the wilderness leading to the Salar.
John (California), Matan (Israel) and I were in Tupiza so we elected to do a four day tour with Valle Hermoso Tours, the same company we had done the Tupiza horse ride with.
We were joined by two other Israeli guys, Itamar Marle and Shaked Peretz, to round out our five-passenger jeep (plus the Bolivian driver) for our four day tour.
Each day we would spend 6-8 hours in a cramped Jeep and see 7-9 fantastic geographical sites, while covering lots of sand, rivers, and salt in the process.
The salt flats are typically visited on the last day, the proverbial cherry on top of an exceptional tour.
The terrain leading to the Salar is the most diverse I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Before we even arrived to the salt flats we had been through plains, mountains, lagoons, volcanos, marshes, geysers, and deserts.
Below, I will provide a chronological log of our many and varied stops, starting with Day 1….
Day 1 – Valle Sillar, Nazarenito, Awanapampa, Cerrillos, San Pablo de Lipez
At an elevation of 3,650 meters, our first stop of the first day was a valley called El Sillar, just 13 kilometers north of Tupiza.
In El Sillar, natural erosion over the course of millions of years has led to the formation of colorful rock formations that resembled the “Moon Valley” I had seen near La Paz.
Locals in the area harvest cacti to make handicrafts and furniture, such as ashtrays, photo frames, and wall paper.
Shaked took an awesome panoramic shot with his iPhone.
In fact, credit for the all the panoramic shots in this blog post must go to him. Those iPhones have an app that can make some pretty cool panoramic pictures.