Surreal. Other worldly. A testament to the tenacity of life. However you want to describe it, the Salar de Uyuni in this south western pocket of Bolivia is an absorbing mix of cold, barren and strikingly beautiful. Here’s a handful of pictures from my three day experience through one of the most alien landscapes I’ve ever been.
Six tourists plus their gear and guide get piled into an old 4×4 Toyota Land Cruiser. Seriously, these things are tanks. If some of the harshest terrain on the planet set within poorest country in South American can’t destroy them, I don’t know what can. Reminds me of that one episode of Top Gear.
Hopefully you get a guide as great as ours. What he lacked in molars and English language skills he more than made up for with his generous personality. Treat him or her well – they double as your cook.
And so you set off into the 11,000 square km salt flats.
Formed from an evaporated sea more than than 30,000 years ago, much of the area still floods during the rainy season. The evaporating water forms these hexagonal(ish?) shapes.
And it’s quite expansive.
Feel free to eat the salt. It tastes exactly like the stuff on your dining room table. Huge surprise there.
Assuming your guide knows where they’re going, that afternoon you’ll arrive at at Incahuasi, or “fish island.” From a distance, the island’s outline vaguely looks like a fish. It’s an incredibly inappropriate name given what’s on the island.
Just small plants and cacti.
Lots and lots of cacti.
By now you’re going to be tired, sunburnt, and frustrated that the battery in your camera is dead from taking the exact same picture one bazillion times. So you drive a few hours more to your salt hotel. Really. The walls are made from real salt.
Not the doors, though. They’re made from real wood.
Blocks of salt are heavy, btw.
After leaving your hotel the next morning, things get less salty.
And substantially more cold. Forget your hat and scarf and you’re going to have a bad time.
You’ll drive across – really up – some teeth chattering and dusty terrain to about 5,000 meters. Roads, comfortable rides and anything that requires oxygen don’t exist here.
Until you get to some lakes. Then the flamingos, micro organisms, algae, crustaceans and other flamingo food do.
How they survive the altiplano temperatures that reach -20° Celcius I have no idea. But they look good for pictures.
Unfortunately there’s usually a gaggle of other people who realize the same thing.
Oh, and there’s viscachas too. Basically a rabbit that forgot to loose its tail.
But soon your guide will probably berate you for taking too many pictures and it’s back to the 4×4 for you.
Drive a bit further down the non-existent road to this place. Apparently it’s a rock that looks like a tree…or something that’s one more sand storm from falling over.
Some more lakes that are great for making your friends jealous on Instagram.
After a full 10 hours of driving you reach the final lake before your accommodation. If you’re lucky the moon will just be rising.
The hospedaje is pretty basic – picture totally isn’t worth it. But the geysers next morning at 5am are.
Descend another few hundred meters just in time for sunrise.
And your end at the Chilean border.
*If you’re coming from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, start here and read backwards.*
Thanks for looking!