MOTHER EARTH'S SALT BOWL
3 day tour in the Salar de Uyuni: The quick guide
Three days, seven people, one 4x4. Crossing the biggest salt flat in the world is all you need in the recipe for one epic adventure.
If you are an adventurer, or possibly even just a normal traveller, chances are that visiting the Salar de Uyuni is on your bucket list. During our South American backpacking, we ticked it off in a tour that will go down as one of the most interesting we ever did.
We meet our crew outside the agency, World White Travel, and in no time we understand we are in for an interesting ride. The group is definitely a mixed bag: a Spanish guy from Madrid, who looks friendly but speaks only Spanish, two German girls who just finished high school, our guide was a Bolivian named Kasimiro who also spoke only Spanish. The star of the group, a sixty-five-year-old American man, who rocks ups chewing coca leaves and speaking very loudly in both English and very broken but understandable Spanish. This is our family for the next three days.
The first day is possibly the most spectacular as it’s spent driving through the massive Salar de Uyuni. Kilometers and kilometers of white salt in any direction you look, a landscape that is difficult to grasp in all its strangeness. The car slides through the salt silently, in a lunar like limbo and the only other thing you see every once in a while is another car, who seems to be floating on this land without a horizon. The clouds in the sky seamlessly melt into the whiteness of the salty earth, swallowing the horizon line. My favourite part is walking on the salt as it crackles under your feet, as if you are walking on a thin layer of crystallized caramel of a creme brulee.
The classic Toyota Land Cruser!
Lunch is dished out by our guide/chef/driver Kasimiro, seemingly out of nowhere, in a Salt Hotel, where we eat delicious quinoa, salad, avo and more, sitting on tables and stools made of salt.
The rest of the day slowly advances under the baking sun and reserves us two wonderful surprises. Our first stop after lunch is Isla Incahuasi, a mirage in the whiteness. An island covered with strange-looking one-arm chunky cactuses that fill the hilly island and grow unbothered under the scorching sun.
From this little island, we move to greet the end of the day in the area of the salar where there is water, to see the famous reflections we all been waiting for.
The sun sets and uses the white salt as its canvas to paint everything around us into a palette of light blue, violets, indigos until it catches alight in a fiery orange and red. A once in a lifetime spectacle, a show we will never forget.
The night ends at the new Salt Hotel, whose name doesn’t cheat. Everything, from the floor to the walls, to the chairs and tables, is made of salt. Low budget but definitely charming.
The second day is all about the Lagoons that dot the area south of the salar. The sceneries are vast, colourful and idyllic. Most of these lagoons are home to flamingos who inhabit them during the warmer months and leave only when, due to the icy temperatures, the water freezes.
We visit Laguna Hedionda, and Laguna Chiarkota and stop by to see a series of very strange looking rock formations that have been shaped by the merciless wind. During the day the temperature is acceptable and the sun is still hot, even though you still need a warm jacket and a hat. When we reach one of the highest points where you can see a set of colourful peaks called Montagna Colorada, we could barely walk outside the car as the wind is so strong and cold that we prefer to enjoy the view from the back seat.
The last lagoon we visit is Laguna Colorada, which is tinted in red as the microorganisms that live in it react to the wind and the sun, bursting into a colourful reaction. The wind is icy, but the views are wonderful, volcano peaks in the background and flamingos adding to the dramatic effect. Not to mention that just behind a hill we find a pack of llamas and we lose all respectable manners. These fluffy, funny looking, adorable animals just lie around or roam around eating grass, undisturbed by us trying to take a photo with them.
The biggest adventure of the day is definitely the night accommodation. We sleep in a very low key place called a ‘refuge’, all six in one dorm room, inside sleeping bags under two covers, while the wind is howling through the laminated roof. It’s definitely cold, definitely uncomfortable, but it adds to the sense of adventure.
A flamingo playground
Geysers at 5000m above sea level!
The last day starts extra early as we need to catch the sun rising over the Geysers. We wake up at 4am, have a pancake breakfast and reach the geyser just in time to see the light awake behind the mountain peaks.
The geysers steam from the volcanic breaks in the earth, and our guide tells us terrible stories of more than one tourist falling into the steaming water, so we are very careful on where we step. It’s a ice cold but beautiful start of the day.
Sol de la Manana
The rest of the day is spent visiting few other sites such as the Salvatore Dali desert, where strange looking rocks lie randomly on dark sand, recalling a Dali painting. Next are Laguna Verde and Laguna Blanca and finally lunch at a little village composed of two streets and maybe eighty houses.
We drive back six hours to Uyuni city, definitely tired, definitely dirty but with some of the sweetest memories of our lives.