Uyuni does I’m pleased to say have one redeeming feature. It is the gateway town to the Salar de Uyuni, otherwise known as the Bolivian salt flats. In pretty much any guidebook you read, a trip across the Salt Flats from Bolivia into Chile is a must do – and so we did.
We booked our trip with a well reviewed company called Red Planet and once again crossed our fingers that we’d get a good group – especially important given you’re crammed into a 4×4 for 3 days and stay in shared accommodation with no showers. Once again, we got lucky. Ian and Jen (Ohio, US) along with Erik and Frederica (Denmark) were awesome company throughout (plus other bonuses like no snoring and sound personal hygiene in the absence of showers).
Day 1 of our trip involved a somewhat random but interesting visit to a train graveyard. Passenger train travel in Bolivia is pretty limited and the scale of their industrial operation has diminished a bit but tracks do still take minerals from the area into Bolivia and Argentina. The now defunct trains are old and rusting but have some amazing graffiti on them and look a real spectacle just stuck out in the middle of the desert.
Our second stop was the real deal – the salt flats themselves. The Salar is approx 10,000 square kms, making it the biggest salt flat in the world. It can even be seen from space. The salt crust is a few metres thick and beneath it is a layer of brine which contains 50-70% of the world’s lithium supplies (source: Wikipedia :-)). Aside from the amazing natural chemistry, this place is just ridiculously beautiful. The surrounding sky and mountains are reflected in the shallow pools of water on top of the salt and it makes for something that looks out of this world – and given it is currently the rainy season we got v lucky with the weather. Everyone spends a great deal of time trying to capture the perfect shot of themselves doing something acrobatic – our efforts are below for your amusement….
The next 2 days of the tour involved driving a few hundred kms from the salt flats to the Chilean border. On the way we were treated to lunar like landscapes (NASA do the training for their moon vehicles in this area), different coloured lagoons, a flamboyance of flamingoes (had to look that up), some steaming geysers (insert bottom joke here) and some incredible mountain peaks (we ate lunch one day at 4,900m above sea level).
On our last night we also got to sample a natural hot spring. Sitting in this pool at night, with the stars shining down was a real treat. Perhaps minus the other 30 people there, add a few beers and some pretzels and it really would have been the ultimate experience 🙂
We arrived at the Chilean border with our spines a little altered and started yet another crazy border crossing process. It was then a short journey into Chile to reach the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama.
Final verdict on the salt flats trip as follows: definitely worth it for the salt flats alone. A lot of driving, some very basic or non-existent facilities and perhaps a bit of landscape fatigue but amazing nonetheless.
7.5 out of 10 from us.
From Chile with love.