Plateaus, mountains, ruins, lakes, llamas, flamingos, salt flats, miners, sand storms, deserts, jeeps, hot springs, geysers, volcanoes, algae, rocks, dinosaurs, caves, graveyard trains & obligatory salt flat snaps

At 10,582 sq kms, Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat located in the south-west of Bolivia.

But a tour of the region delivers so much more than just salt.

DAY 1: Our journey to the fabled fields was slightly unconventional, coming in from the “wine country” of Tarija in the south east, as opposed to most travellers who head in directly from La Paz.

Leaving Tupiza, we crossed into a spectacular countryside of rolling hills, eroded rock formations & valleys. Winding roads led towards the large fin formations of the Quebrada de Palala riverbed & El Sillar (The Saddle), stunning against a backdrop of multi-coloured mineral deposits and scattered cacti

file_4272x2101_053943file_4272x2848_051413 file_4272x2848_051370file_4182x2087_053941

We had a roadstop at Awanapampa, observing a plateau of grazing llamas and alpacas.

file_4272x2848_051456file_4272x2848_051451

Suddenly, snow capped mountains appeared, before we stopped to explore the mysterious ruins of the ancient colonial village of San Antonio.

file_4272x2250_053957file_4272x2848_051578

The first of many lakes over the next 3 days, at a windy & chilly 4855m above sea level.

file_4192x1469_053971 file_4272x2753_051613file_4272x2848_051648

We arrived at a homestay in Quetena for the night, pretty late & hungry (photo is from the next morning). A typical 3 course Bolivian dinner was cooked for us: soup, mince & mash, & fruit.

file_4272x2848_051700file_4272x2848_051692 (1)

DAY 2:  The 2nd day started at a llama/alpaca farm, where we literally saw a llama brought to slaughter. One unlucky llama was picked out from the pack, dragged to the road by heartless cholitas. Squealing & shrilling, the llama tried helplessly to hold its ground, but it was no match for the mighty women. The other llamas could only watch in silent despair, sad for their comrade but relieved that they get to live another day.

file_4272x2151_051716file_3978x2848_053978 file_4272x2669_051757file_4272x2848_051746 file_4272x2848_051720file_3491x2395_053993 file_4272x2848_051753file_4272x2021_051773

The lumpy marshlands of Laguna Kollpa.

file_4272x2848_051834file_4272x2848_051840

Next, we reached our first salt flat, & to my surprise, it was a fully-functioning work site. Workmen in protective clothing were carting wagons of salt back & forth, laborious & chalky work. Unprepared in thongs, there were spills & thrills, along with plenty of smiles & laughs all round.

file_4272x1176_054016 file_4272x2848_051918file_4272x2848_051924 file_4197x1653_051874file_4272x2848_054284 (1) file_4172x1225_051882

The road trip was well & truly on track as we crossed the desolate valley of Desierto Dali, characterised by the painterly barren landscape reminiscent of the surrealist paintings of Salvador Dali.

file_4272x2848_052033file_4272x1902_052050 file_4272x1439_051995

Laguna Verde (Green Lake), a salt lake on the Chilean border at the foot of the Licancabur volcano (5868m high).

file_4272x2848_052083file_4272x2848_052093

Lunch was at the magical land of the Polques hot springs, in an already otherworld terrain, with 2 more days still to come. Natural or man-made, there cannot be a better pool with a view in the world.

file_4272x1469_054298 file_4272x2848_052122file_4272x2848_052170

More hot springs awaited us at Sol de Mañana, this time of the volcanic, sulphuric variety. Spread across a 10km2 area of bubbling steam pools & boiling mud lakes, the geyser-like shoots are mind blowing.

file_4272x2848_052275file_4272x2848_052206 file_3865x2221_052322file_4272x2848_052360

Another stunning sight was in store for us at Laguna Colorada, a shallow salt lake abound with James’ flamingos. The pink stork-dotted landscape is in complete harmony with the reddish colour of the lake, caused by red sediments and pigmentation of algae.

file_4272x1354_052476file_4272x1728_054318file_4272x1599_054097file_4272x1901_052560file_4272x2848_052589

DAY 3: We rise early on the 3rd morning to drive to Arbol de Piedra, the Stone Tree. Standing alone amidst the sand dunes of SIloli, the incredible 7m high rock formation is one of the symbols of Salar de Uyuni & Bolivia itself. Strong winds carrying sand & eroding the soft sandstone have given shape to its unique construction.

file_4272x2848_052616 More colossal boulders are scattered around the area. Further aIong the road, in the middle of a dreamy, painterly desert, we practice salt flat photos with our dinosaur props. file_4272x1792_054332 file_4272x2051_052649file_4272x2848_052696

The road winds down to another magnificent lake, Laguna Siloli. This time, we are spoiled with flamingos and vicunas in the water, camelids related to llamas and alpacas.

file_4272x2848_052698file_4272x2185_052719 file_2848x4272_052853file_2848x4272_052909file_2848x4272_052839 file_4272x2848_052887file_4272x2848_052897 file_4272x2848_052821file_4272x2848_052844

We meet a type of wild fox at the dazzling Canapa mirror lake.

file_4272x1534_054177file_4272x2848_052946 (2)

Lunch is prepared for us from the boot of the jeep, as we dine & pose in majesty, rocky surroundings.

file_4272x2848_053001file_4272x2848_053022

Refreshment stop at a desert town.

file_4272x2848_053047file_4272x2848_053041

As we close in on the salt flats, we reach Cueva Galaxia, Cave of the Galaxies – named after the 2 local men who discovered it in 2003. It is a small cave with several chambers, stalagmites and stalactites.

file_4272x2848_053052file_4272x2848_053059

We climb a big hill beside the cave, which is atop with towering cacti.

file_2848x4272_053068file_2848x4272_053084file_2848x4123_053080

Our home for the final night is a salt hotel in the village of Chuvica, on the eastern side of the salt flat. In theory, everything is meant to be made from salt – the rooms, floors, furniture & walls, but much appears to be made from built brick blocks. However, this does not detract from the novelty of the experience.

file_4272x2848_053102file_4272x2848_053108

DAY 4: We awake in the middle of the night for an early start to the big day, on the road on to & out to the salt flats. In pitch darkness, the jeep crosses a seemingly endless expanse of flat plains, with the headlights of other tour vehicles as the only guiding lights. Gradually, sunrise emerges, blazing streaks of orange and pink across a purple sky.

file_4272x2848_053113file_4272x2848_053135 file_4272x2848_053142file_4272x2848_053155

We continue on to Isla Incahuasi, in the heart of the salt flats. It was once an island, now a hilly & rocky outcrop of land covered in Trichoreus cactus. From the top, there are spectacular 360c views of the surrounding salt flats, glistening in the rising sun.

file_4272x2848_053242file_4272x2848_053239

We drive away from the crowds and find out own little patch of salty flats. Finally, we get to experience what we came here for – taking silly perspective photos, with our collection of dinosaurs, chip packet, tyre, wine & beer bottles. It was nowhere near as easy as it seemed! Fortunately we had a very patient – and creative – photographer-driver, who no doubt had plenty of experience out here with the camera.

file_4272x2848_053266file_4272x2848_053268 file_4272x2848_053293file_4272x2848_053310 file_4272x2848_053304file_4272x2848_053281 file_4272x2848_053346file_4272x2848_053340

At Palacio de Sal (Palace of Salt), we encounter a group of locals who immediately attacked us with the first of many canned foam & water gun sprays, in the days leading up to Carnival. file_4272x2848_053373file_4272x2848_053376

On the outskirts of Uyuni, we stop at an antique train graveyard. At the end of the 19th century, Bolivia was attempting to establish itself as a major transport hub in the region, to support its growing mining industry. When production ceased, the trains too were abandoned.

file_4272x2848_053414 (1)file_4272x2848_053423 (1)

Then it was all over. In 4 days, it was a lot to take in. Personally, the salt flats themselves were not a highlight, I much preferred a lot of the other natural landscape & wildlife.

Arriving in Uyuni town in the early afternoon, we killed the day over internet, cards & moving around various dive restaurant, before a race to Oruno to make it for Carnival the next day.

1 Shovel

Impossible or illegal DIY travel

This tour was taken with La Torre Tours from their hotel in Tupiza.

It is advertised on their website from US$195.

http://www.latorretours-tupiza.com

25-28 February 2014