It’s probably one of South America’s most popular tourist destinations and a trip to Bolivia is incomplete without a tour there. The mind boggling, vast landscape of Southern Bolivia incorporates things such as geysers, volcanoes, rock formations, lakes, salt flats and natural hot springs. An area only accessible by 4WD and with no sign of development except small villages and the occasional power line.
Most trips run a specific circuit for three days from Uyuni. I decided to instead begin in Tupiza and finish in Uyuni, meaning a four day trip and an alternative route that is becoming more popular.
We had a setback on the first morning as two of the group were coming from La Paz on an overnight bus and of course it was running late and they hadn’t arrived yet. Eventually they did and we were on our way three hours late with our driver, a cook and a fully packed Nissan Patrol.
Basically the four days involved a LOT of driving, a LOT of sitting and a LOT of photos. The first day we drove for nine hours and most of the scenery was a dry, red and rocky desert. Leaving Tupiza we had great views over the coloured rocks and cactus strewn hills that surround the town and known as Bolivia’s ‘wild west’. We also stopped at some ruins that were used by the Spanish and indigenous people who worked in the silver and tin mines nearby. Due to our late departure we were driving until dark and didn’t have dinner until 10pm.
On our second day we started to see the difference in landscape as we came across our first small salt flat. By 10.30am we arrived at some natural thermal springs where we spent two hours relaxing until lunch.
In the afternoon we had the incredible lagunas. First, it was Laguna Blanca and Laguna Verde named after the colour of their water. It was stunning with a beautiful backdrop of Volcano Licancabur. Back in the car we stopped at some geysers that were pouring out smoke before stopping at arguably the most beautiful lake, Laguna Colorada. It has a red colour from the minerals and algae in it and a huge flock of flamingoes reside there for a truly unique picture.
On the third day our guide convinced us to let him deviate off the main route and go on an alternative route with much less tourists and arguably more beautiful sights. Leaving our village from the night we stopped in the Valle de Rocas, a huge area of weirdly shaped rock formations springing up from the ground. We were given time to walk around and take photos, a very welcome break from the constant sitting in the car.
We drove on and then had to walk 15 minutes passed some grazing llamas to Laguna Negra. Although the lake was not as beautiful as the ones the day before, the view of the surrounding area was incredible. For as far as the eye could see rocks covered the earth in a landscape that looked like it belonged to another planet, similar to the famous Cappadocia region in Turkey. Further on the landscape flattened out and we stopped at the Anaconda Canyon which was a deep canyon splitting the earth in two. After our picnic lunch we kept driving to the edge of the famous Salar de Uyuni where we stayed in a hotel made from salt for the night.
The most anticipated day of the trip. We woke up at 4am and left the hotel at 5am heading towards the Salar de Uyuni for a beautiful sunrise. Only about 20 minutes in we got bogged in the one mud patch on one of the driest places on earth. Not only did we get stuck but it was bad and with an all girl group in the car we were no use in pushing the car out. A few other tour jeeps passed without stopping until finally a couple stopped. One tried to pull us out with no hope and the other had a group of eight guys who tried pushing but in the end they all headed to catch the sunrise and we were left to ourselves with one shovel.
Our cook got a ride back into the village and we sat hopelessly waiting and watching the sunrise from the side of the road. Our cook came back with a rescue vehicle that looked in worse condition than our bogged car. It was an old beat up hatchback that had smoke coming from under the hood when it stopped. Who was going to help who? The old guy who came out of the car, however, did become our life saver as he brought planks of wood, another shovel and a small jack. After two hours we were finally out as they had dug around the tyres and shovelled in lots of dry dirt and rocks.
Luckily our rescue vehicle didn’t need rescuing himself and he was able to crawl back to the village. We got to the famous Isla Incahuasi at 8.30am, nearly three hours late. A bonus, however, was that we arrived when the other 15 4WDs were leaving so we had the whole place to ourselves. It really was a mesmerising sight, a blanket of white stretched for kilometres in all directions and bordered completely by mountains in the distance.
Once we were back in the car it felt even more like an endless white lake as we drove at 100km/h for over an hour before we even seemed to get closer to the edge. It’s a sight hard to comprehend, the largest salt lake in the world. It was a perfect ending to four days of crazy landscapes. Although I have to admit it was nice to get out of that 4WD and move my legs!
*post adapted from my trip here in December 2015 and from my previous site elishasbigtrip.wordpress.com