Okay so maybe Mars wasn’t in the cards, but the next best thing was Salar de Uyuni in Southwest Bolivia. The incredible scenery, diverse landscapes and remote surroundings make you question what planet you’re really on!
Last month, Kiersten and I decided to leave the world we knew behind to venture off on a 4-day, 4×4 tour in and around the famous salt flats of Bolivia. The trip was absolutely mind blowing as we crossed rugged deserts, cut through epic volcano-lined mountain ranges and admired breathtaking multi-colored lagoons along the way.
There were flamingos, llamas and more photo ops than a Victoria Secret Fashion show.
I’ll give you a little information along the way, but words really don’t compare to the photos, so go ahead and come along with me on a visual ride through 4 days of Mother Nature’s greatest Bolivian creation… Salar de Uyuni!
Day 1: Tupiza-To-Paradise
The little city of Tupiza was our launch point and Tupiza Tours was our shuttle into the great unknown. The cast consisted of our Bolivian driver and cook, David and Agostina, and 2 other travelers, Jen from Seattle and Paul from France. We piled into our Toyota 4-Runner early Friday morning and after loading up with supplies, we were out of town and off on a great adventure just like the Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy did in this area many years before us.
We were a little sketched out by David’s driving at first, as he took blind turns along cliff edges with the greatest of ease and speed. You could tell he was positioning us against the other tour companies and his passing tactics even made Paul speak up. Thankfully, we successfully screamed passed the other groups in no time and found ourselves safe and alone cruising through of the most incredible red rock cliffs and deep canyons. The first leg reminded me a lot of Northern Argentina, which makes sense because it’s pretty damn close.
We devoured our first lunch cooked up by Agostina on the roadside along a vast llama field. We ate as they passed by nonchalantly and then kept it moving through the ruins of Puebla Fantasma and into San Antonio de Lipez.
The day was long but the ride was so breathtaking that we decided to blow by our first night’s scheduled checkpoint to buy ourselves a few more hours of sleep in the morning. We finally arrived at our audibled accommodations around 10pm after entering the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa.
Day 2: Llamas, Lagoons & Laughter
The strategic decision to press on day 1 paid dividends on day 2 as we all woke up refreshed and ready after a great night sleep. We spent the day exploring all the hot spots within the National Reserve and it was just one jaw-dropping, high-fiving scene after another.
We went from funny llama farms and remarkable flamingo-filled lagoons to insane multi-colored mineral lakes that would make a crayon box jealous. From Laguna Blanca (White Lagoon) to Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon) we overdosed on awesomeness and this was all before we even had lunch.
We stopped for lunch at Aguas Calientes, which made you just want to say, “stop it, this is getting out of hand!” It was like something you’d visit only in your best dream. There was a natural hot spring positioned at the edge of a pristine baby blue lagoon that was speckled with pink flamingos and surrounded by snow capped mountains and volcanoes. To kick things up a notch in the hot springs, we managed to get all 50+ people in the hot spring to follow us in a synchronized dance number for an upcoming video.
After lunch and a dip we loaded the 4-Runner up and headed towards the smoke-spewing, sulfur-rich geysers of Sol de Mañana to get involved in all the volcanic activity and then over to our last stop of the afternoon, Laguna Colorado. Even with all the incredible sites leading up to this point, it was at this moment that I realized I wasn’t on earth anymore. Laguna Colorado (Red Lagoon) was a vibrant red color because of microorganisms and minerals that not only affect the water, but also are what make the flamingos that eat these deposits pink.
I’ll be honest, going into this trip I didn’t understand why we needed 4-days to get to the Salt Flats. I couldn’t imagine what else could possibly be so interesting that we needed 3 extra days to see it.
As I laid in bed on the second night, thinking about all the things we had seen and experienced over the past two days, I realized wholeheartedly that this was one of the most amazing excursions I’ve ever taken in my life and I got excited about what the next two days had in store on this weird and remarkable planet of Salar de Uyuni!
Day 3: Big Rocks, Black Lagoons & Open Roads
Day three kicked off with a second helping of Laguna Colorado before strapping in for a long day of driving through Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa. The team seemed to get even more upbeat and excited with each passing day as we got closer and closer to the salt flats, which was exactly what you need for a remote cruise through vast desert.
We made our way through Desierto Siloli on our way to Valle de Rocas and the famous Arbol de Piedra or Stone Tree.
Besides the hot spring, this was the only stop along the trip where we ran into other tour groups. Despite all the people, we managed to break away and climb some massive rock formations that made you feel like you were on the set of some weird Sci-Fi movie.
Next came some decision making in regards to day’s strategy. David mentioned that we wouldn’t be able to stay at the Salt Hotel in Chuvica that night due to rain so we need to find an alternative route to get us to Uyuni so that we could be the first team on the salt flats in the morning. With that in mind, we decided to skip a series of lagoons like Laguna Hedionda, Chiarcota, Ramaditas, Honda and Cañapa, and hightail it east to Uyuni.
The last big stop on day three, before arriving in Uyuni, was Laguna Negra (Black Lagoon) where Agostina cooked up a big feast and we got to stretch out in the sun for a while. As had been the case with all the other lagoons we’ve seen on the tour, Laguna Negra was in fact black because of the igneous rock from volcanic eruptions and even the birds swimming around in the lake were black. Mars man, Mars!
After a great lunch we were back on the road and into our hostel in Uyuni by sunset. It felt like Christmas Eve!
Day 4: The Salty Climax
The sky was dark and the air was cold, but that didn’t stop us from loading up the 4-Runner one last time for the most anticipated leg of the tour. We drove away from the silent streets of Uyuni towards what looked to be a giant frozen lake ahead of us. You couldn’t see much other than what the headlights would expose but as we rolled onto the world’s largest salt flats you could hear the crunch of the salt below the tires and excitement rushed through my body.
As the sun peaked over the distant mountains, we realized that we had the entire place to ourselves. We had been the first car (from Uyuni) to arrive at the salt flats that morning and it was incredible.
Walking around on that salt, so vast, silent and peaceful with the sun unveiling, peace by peace, the majestic and overwhelming beauty of this place put me in such a euphoric state that I couldn’t help but get a little choked-up. Let’s be honest, I cried a little bit. I’ve even seen salt flats before, the Salinas Grandes in Northern Argentina are beautiful, but nothing compared to the scene here that day.
Once I got myself together, the second group, which we had been traveling alongside throughout the trip, arrived and we all ate breakfast in awe. From there it was photo shoot time and we all took turns setting up and executing random, customary salt flat photos.
The day was perfect, as was the entire tour. We ended our trip to the salt flats with a visit to the famous Salt Hotel before returning to Uyuni to catch a night bus back to Sucre so Kiersten could catch her flight back to Earth.
– Salar de Uyuni Tour Information –
I highly recommend going with Tupiza Tours out of Tupiza, Bolivia, which is located next to The Mitru Hotel in Tupiza. If you are coming to Tupiza from the north, it is recommended to come by bus through Potosi.
Make sure you book your tour a few days in advance.
Tour Total Cost: 1300 bolivianos (or just under $200 US) *don’t hesitate to ask for discounts.
Salar Essentials: Bathing Suite, sun cream, warm clothes, sneakers/boots for climbing, camera, sunglasses, flashlight, toilet paper, sleeping bag.
Be aware that you will be traveling at a very highly altitude for most of the tour. Also, it gets very cold at night and very hot during the day… you’re in a desert.
Other Travelers Salar de Uyuni Salt Flat Experience:
The Blonde Abroad – Let’s do it like they do on the discover channel: Salt Edition
Never Ending Voyage – Bolivia’s Salt Flats: One Wild Ride The Wrong Way Around
2 Backpackers – Salar de Uyuni Bolivia Photo Tour
Tourist 2 Townie – Salar de Uyuni: A Salty Photo Shoot