It still baffles me how many people do this route like this, as there really isn’t any real roads for most of it, and it really is 3 days of going across a desert to cross into another country. I’m talking about the jeep crossing from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile to Uyuni, Bolivia.
You start the trip early doors again with a 5am pickup. Once again it’s freezing cold and you’re half awake with all your bags at the side of the road, with the usual mix of stray dogs wondering around. Lucky for me, these are my new friends in south America according to Kumu, so I’m all good. Kumu however, is not quite so on board with my new friends still, so she is doing the normal shooing away.
Our transfer came to collect us to take us to the jeeps waiting on the Bolivian side of the border. The border is a fairly straightforward one with nothing major to worry about. You get to the jeeps on the other side after clearing through the border about 6:30am. Here there are about 30 jeeps waiting to pick up their passengers and all the other tourists that have just done the journey the other way. There is a bit of chaos at the immigration hut (and I mean actual mud hut) and the lines get a bit confusing with noone really knowing which one to be in. But it works out in the end, as most things seem to in south America.
As a side note, this is one thing I have noticed in South America. Some of the setups they have just wouldn’t work in places like the UK and the states. People would be forever filling out a suggestion slip or leaving a TripAdvisor review that read ‘there just wasn’t any information’, ‘we arrived late’, ‘we left late’, ‘something was broken’. Weirdly we have come to expect these sorts of things and realised it will just work out and it’s all fine.
Anyway, back to the immigration hut. Once your group is all sorted here, the transfer driver whips out some breakfast for you OUTSIDE the minivan. Just remember, you are thousands of metres up at 6:30am, it’s fecking cold still! However, he then cracked out the coffee and hot chocolate and all was good; make a makeshift mocha and you’re sorted. It’s now that you meet your driver for the next few days and start waking up so you can have a human conversation with the people you’ll be spending the next few days very closely with. We had a nice group of people for our jeep which was a relief, as I can imagine a bad bunch could make the 3 days quite difficult.
All the jeeps are pretty much the same, no real variation in size, make or age. There are the odd few that look pretty crappy, but on the whole the’re all good to go. You chuck all your big bags on the roof and keep the essentials in the car with you. It’s tight so it really is just the essentials! Me and Kumu hopped in the back two seats for the first day, and off we went.
Over the three days we would see lagoons, deserts, hot springs, ravines, wildlife, small towns, and of course, the Bolivian salt flats. First stop on day one was Laguna Blanca; a beautiful Laguna with a reflection of the snow capped mountains behind it. We got a few nice shots of the area, but the most memorable thing for me at this point was just how in the middle of nowhere we were going to be…. Literally nothing but the jeeps floating around this place for miles. Second stop was Laguna Verde which is meant to be green from the sun and wind but it wasn’t when we were there. Still nice though.
We then carried on to another site where we managed to grab our first group photo. We went for the classic jump for this one. Something everyone knows how to do and doesn’t take much coordination of a newly formed group.
We also squeezed in a jump photo of Kumu of course…
We then drove for about 15 minutes to the hot springs where I went for a little dip with the group in one of the pools. The pools here aren’t natural (the water is naturally heated though) and they have only been made for the jeeps passing through on these tours. Kumu didn’t come in as she wasn’t feeling great with the altitude, because at this point we were a smidgen under 5000m above sea level! This was also our lunch stop for the day. Lunch wasn’t bad, but the meat they put together was fairly tough, so it was mainly just a load of potato soup.
Next stop was at some mud geysers. These were pretty sweet, and great to watch. The mud actually looked quite enticing, but would obviously burn you to a crisp if you got in it…
It was back in the jeep to go see some flamingos! We had never seen wild ones before, so another first off the list for us here. They are so hard to get close to; the minute you get within 50 metres of them, they start to head off away from you, but I managed to grab a few good photos, as we have a pretty decent zoom on our camera.
We then headed off to the village where we were going to be staying the night, Villa Mar. At the village we all decided to go for a bit of a walk to stretch our legs before dinner (it was a couple of hours drive to the village from the geysers) and saw a chap taking his llamas in for the night. There was big group of them all trotting off up the hill. They were much quicker than us getting up the hill! The sun was setting at this point and I managed to snap this beauty of a mountain in the distance that had the sun shinning down on it. I’ve not added that glow by the way, that was just there on its own.
We woke up for breakfast at 7.30 and got served pancakes! First of the trip I think, and they were bloody delicious! 1st stop today was to see some rock formations made out of lava rocks from an eruption of a volcano 2 – 3 thousand years ago. The first one was copa mondo which looks like the world cup trophy.
The second one looked like a bear and camel. Close but hardly a Madame Tussauds level of accuracy…
The camel is on the left….
The third stop you could climb up the rock, apparently it looks like some place in Italy but we didn’t quite get our drivers explanation. He didnt speak great english… I climbed up it whilst Kumu walked around and took some photos.
After that we visited Laguna Bianti which was a nice Laguna with llamas grazing on the grass. One of my favourite llamas chilling there was this guy below. Look at that face!!!
We then headed to Laguna Negra which is a short walk and had amazing views with ducks on the water and more illamas!
We then went for lunch and a nice pastel de papa! We also had a peak into the Bolivian houses which were tiny!! We noticed that they bury their rubbish out here, and there was a lot of plastic and general crap all over the place, which was a bit of a shame.
After lunch we drove through a quinoa plantation, which was beautiful, before reaching canyon anaconda. The colours of the quinoa were so vibrant, and there was field after field of it. Quinoa has become very popular in recent years across the world and has shot up in price; nearly 10 times in 10 years I think it was. Most probably the same with kale….
Then we went to the mining town of San Cristobal which is relatively new as it’s only 12 years old. Is a nice looking town. This was just a short stop off for toilet and supplies etc, plus a little walk round the town. After we headed straight to our hostel in uyuni. We had a dinner of pique a lo macho which consists of bite-sized pieces of beef, sausage, onions, locotos (spicy peppers), boiled egg and thickly cut fries. This mountain of food is traditionally made spicy and topped with mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup. We had some wine and beers this night! Our first time since arriving in San Pedro, but had an early night as we had a 5.30 am start the next day….
Uyuni as a town is not particularly thrilling. It is really just a jump point for tourists and therefore there is not really any character to the place that we saw. Very busy, but lifeless.
This is the big day where we get to visit the salt flats which were 2000 square kilometres and the salt can be from 30 to 80 metres deep. Just a few months ago it was covered in water and unsafe to drive on, but thankfully nearly all the water had gone now and there were just pockets of shallow bits left so you are able to get some brilliant reflection pictures. We got there just in time for sunrise and this is the best time to get reflection pictures, as you have a nice low light from the sky, which caused a brilliant faded sky and some brilliant siluette photos!
Here are some of our reflection sun rise shots
We also took this spinny round video of Kumu walking. I didn’t do a great job keeping the camera steady, sorry….
After that we headed out for breakfast and more perspective photo taking. The view is just amazing. Feels like you are at the end of the world! You had everyone around doing all sorts of different shots and poses, it was brilliant. We had bought a few props with us for the photos, but also just used things we had on us and in our bags. Best advice for these photos, just try everything and anything, it’s all good fun.
We also couldn’t resist getting up on top of the truck for a dance!
It really did feel like this place went on forever, and I think these photos help describe that feeling.
After a few hours of photos we headed to the salt museum which was ok (nothing to shout about so I won’t) and the markets before our final stop at the train cemetery. The trains transported goods from potosi and trains were repaired here in uyuni even before the town was there. We went back to the hostel for lunch and started preparing for our 4pm bus to potosi. A real go go go sort of day!
So as you can guess, this few day trip was a brilliant one, not only for the salt flats, but the rest of the desert and scenery that you see along the way. It’s also nice to spend a few days getting to know your group too. Big Thumbs up!!!
Until the next one,