Salar de Uyuni 4 day tour from Tupiza
After a 6:30am breakfast we were in our 4x4 landcruiser by 7:00am heading out of Tupiza on our 4 day/3 night adventure to the salt flats of Uyuni. We were sharing our adventure with a French couple, Nicholas and Pauline, our driver Moises and his wife/cook Liseth. Our initial ascent from the town was wonderful. Before we knew it we were on unsealed windy roads in a landscape full of greens, yellows and reds and large rock outcrops dotted with cacti. We climbed quickly, from 2900m to 4200m altitude. The landscape started to become less colorful, and small hamlets of mud brick houses and paddocks appeared. The road turned a corner and in front of us was an open space full of llamas. We took lots of photos, especially of the llama babies. Next we made our way to a small village where we were to stop for lunch. We walked around the village as Liseth prepared the food which was a delicious feast of chicken Milanesa, salad, potatoes and rice served from the boot of the car and eaten on our laps. After lunch we drove to a place called Pueblo Fantasma (ghost town). It was exactly that, hundreds of abandoned buildings and houses, most with their roofs missing and just a shadow of their former selves. We walked around here and learnt that it used to be a bustling town but then people started dying - probably from the pollution of the water source from the inhabitants nearby mining operaions. As we walked through the rubble we spotted a few viscachas, rabbit/chinchilla type creatures that scurry across the rocks. We ascended in altitude after this stop and reached our highest crossing of the day at 4850m, higher than Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe. You could definitely feel the difference in oxygen here when we tried to walk around. As we descended we entered into the national park and to our first accommodation for the night. This was in a small house where we shared a four bed dorm. The temperatures were freezing but after another delicious meal we all managed to eventually drift off into our first nights high altitude sleep.
We left the village in the morning and we could see white cloud all around us and it was very cold. Before long, snow started to fall and as we continued to ascend in altitude the snow had settled and the ground was completely white. It was amazing and such a change from the day before. We stopped the car to take photos and have a snowball fight. We passed the hot springs (which we were going to be swimming in later that day) and made our way towards Desierto de Dali - crazy rock formations, and Laguna Verde - a large green colored lake near San Pedro de Atacama. However, on the drive there was so much snow that a couple of vehicles in front of us got bogged. We couldn't see the Desierto de Dali because everything was just a blanket of white. All of the drivers got out of their cars and decided that it was too risky to continue, that the snow and ice was too bad. We were disappointed to miss Laguna Verde but it was for the best. Instead we returned to the hot springs early and had a nice long dip before lunch. It was amazing to be sitting in the steaming water, surrounded by snow. A few times we would jump out, run and roll in the snow, make snow angels and then quickly leap back into the water. After lunch we headed to the geysers. This would be our highest part of the trip at 5000m altitude. When we arrived it was snowing consistently but again, made for quite an atmospheric stop - steam and bubbling mud in a white icy landscape. We built a snow llama, instead of a snowman! We started to descend and as we did the skies seemed to clear a little. We could see views of some of the snow capped mountains and we had a great stop at a large laguna. The laguna was home to hundreds of pink Andean flamingos. It was amazing to see snow around them as we'd always imagined them as tropical birds. We got carried away taking photos as they looked beautiful with the snow capped mountains in the background and their reflections in the water. The drive continued with one more stop at a lake that had a green colour - it was our replacement mini Laguna Verde! Then it was to our accomodation for the night in the village of Villa Mar. Another small homestay and dorm, with us as the only guests, a three course dinner and bed.
The first stop of day 3 was to some pinturas (rock paintings) on the edge of town. These were mainly reddy orange coloured outlines of humans, but some of them looked suspiciously like aliens! Strange, but maybe a weak bit of evidence for people saying that the Incas were helped by extraterrestrial beings, otherwise how could they build Machu Picchu and the Nazca lines?! There was also a funny rock formation here that looked like a large mushroom. This was to be a theme of the morning, as on our journey we stopped to see a rock that looked like a large goblet, called La Copa de Mundo (cup of the world) and another one that looked just like a camel. At this location we gave Andrew and Nicholas a leg up so they could sit on top of the camel for photos. Our next visit was to the City of Rock. Here there were large reddy orange outcrops, caverns and windows to explore, where the rock had been weathered into different shapes. We climbed up to high points to get a view of the area. Next, we drove via a laguna called Laguna Pinto and saw llamas to another laguna called Laguna Negra. Here we parked the car and walked for about 15mins, through a wide canyon with steep rocks on either side. The ground was really mossy with lots of large puddles and small streams and we had to hopscotch our way across. We climbed up some of the steeper rocks on the side and then got a view of Laguna Negra, which had a large number of ducks and birds to watch. Afterwards we returned to the car, ascended in altitude and parked at the top of a large canyon. It was so windy that it was hard to open the car door. We walked along a long rock outcrop that hung out over the canyon. If we lay down and looked over the edge we could see a perfectly shaped meandering green/blue colored river in the valley far below. It looked like a large snake slithering along the bottom, hence why the place is given the name Anaconda Valley. Afterwards it was time for lunch and then we had a lot of driving in the afternoon to make our way to the salt flats. The cave we'd planned to visit was closed so we arrived at our salt hostel accommodation early. It was quite amazing. The floor was completely covered in white ground up salt and the walls were made of large salt bricks. As we had spare time we decided to walk around the small town and then follow a marked trail up to a mirador. From near the top we could get our first proper view over the immense salt flats of Salar de Uyuni, and with large cacti in the foreground and a sea of white in the background it was a surreal and beautiful view. The other upside of the salt hostel was hot showers, which I treated myself to on our return and after another delicious dinner (our last one) and a shared bottle of wine, we headed to bed ready for our early start the next morning.
We woke early and were in the car before we knew it, heading across the salt flats whilst it was still dark. As it gradually got lighter we could see a sea of white, with the orange clouds making reflections on the salt. We stopped and watched the sun rise completely before continuing to isla de Incahuasi, also known as fish island because it looks like a fish fin. This is one of many small islands in the salt flats. There was a walking path around the island which was covered in cacti. The largest was 9m long and 900 years old! The views from the highest point of the island were spectacular. We had breakfast at the base, looking out over the salt and watching some of the guides kicking around a football. Afterwards, our driver headed into the middle of the salt flats, away from the islands and the other vehicles. This is when we got to see how vast this landscape is. Flat white as far as the eye could see in one direction and in the other, the outline of snow capped volcanoes at the salts edge. The white ground was covered with polygon like small mounds of salt, creating a honeycomb pattern. We had lots of fun taking photos here - crazy perspective shots e.g. Andrew holding me in his palm, me stamping on Andrew, and also just photos of us running into the vast whiteness! We jumped back in the car and headed to an old hotel made completely of salt- closed now as it's illegal to build on the salt flats. Then we went to the salt mountains. This is where they dig up the salt and leave it in piles to dry out before selling it around Bolivia. We stopped for lunch in a small town on the salts edge where we looked around the craft market. Our tour was coming to an end as we were nearing the town of Uyuni. We had one final visit to a train graveyard - an area where old locomotives were abandoned and then wr had finished. Our 4 day tour from Tupiza had been amazing, we'd loved it, and were quite sad to say goodbye to Moises and Liseth and the French couple we'd shared it all with, Nicholas and Pauline. We were dropped in Uyuni where we met an English couple from our hostel in Tupiza. They were looking to catch a bus to Potosi that night like us so we teamed up. We booked a hostel room, a bus for 6:30pm and ended up whiling away the hours before the bus in a pizza restaurant/bar. When it came time to leave Andrew couldn't find his iPhone! We searched high and low for it and asked everyone in the restaurant if they'd seen it, but to no avail. In the end we had to give up and run to catch the bus, and we resigned the phone to now belonging to a sticky fingered Bolivian... but the story was not to end here...