DAY 59 – 61: 12th September – 14th September: Salt Flat tour from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile to Uyu
DAY 59 - 61: 12th September - 14th September: Salt Flat tour from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile to Uyuni, Bolivia
Salar de Uyuni is the world's largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometers. It is located in southwest of Bolivia, and is elevated 3,656 meters above the sea level. The Salar was formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. It is covered by a few meters of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness with the average altitude variations within one meter over the entire area of the Salar. The crust serves as a source of salt and covers a pool of brine, which is exceptionally rich in lithium. It contains 70% of the world's lithium reserves, which is in the process of being extracted. The large area, clear skies and exceptional surface flatness make the Salar an ideal object for calibrating the altimeters of the Earth observation satellites. The Salar serves as the major transport route across the Bolivian Altiplano and is a major breeding ground for several species of pink flamingos.
Our trip began by being picked up 30 minutes late by the driver to take us to the Chilean and Bolivian border where we would get in our 4x4 jeep across the salt flats. We were met by a long queue at the Chilean border, which put us even further behind our itinerary. When we finally reached the Bolivian border one hour and half late, another group realized that they could not all fit in one van and tried changing all the vans around, they were really annoying and immature, but we got along with it, it meant that we were going to do there tour which was bigger on the second day. That day we climbed 2000m more which meant we were 4000m above sea level, we climbed this very quickly, due to us being late. Dave got really ill with altitude sickness and everyone had a headache as well. It was pretty bad. But the trip went on and we visited several different lagoons - green ones, blue ones, red ones etc. We also stopped off at some hot springs which I thought would be natural but they looked pretty man made to me. The mountains, desert and lagoons were amazing. We then climbed a little higher above sea level to an active volcano where we could smell and see the geysers - it was amazing but I did think - why the f*** am I standing next to bubbling lava but there we go - it was an amazing experience. That evening we stayed at the Hualla Jara hostel, it was in the middle of nowhere by the red lagoon (its only red in the afternoon - something to do with the sunlight and the algae in the water - quiet cool). That evening I got into bed early so that I didn't get cold it gets a low as minus 30 at night. So the pink longjons were on and inside my sleeping bag I went. I woke up around 4am with a pounding headache - it was terrible - a lot of people experience attitude sickness during the night. So that was the end of my sleep and I just laid in bed wide wake until 7:00am for breakfast. Luckily, I was not cold at all, but I was wearing technical clothing.
The next day, was where the tour changed to the one the other group of people booked. After pancakes for breakfast we set of to the famous stone tree. I wasn't really sure what to expect a stone that looked like a tree or a tree that looked like a stone. But it was a stone that looked like a tree - although that depends on what angle you look at it. We then headed to another 4 lagoons - one was really amazing as it was full of flamingos. We then headed to a few more attractions, coral rocks (they were rocks that look like coral - I think they must have been underwater at some point in time - I have to do some more research). We then saw an army base and the railway that connects Uyuni to Chile (it's the only railway in Bolivia). Then we went across the salt flat, it was massive - I know it's the biggest salt flat in the world but honestly all you could see was salt. It kind of looked like snow and it felt like snow when you walked on it. We then headed to a rock in the middle of nowhere where two friends had found some Inca burials and a cave that looked like a galaxy full of stars. I kind of questioned how the two friends found the cave but I quickly learnt in Bolivia its best just to go with it and not ask too many questions. That evening we entered a small town in the middle to the desert/salt flats where our driver's family was from. It was really nice - but the people of the town obviously have not seen very many tourists before. That evening we watched the sunset - had a great dinner and went to bed early as we decided that we were going to get up early to see the sunrise in the middle of the salt flats.
That morning all bright and early we set off to see the sunrise - it was incredible - the salt glisten and you could feel your whole body get warmer. We then headed to fisherman's island for breakfast and an amazing view over the salt flats with a great array of cacti everywhere. We then finished our trip with a visit to the legally shut down salt hotel, the salt museum and the salt mines. Then heading into Uyuni to see the train cemetery. Then at 1pm our driver dropped us of at the bus station at the end of the tour.
It was a very amazing three days and well worth the money.