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Bolivian Salt Flats: San Pedro to Uyuni (Photo Blog)

Before I get into the Salt Flats I just wanted to make everyone aware that we have updated our Photo page with new sets from Bolivia (La Senda Verde & Copacabana) as well as we have added Peru (Floating Islands, Tequile, Train to Cusco & Cusco city tour). Make sure that you check them out!  Of course all of the photos from our 3-day tour from San Pedro, Chile to Uyuni, Bolivia are at the end of this post and in the Bolivia section.

As for the Salt Flat tour we wanted to try a different blog approach. The Salts Flats themselves are incredible. We had some issues hiring an English-speaking guide (we paid $180 extra, he didn’t speak much English) but overall was an awesome time. You spend 3 days in a packed car with what are in the beginning strangers and end up being quite close at the end.

Pictures are worth 1000 words and as such we’re going to tell the story through pictures and captions. I hope that you enjoy. We had an absolute blast.

Bolivia Salt Flats Day 1

On day 1 you are picked up from your hotel pretty early in the morning in a van with the other tourists – typically around 7:30am, and driven to the exit point for Chile where you receive your exit stamp from their immigration team. You then make the short (sub 1-hour) trip to the Bolivian border. Here you hang out (it’s cold), get some tea or coffee and a light breakfast (bread and jam). After a 45 minute wait of eating and hanging out you’re escorted to the immigration office. We had read that Bolivia was one the strictest borders to cross (for instance you need your yellow fever vaccination certificate) so we had our stuff prepared. Turned out it was a breeze and we sailed right through – no need for the certificate. At this point we meet our tour guide, get introduced to the group and load the car. The photos will pick it up from there.

This is the scene at the Bolivian border. Little buildings where the customs officers worked out of and where we had breakfast. Trucks (ALL late-model Toyota 4-Runners), guides, drivers and tourists both coming (from Uyuni) and leaving (to Uyuni).

Boom. We have our truck and we’re packed up. Only room for small backpacks and humans inside – so the rest of your gear (suitcases, water, etc..) gets put on the luggage rack and wrapped in a tarp to protect it from the elements. You will see later in this post that we add some stuff up top.

Meet our traveling companions! From left to right is Anna, Shewan & Lucas. Lindsay and I occupy the backseat of the truck and the driver sits in the…well, the driver seat and our guide sits in the front seat.

The guide handed out coca leaves that you chew and then put in your gums. Keep adding, chewing and stashing for a couple of hours or until you cannot stand the taste anymore which for some people was immediately. The coca leaves help with adjusting to the altitude you will be at. Drink water, eat solid meals and chew coca leaves. It worked well for us. We didn’t really get sick at all on the trip.

The first stop for us was the thermal pool (not plural, the pool behind us was the only one) and the national park station where we had to pay our entrance fee (150 BOBs or about $20 USD). We took a pass on swimming because we were at the thermal pools in San Pedro the day before and it’s more room temperature pools than thermal. We decided to sit at the edge of the pool and stared at everyone in swim suits for 30 minutes. Wait, what?…

 

This is an example of the typical landscapes that you encounter for the first two days of the San Pedro to Uyuni trip. You spend quite a bit of time in the truck, but there are plenty of stops along the way to get out, take pictures and stretch your legs.

We stopped at a geyser field as well on day one. We had more fun at this random field than we did at El Tatio Geysers outside of San Pedro. We had the entire field to ourselves to talk around, soak in the smells and feel the warmth coming from the center of the Earth.

They say the fun begins when things start to go wrong. Towards the end of day 1 we had to pull over and do some minor front bumper work. Of course I sat on the sidelines and took pictures – someone needs to document this stuff. We added the bumper to our luggage collection up top.

The last stop of the day, besides our hostel, was the “red lake”. Our phone does not do this place justice. It was really stunning. The lake was red and there must have been 5,000+ flamingos on the lake. We sat on the shore and soaked in the views for half an hour.

Our accommodations were basic on the first night. We shared a room with our travel mates, breakfast was early and soon we were packing up and heading out for day 2. At this point some people were getting hit by altitude sickness pretty bad and we felt sorry for them –they had an entire day of riding in a cramped car to look forward to.

Bolivia Salt Flats Day 2

Day 1 we didn’t cover much ground in the very literal sense of covering ground. Day 2 would be different. No border checks, no national park fees to pay – we needed to get to our next destination. This would turn out to the the most grueling and seemed to last the longest. Our group was awesome though – no one got on anyone’s nerves but I think we were all happy to have our own bedrooms for night 2. I must have listened to 10 podcasts while in the car.  All that being said we saw some really cool stuff too.

We started day 2 off with a quick visit at a very picturesque lake. This is one my favorite pics of Lindsay and I. Notice we’re bundled up. The days start off and end very cold and you peel off layers as you got. Pictures in midday we are wearing a lot less clothing.

Our next stop was a field with some serious crazy rock formations like this one. Lindsay showed off her incredible hops to the group and produced this cool pic. At this stop there were public bathrooms that you could use. These were the most disgusting bathrooms I have ever seen in my life. It appeared that no one sat on the toilet seat for #2s, aimed from above and completely missed – but covered the entire toilet and the wall behind it.

 

This one is for my cousin Lucy. Before we left for our trip she sent us this emergency situation piece of equipment thingy. She was worried about us! It has solar power, crank power and can plug into an outlet. It has AM/FM radio, a flashlight, a compass and an emergency siren. Best of all: it has a USB connection which means that I could charge our cell phone. Bada boom, bada bing!! I spent a few hours “cranking” that day while we walked around. I was made fun of.

Lindsay has this habit of taking pictures of me when I don’t know it. When I am sleeping, when I on the computer, eating – you name it, if she can sneak in a picture she does. I find this very, very weird. But ..as they say…even a broken clock is right two times a day…this habit of hers turned out this picture which I really love. Chilling on the shore of a random lake with snowcapped mountains.

Lunch time! Everyone was starving by lunch. We pulled over to a picnic area near a lake and setup lunch. Tuna, salad (tuna and salad, not tuna salad…) rice and some sodas. 20 or so trucks show up to this spot to have lunch.

This sign was posted on the lake where we ate lunch. Tip of my cap to their very accurate depiction of a lady going to the bathroom. I hadn’t seen such a sign before. Just under the lady graphic you will see that you’re also not allowed to drink coffee or other hot beverages. Hmmm.

After a long day on the road we arrived in the evening at our hotel — made completely of salt! This is the dining room. The tables, chairs, walls…you name it, made of salt. Our bedrooms? Made of salt. The flat screen TVs? Yep, made of salt too. We all went to bed early after a bit of red wine with dinner because we had to be up at 2:30am the next morning to see the stars fill the skies at just the right location and time.

Bolivia Salt Flats Day 3

I am sure coming from Uyuni to San Pedro is just as awesome, but I really like how our trip setup the last day for the grand finale. This was one of the best and most memorable days of our trip. We woke up super early to drive an hour and a half to the middle of the salt flats and see the stars. Never have I witnessed a sky so milky and clear. We saw countless shooting stars fly across the sky. After a couple of hours the sun would rise and we were treated to more spectacular views. Afterwards we spent time on an “island” and took all the crazy awesome pictures you see when people visit the salt flats.

Here is our car in the parking lot in the middle of the night. We woke up, got dressed, packed the car and headed up to the middle of nowhere. The guides and drivers do an amazing job using the sky and certain landmarks to navigate in the pitch black night on unmarked and questionable roads. We have no other pictures until the sun began to rise because it was so dark.

Our car parked on the salt flats as the sun rises. Our friend Shewan stayed outside THE ENTIRE 4hrs from when we arrived in the middle of the night until the sun rose. The rest of us were too cold and napped for while. God I love Shewan.

A view from the “island” in the middle of the salt flats. It really felt like we were surrounded by calm ocean waters with trucks driving and people playing soccer on the surface. It was still early and the sun was still rising when we arrived. After a quick hike to the summit and great panoramic views we headed back down for some coffee and breakfast.

All the cars lined up with food coming out of their trunks reminded me of tailgating Except this time I didn’t drink 20 beers.

Finally! The fun part 🙂 We made it to the salt flats. It was a gorgeous day, but…it was still early so we’re all bundled up even though the sun is extremely strong and there is not a cloud in the sky. This is some really nice behind the scenes footage of what it looks like when people aren’t capturing the famous shots.

Lindsay with a bottle of vodka. Our camera was taking some terrible pictures and we’re having a hell of a time uploading the gigantic pictures from our Pentax, so we don’t have…at this point…the best of the best to share. Wah wah wah….

After a couple of hours playing around with perspective and props you make your way slowly to Uyuni, but not before a couple of pit stops such as this little piece of land flying a ton of different countries flags.

No theme park ride designer could live with themselves if they didn’t have you exit their coaster in a gift shop, right? Well, the salt flat tour designers are the same way. Before being served lunch and dropped off in town you must walk through stand after stand after stand of vendors selling the same stuff. We bought a small bag of table salt for 2 BOBs ($.35).

 

The whole group was looking forward, to some degree, of getting out of the car. So we all were getting nervous when the truck rode right through town and started heading back out. To our delight the very last stop (prior to drop off) wasn’t the vendors, but it was a train graveyard where you could get up close and personal with a bunch of old, gigantic trains. This was cool.

 

This shot cracks me up. Just to help everyone understand how ridiculous Lindsay’s bag is and all of the shit that she has brought! That is a grown man with all of his belongings and a grown woman with hers next to Lindsay. Her bag is called the “black hole” – and rightfully so. Still, I have to give her credit cause she hauls that thing around everywhere. This picture was taken on our way to the bus station to catch our ride to La Paz. Bye salt flats!

 

Conclusion

What an amazing 3 days. If you have a chance don’t pass up the salt flats. If you have been and have some awesome pictures include a link in the comments, we’d love to see them.

Bolivia Salt Flats Day #1

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Bolivia Salt Flats Day #2

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Bolivia Salt Flats Day #3

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3 thoughts on “Bolivian Salt Flats: San Pedro to Uyuni (Photo Blog)

  1. Holly

    Hey thanks for the blog it’s really useful were actually in San Pedro at the moment trying to find a your company y we’re happy with. Do you remember the name of the company you used? Thanks, happy travels!

    Holly & Chris

    1. Jeff Post author

      Holly, wish I would have seen this earlier. We booked thru an agency based in La Paz that I wasn’t too thrilled with. The actual tour operator was a tour company on the main road in San Pedro – they pretty much are all doing the exact same thing. Transport you from your hotel to the boarder with Bolivia, help (ish) with the border crossing and then you pile into a jeep and have a blast. I really hope that you had as much fun as we did. Jeff & Linds

  2. Pingback: Bocas del Toro - Jeff & Lindsay's Travel Blog

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