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Salt flat adventures, Uyuni, Bolivia

Michael Tyrrell - Monday, December 23, 2013

Uyuni Salt Flats Tour

Salt Flats, Bolivia

Key facts

Cost: Approximately 1250 Bolivianos ($204 AUD)

Time needed: 2 nights/3 days

Items you must take: Sunscreen, warm clothes for night, medications for travellers diarrhea, Handy or Traveller first aid kit.

Where is it?

You depart from Uyuni, which is a 10-12 hour bus ride from La Paz. There is a 40 minute flight from La Paz to Uyuni. I took the bus as it was significantly cheaper than flying.

Who should you go with?

I read lots of reviews on many different companies. Most reviews were mixed with many complaints about poor guides and dangerous driving from drivers who were allegedly drunk.

I chose Red Planet as they had the best reviews at the time, with the drivers reported to be very safe and the guide, Carlos, enthusiastic and he spoke good English. I’ve since been informed that drivers are not contracted to one company, so it may be a bit hit and miss with whom you get.

Salt Flats, Bolivia

Where do you go?

Day 1: From Uyuni you head to a train cemetery which contains old trains from the mining days. From here you visit a salt town where you see how they refine the salt extracted from the flats. You then head into the salt flats to have some fun with your photography skills. The last part of the day involves visiting fish island which is a large island in the middle of the salt flats.

Salt Flats, Bolivia

Day 2: Involves a lot of driving and a lot of stops visiting different lagoons on the way to the 5000m peak of a volcano. With Red Planet, you stay at about 4400m in a refuge next to a hot spring. Most companies do the hot spring in the morning of the 3rd day where the spring was very crowded. I did the hot spring at night with our group of 12 and we had it to ourselves. There was a spectacular lightning show followed by the moon rising over the mountains.

Salt Flats, Bolivia

Day 3: Consists of a lot of driving if you are going all the way back to Uyuni. I only had to drive 2 hours south to the border of Chile where I caught a connecting bus to San Pedro de Atacama (1 hour). The others had a 6-7 hour drive back to Uyuni.

Salt Flats, Bolivia

Positives and Negatives

Positives

  1. Amazing and diverse scenery
  2. Photographer’s paradise
  3. Great guide and driver helped to make this tour
  4. My tour did the hot springs at night which means you get it to yourselves
  5. My guide was well prepared for any altitude problems by carrying oxygen

Salt Flats, Bolivia


Negatives

  1. A lot of time is spent in the car
  2. Some of the accommodation options don’t have running water which made the bathrooms not the nicest
  3. If you haven’t acclimatised to high altitude you may experience problems when staying at 4400m

Safety on the trip

On questioning, my guide told me that most safety issues involve crashes where drivers lose control due to high speeds or substance use. He also reported a number of head on crashes due to visibility issues and drivers getting disoriented and lost in the salt flat desert.

Which first aid kit should you take?

Most of the travellers in my group had upset stomachs at some stage during the tour. Pack enough toilet paper and store medications recommended by your doctor in the personal space section of your Handy or Traveller first aid kit.

Summary

  1. If you visit Bolivia, this is a must do tour
  2. Choose a reliable company with safe drivers and decent 4wds
  3. Altitude, sunburn and upset stomachs will likely be your biggest issues. Add your required extras into the personal space section of your Traveller or Handy first aid kit

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