One day at Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia

My trip to Bolivia was designed specifically keeping the largest salt flats of the world in mind. There used to be salt water lakes here several years back, which has dried up over time and have now transformed in to miles and miles of hexagonal sheets of slat blocks spread all over till the horizon. The fun pictures that you can click here and the visuals of the place seen on the internet, always made me inquisitive about this seemingly out of the world place. 

So, my journey to this quiet and sleepy little village of Uyuni started from La Paz, the highest administrative capital of the world, the previous night. Todo Turismo bus services are the most popular ones out there. While it wasn’t easy to book the tickets online beforehand as the site didn’t work but I walked up to the city office of Todo Turismo upon reaching La Paz and the tickets were easily available for travelling the same night. In fact they have an in-house travel agent, who helped me book a day trip to the salt flats from Uyuni village upon arrival there the next morning. So, I was all sorted and ready to get in to their bus late in the evening. 

The transport services and road conditions here aren’t in general, as good as what I experienced in Peru but the Todo Turismo buses are pretty neat and comfortable by far. They provide you light blankets and the in built heating arrangements, keep you warm once inside the bus. They also serve rice, salad and chicken/ vegetables for dinner. They claim to have wifi on the bus but connectivity is too poor and you can’t even receive WhatsApp messages. However, at the crack of dawn, they stopped over by a beautiful landscape, where they served breakfast - crackers, yoghurt and cake. In sometime the bus slowly pulls in to this quaint village of Uyuni, where you see a flurry of activities - tour agents flocking around the buses, calling out the names of the passengers, whom they have come to receive for the Salt Flat tours. Some are even shouting out cheap deals inclusive of hotel stays and tour of the salt flats and trying to get new customers. My trip was booked beforehand from the La Paz office of Todo Tourismo office but one can book something after reaching here too. 

I get down of the bus and step in to the Uyuni office of this bus company, where you are offered coffee and wi fi. You can make a quick use of the washroom to freshen up and charge your phones and other gadgets, while waiting for your tour operator to show up. Mine was a day tour but salt Flat tour packages are available for 2-3 days too, where you get to stay overnight in the middle of the salt flats and sleep in hotels made of salt, under the clear skies. I had just a day to myself. So, I had to settle for a day tour. These tours are done in 4WD vehicles, which one needs to share with 4-5 other fellow travellers. My trip was already booked beforehand from the La Paz office of Todo Tourismo but one can also book a tour as per one’s liking after reaching Uyuni village. 

Train Cemetry
My trip started with 4 other tourists in a 4*4 with a quick visit to this antique train cemetery outside the village, where a bunch of rusted and abandoned railway engines and carriages are put to display. In the beginning of the 19th century Uyuni used to be the hub of transportation in South America and trains used to ply from here but later due to economic unrest and at the face of protest from the local people, the trains were abandoned here and the locomotives today is left to rust and gradually fade out of memory. This is the first stop of the Salt Flat tour and tourists climb all over the trains and engines to get their selfies clicked. 

Our driver didn’t speak any English but a fellow traveller in the vehicle could speak some patchy Spanish and he was our translator for the day. Before the start of the tour, the driver stopped over at a warehouse where we were asked to pick up boots of our choice and sizes (we had no idea why). He also picked up some home cooked food, aerated drinks and water for us to have for lunch. 

Hot Springs
The next stop is where you start spotting the hotels made of salt and the hot springs throwing out gushing streams of water filled with minerals. Your palms will have a layer of white powdery coat once you put your hand inside the water. We got going from there. 

Dakar Rally Monument
Our driver made a couple of stops post that - first one being a local market for us to buy souvenirs, knick knacks etc and the next one was at the salt-made monument of Dakar Car Rally tournament held every year. All the vehicles proceed inside the salt Flat from this point. Upon reaching there, we walked inside a salt hotel to have our lunch, which comprised of chicken, bread, rice and salad with some aerated drinks. After using the restroom and clicking a few pictures here and there, we were all set to venture in to the much discussed salt Flat. 

The Salar De Uyuni
Our 4WD started running across the never ending desert of salt. Look around and all you can see is clear blue skies meeting the pristine white ground at the horizon. What was thrown open to me was a completely different world within the very familiar world of ours – Salar De Uyuni – The largest salt flats on the face of the earth spread around 11000sq.kms approximately. The clear blue sky on top provides the right contrast of colour, as if suspended in a universe of white and blue. 

Funny pictures
At this point suddenly the driver stops the vehicle and asks us to get down for some pictures, borrows our iPhone and starts calculating various frames in his mind. A little imagination, out of the box thinking, different perspective and the depth of field that the salt flat has to offer can let your creativity with camera spread wings. There one can play with the distance, making objects that are faraway look small but in the same level as the objects or persons ahead. So, like an extremely potential film director our driver starts instructing us to pose along with some props like an empty box of Pringles, a rubber dinosaur etc. We shot a few videos too and were absolutely thrilled. By the time we decided to move from there, we had quite a few fun pictures in group and solo, thus making memories of a lifetime. 

Isla Incahuasi
The next stop for us was at the island of Incahuasi. The Isla Incahuasi, a hilly and rocky outcrop in the middle of Salar De Uyuni, lets you witness acres of land thronged with giant cacti all over!! You can walk around the foothill of the hillock on the island and click pictures with the cacti around. You need to pay an entrance fees of 30 BOB (Boliviano) to climb up the hill and get the spectacular view from top. After spending some time romancing the cacti, we scrambled inside our 4WD vehicle and headed off to the next spot. The next spot where we arrived was a relatively wet ground and there were few inches of water settled on the salt ground. The driver announced all of us to take off our shoes and wear those boots, which we were carrying with us in the vehicle as the ground was full of water and immersing our feet in the extremely saline water could have been disastrous. So, now we know why those boots accompanied us right from the beginning of the tour.

Sunset Point
The show stopper in this whole trip was this spot on the Salar, where you catch the sunset on a relatively wet surface and can capture the perfect reflections of yourself and surroundings. While the ideal season to catch the bright reflections is during the rainy season but in a dry month of October too, I found myself in a surreal world when dusk crept in quietly and the sun disappeared beyond the horizons, making it a perfect setting for clicking breathtaking silhouettes. Our driver seemed to be an absolute pro at it and a perfectionist too. He did direct us to form certain poses and clicked away to glory. What came out of that creative photo session is absolutely out of the world and quite enough for me to relive the memory for the rest of my life.

Getting Back
As the sun hid behind the horizon and dark night started engulfing us, the driver asked us to hurry up as I had to catch the night bus back to La Paz and the other 3 passengers in the group, a family of Chinese origin settled in Canada, had to catch their flight back from Uyuni airport. Yes, Uyuni does have an airport, which barely looks like a small time departmental store from outside!

As I settled myself in the back seat of the 4WD all set to brave the bumpy ride back to where we started the tour from, my mind was flooded with the memories of the fun times I had there the whole day exploring, clicking funny pictures, posing up and synchronising for the fun clicks with the other fellow travelers in the vehicle. At this point I almost regretted the fact that I didn't have more time to spend in this paradise. A 2-3 days trip in the Salar would have given me the opportunity to see the pink flamingos from close quarters and spend a night under the clear starry sky.

Points to be kept in mind :
1) A to and fro trip to Uyuni from LA Paz will cost you around 500 BOB (Boliviano)
2) The drivers seldom speak English. So, a little knowledge of Spanish might come handy.
3) Pink flamingoes can't be spotted during the day trips.
4) Entry fee to Island of Incahuasi is 30 BOB
5) Travel time from La Paz to Uyuni is 10 hrs by road. It's an overnight journey.
6) Uyuni can be reached by air and road.
7) It is easier to cross borders to Chile by road from Bolivia through Uyuni and vice versa.


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