Sunday, November 10, 2013

Student Doctor Says Increase your Salt Intake - Uyuni Salt Flats Bolivia


One of the most famous tourist locations in Bolivia is the Salar de Uyuni. Its the worlds largest Salt flats and draws the adventurous, the photographers and the hypotensive (people with low blood pressure).

The Salar offers a various range of tours from 1-4 days. In one day you can do a quick visit to the famous expansive salt flats. In two days you can see the salt flats, stay in a salt hotel and see some other local sites.
I did the 3 day tour, I paid 800 Bolivianos ($115 USD). It was a toss up of how good my tour was going to be. I have heard lots of horror stories of tourists going hungry, guides rushing or even skipping things. I have heard of terrible jeeps and flat tires. Luckily I was placed in a tour that was organized through one of the best run agencies. I was very lucky, everyone in my group paid over 1000 Bolivianos.

The first day we visited the salt flats. We had the opportunity to eat in the middle of salt flats. Remember that if your food it not flavorful enough all you need to do is grab some salt from the ground and sprinkle it on top. We also were able to spend time taking the quintessential funny salt flat photos that you see all over the internet. At midday we stopped at an Isla (island) Incahuasi in the salar covered with cacti. Entrance here was  30 bolivianos. Its very interesting island in the middle of a sea of white salt.  

Salt Hotel
After this we drove through the salt on our way to our salt hotel. Yes I am not making this up, it is a hostle made of salt bricks. The chairs are salt, the tables are salt and floor is covered in salt. Even the beds are made of salt, don't worry they put a mattress on top. We then headed over to a close burial ground. Here we got to see how the local pre-inca cultures burried their dead. It was kinda creepy but really interesting. 

That night we enjoyed dinner, boiled chicken, papas fritas and a bottle of wine. One complaint for the tour was not enough food. We were six hungry people and after a meal we were still typically hungry. We went to bed after some karaoke and Bolivian beer. The nights are cold. Bring a sleeping bag, rent one if you don't have one.

The next day we woke up before the sun came up and hopped back into the jeep. We headed to on a
beautiful journey traversing high altitude dessert, flying by active volcanoes and enjoying the sun coming up over the mountains turning the sky into a painting.

We stop at each of the iconic Laguna Colorada (colored lagoon), with flamencos still frozen into the water. The flamencos sleep overnight in the lake, the water freezes around their legs, when they wake up in the morning they have to wait until the ice melts so that they can move. 

When you enter Avaroa National Park you will have to pay a 150 Boliviano entrance fee, that is not covered in the tour price. This price is mandatory if you want the tour to continue, so make sure you are packing at least 150 Bolivianos with you. 

The lagoons range in color, from red, green, blue, and rainbow colors. Warm thermal springs drain into the lagoons which are painted by the sediment and algae that thrive in the subzero temperature. On the way to Laguna Verde, we stopped at the hot springs. Probably one of the smallest hot springs that I have ever bathed in. They are surrounded by fridged open desert on one side and rocky mountains on the other side. There is no where to change so just use your pack towel as a changing room.

After a 30 min dip in the baths we dried off, had a bite to eat and headed off to Laguna Verde, usually this is done on the 3rd day, but since the blue/green color is best seen in the evening we decided to do it on day 2. At 14,000 ft (4,300meters) its cold and windy. Its blue color rivals Pangong Tso in Northern Inida/ Tibet which I visited a year before. The backdrop of Laguna Verde is the 19,000ft inactive Licancabur Volcano
Thermal Baths

We continued to our last stop of the day... the geysers. They were amazing. You could stand at the edges, watching the muddy water bubble and spurt into the air giving off clouds of smoke. We took pictures with the setting sun illuminating the smoke as it swirled around us. 

After a long day we reached our hostel to eat and sleep. We woke up early again and headed off on our last leg of out 3 day trip. We flew past the lagoons and through small towns. We stopped to eat around some interesting rock formations. We kept our eyes open for road runners and watched the desert land rush by us. 


Our last stop was the train grave yard. Its a strip of land where old rusted trains and left for tourists to climb on. After swinging on the metal swings that hung from the underside of the train cars we headed back to the town of Uyuni. I bought a bus ticket back to La Paz for that evening and enjoyed the rest of my time in Uyuni eating cookies and pizzas at Minute Man Pizza. I jumped on the overnight bus back to La Paz unpacking my sleeping bag to cover myself for the cold ride through the high altitude dessert. 

Some things to note:
1. Take snacks, you rarely get enough food from the tour company, don't buy then in the tourist part of Uyuni, or you will be paying almost two times the regular price. 
2. The guides don't speak English so either make sure you have someone in the jeep to translate or just be ok not know what anything is.
3. Bring a sleeping bag (a sub zero one is the best) or rent one, if you don't you will be an ice cube at night.
4. Bring warm cloths (especially wool socks) and good walking shoes.
5. Bring at least 180 Bolivianos for entrance fees. Extra for snacks is recommended
6. Bring extra batteries, there is no where to charge your camera, unless you give it to the workers as the hostels, who will look through your phone or camera.
7. Bring a bathing suit, its worth taking a dip into the hot springs to warm up after a long cold day.

10 comments:

  1. A fantastic blog. Would you please let me know which travel agency you chose for this fascinating trip of yours and their website. Do I need to pay them in advance or could contact them when I reach La Paz. I am from India, and would like to visit Bolivia in the month of May 2014. I am an Intensivist (thought I would share this with you).
    Dr. Bhaskar Maitra

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    1. Hello Dr. Bhaskar,

      I always recommend booking when you get there. I booked the tour when I was in La Paz at my hostel. I stayed at Pirwa Hostel, it was super close to the bus terminal so I could walk to get my bus to Uyuni. I booked through Camel Tours, which is a small agency that throws you into unfull tours with other companies, its good way to go if your traveling alone. I was lucky to be placed into a Cordillera tours jeep, which is one of the best tour companies, other than Red Planet (but Red Planet is twice the price of all other agencies because they offer English speaking guides). I highly recommend Cordilla tours, if you book straight through them you can probably negotiate for about 1000 Bolivianos. Just say your friend got it for 1000. Good luck, have lots of fun, stay warm.

      Adri

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  2. Hi Adrienne,
    Great blog! I will be visiting Bolivia later in December and am also staying at Pirwa hotel (and am currently in San Francisco :) )
    How was your experience with the hostel?
    And how was the bus ride to Uyuni? I have been reading that its 12hrs, and almost 6 of that is on unpaved road, so no matter what bus you take its uncomfortable? Did you also take todotour bus?

    I hope its not too many questions!
    thanks,

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    1. Hello Tulika,

      I liked Pirwa, they were very nice. They even let me shower after I got back, even though I was not spending the night.

      I took the basic bus. It was the cheapest one. The tour bus was twice the price, not sure what amenities they provided to cost twice as much. The bus ride was a bit uncomfortable, but mainly because of the cold. The windows would freeze up at night. Also the stops along the way sell overpriced food items, so I recommend bring snacks and water. I was able to sleep pretty well. I would recommend bring your sleeping bag on. Some of the buses do have blankets mine did, but even with the blankets it was still very cold. There was a bathroom on board and lots of other traveleers going to Uyuni. Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Adri

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  4. Hi Adrienne

    Thank you for sharing your experience which is a great help to other travellers. I am planning to backpack for 2 months in South America. Will really appreciate if you could share more of your travel in SA. If possible, you could send all your tips and itineraries to me at eandyoon@yahoo.com. Thanks again.

    Ean
    Malaysia

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  5. Hi Adrienne

    Great post, thanks, I have a couple of questions.
    What time of the year did you go? I am going in October, will it be just as cold?
    Also for photography what is October like, any idea? Will there be plenty of water in the lakes?

    Here is my Blog in case your interested. http://photito.wordpress.com/

    Thanks, Spencer

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    1. I went in July, which is their winter. It was very cold. It might not be as cold in October, but since it's high elevation I would be ready for the cold any time of the year.

      There was lots of water in the lakes, what I didn't get to enjoy was the mirror like effect on the salt flats during the rainy season.

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  6. Hey!

    Amazing post! I plan to visit South America next year and the salt flats are a must. I wanted to ask did you purchase the tour in advance or when you arrived to Uyuni?
    If so I assume its best to arrive early as the tours leave at a set time?

    Thanks,
    Jen

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    1. Hey Jen,

      I booked the tour in La Paz at the backpackers hostel I was staying at. I took the overnight public bus that evening and arrived for the tour in the morning. The guy from my company was waiting at the bus stop, but there are also people trying to sell tours too. Make sure to negotiate prices. Most tours were leaving around 7-8am. You can see all the jeeps parked on the streets of uyuni, I am sure you can just walk around and find an empty spot. Saying "my friend only paid 800 bolivianos" might help you get a better price.

      Safe travels,
      Adrienne

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