In December I flew to San Pedro de Atacama a second time (first time see San Pedro de Atacama) to cross the border to Bolivia and do a tour to the Salar de Uyuni. All the agencies in San Pedro offer those three to four day tours. When I booked the tour I had not known that this was going to be the most impressive and beautiful place I have ever been to.
I was picked up in my hostel in the morning and brought to a place where the whole group had breakfast. Then we drove towards the Bolivian border where it took us ages to to get the stamp in the passport and enter the country.
After crossing the boarder we were picked up by a Bolivian tour guide in his Jeep. Our first stops were several lakes with stunning landscapes in the Bolivian part of the Atacama Desert.
The next stop were the Geysers Sol de la Mañana and the Laguna Colorada. The lake has its name because the minerals in the water give several colours to it.
On the first day we drove up to a peak of 4.800 m above sea level. Walking, talking and anything I did would make me feel exhausted immediately.
Then we continued to the Arbol de Piedra (engl.: stone tree) before we drove to our accommodation for that night. The formation and structure of the 7 m high stone tree are due to strong winds that blow sand onto it.
We stayed with a Bolivian family in Villa Mar (4.000 m above sea level) in basic housing and they cooked dinner for us. Even tough I was extremely tired from the whole day I had problems sleeping. That was certainly because of the altitude. I was lucky to not feel worse considering all the horror stories I have heard from others who did this tour. Some even say that this was the worst night of their lives. From having palpitation to not being able to breath, from stomach sickness to dizziness and headache. The altitude can have extreme effects on the body. Being in a desert with no cell phone reception, hours away from civilisation doesn’t make this better. But I don’t want to scare anyone – most of the people are doing fine.
After a bit of sleep we got up to have breakfast and continued our tour. We visited more beautiful places such as Laguna Negra and Anaconda Canyon. At the end of the day we were going to sleep in a salt hostel – a hostel where basically everything is made of salt.
Finally, the day had come where we got to see the attraction why we all had booked this tour – the Salar de Uyuni. Quite sleepy we started driving at 4:30 in the morning towards the salt flats for about one hour. I was almost falling asleep in the car when I suddenly saw something red at the horizon. As we kept driving the reddish-orange area got bigger and more beautiful. We stopped at some point to get out of the car and we couldn’t believe our eyes. It was the most impressive natural wonder I have ever seen.
As it had rained the night before, the whole salt desert acted as a mirror and reflected the sunrise. No, this is not photoshopped. Standing in this seemingly endless mirror, surrounded by the colours of the sunrise in the middle of nowhere was so magical I can’t even put it into words.
After watching the breathtaking sunrise we drove to a little “island” on the salt flats called Isla Incahuasi. The island is like a little hill full of cactus. It felt like we were in a fantasy world because no-one of us has ever seen something like this before.
And then we drove to a part of the salt flats where it hasn’t rained so we got to see them without the mirror effect as well. That’s the part where everyone does those perspective pictures.
We left the salt flats and drove to the town Uyuni. This was the end of the tour. In Uyuni we had to wait a few hours for our transport back to the Chilean border. I still couldn’t believe how amazing this whole trip was and I highly recommend it to everyone.
- Get used to the altitude first! Stay a couple of days in an elevated place so your body gets used to it.
- Book the tour with a company where the altitude of the accommodation of the first night is around 4.000 m above sea level (e.g. Villa Mar). Some agencies work with accommodations that are elevated up to 4.800 m above sea level. The higher you are, the more likely you will get altitude sickness.
- Be prepared that you have to pay if you want to shower.
- Bring waterproof shoes in case it rains on the salt flats (or flip flops, but that might get a bit fresh).
- Go during rainy season. It’s more likely that you’ll see the salt flats acting as a mirror.
- Buy coca leaves before you go. They are legal in Chile and Bolivia and chewing them helps against altitude sickness.
The problem with the altitude is that you don’t really know before if you’ll get sick or not. For this trip the best is to stay in San Pedro de Atacama (Chile) a few days before to adjust to the altitude.
One woman of our group got such a severe altitude sickness that she couldn’t enjoy the trip and didn’t even leave the car anymore. She wanted to go to the hospital in the first night but she couldn’t – there’s neither transportation to the next town nor cell phone reception. If there’s a real emergency you can order a private taxi but it will cost around 500€. When we arrived in Uyuni she went to the hospital straight away and stayed there for a night.
I didn’t have time to adjust to the altitude before the tour. I arrived to San Pedro de Atacama at night and the next morning I left to Bolivia. This is not recommended to anyone who has never been in such altitudes before. Everybody reacts differently and luckily I didn’t have any problems. But I was in high altitudes in Peru before so maybe my body got used to it there.