Road Trip Through the Bolivian Desert
Arriving in Uyuni at 6 AM was rough. We had traveled overnight on a bus and we had limited sleep. Everyone got off the bus and we were in Uyuni, a small Bolivian town. The town is pretty bare but we were here for our much anticipated 3 day salt flats tour with Red Planet Expeditions. Luckily, Red Planet had a taxi driver wait for our bus and drive us directly to their offices. Of course, like usual, the office wasn’t open when it was supposed to be so we waited outside with another couple. Finally, a flustered employee rolled up and checked us in. We had a few hours before our 4×4 jeep tour started so we scoured the town for a decent breakfast. Uyuni would have been a pretty boring town to be in, even for a few hours, except it was Dakar 2018 so there was a bit of excitement in the air. We found a diner that served questionable pancakes and coffee and we stocked up on snacks and water for our jeep adventure.
It was finally time to depart and our driver strapped our backpacks to the top of his jeep. Our 3 day jeep group consisted of Andrew and I, a driver, an Irish man and an Australian couple. We found out later that some of the other jeeps had even more people cramped in the car!
Day 1: Our first stop was the Train Graveyard right outside of Uyuni. These trains were some of the first locomotives in Bolivia and now, you get to jump on them and take photos. It was really like a train playground! We then drove to a small village called Colchani and witnessed salt production. Our guides set up lunch here for us, which consisted of chicken, rice, potatoes and apple pie. Our guides did a good job of packing lunch for us!
The highlight of Day 1 and the entire tour was reaching the salt flats. If you have any form of social media, you have seen countless amounts of people taking fun and reflective photos on the salt flats. What I didn’t expect was the TRAFFIC entering the salt flats. You think it is just a flat large area and it is but to enter it, you have to wait in a long line of cars. We waited for almost an hour before we were allowed to cross the salt flats. Once across the entrance, your eyes don’t know what to look at because it is SO FLAT and white. We stopped at a few points on the salt flats and it was truly amazing. I recommend everyone to come and see the Bolivian salt flats at one point in their life. Our guide took hilarious photos of us running away from mini dinosaurs and we took lots of group photos. If water has fallen on the salt flats, you will also get to experience the reflective side of the flats. It was mesmerizing! After a long first day, we made it to our hostel and after a nice dinner, we slept soundly. Wake up call was 7 AM the next morning. This hostel was pretty nice and Andrew and I were given a private room and bathroom. SCORE FOR BEING A MARRIED COUPLE!
Day 2: We ate breakfast at the hostel and the jeep was quickly loaded up again with our stuff. We started the day with witnessing a llama herd! We all jumped out of the jeep and started walking with the llamas. This trip has made me LOVE llamas and alpacas so much. They are so beautiful, swift and friendly. The landscape in the Bolivian desert is absolutely stunning. The lagoons are also amazing. Our first lagoon was very exciting, as it was our first time seeing flamingos in their natural habitat. Andrew and I had never seen flamingos outside of the San Diego Zoo so this was very incredible. The flamingo lagoon was also the spot for our lunch! I can confidently say that I will never forget sitting on a sand dune, eating lunch while flamingos squawked in a beautiful lagoon right below us.
The next lagoon of the day was the red lagoon and it really WAS red! I don’t know why I didn’t think it would be but it was so pretty! Llamas and flamingos co-exist in this lagoon together. You are able to walk along the entire shore of the lagoon and get close to the animals. The flamingos tend to scurry away whenever anyone comes near but the llamas don’t seem to mind your presence! They almost seem like they are posing for photos at time. I suppose they are used to people visiting this famous lagoon. Our last stop for the 2nd day was geysers. I was one of the rare people on the tour who had never seen or been near a geyser before so I was pumped! They are incredible and a bit scary to be near. The smell of sulfur was strong and it was crazy to see how HOT they were by witnessing a bubbling sensation in the ground. After another exhausting day, we made it to our hostel and this was one was even more basic than the first one. I barely slept, as the bed was terrible and it was dusty in the room so my asthma acted up in the night. All electricity in the hotel turns off after 10 PM so it was PITCH BLACK. I couldn’t wait to start our 3rd and final day and mostly, to get to our airbnb in the next city! Morning couldn’t come fast enough.
Day 3: Morning arrived and I sprung out of bed. After a pancake breakfast at the hostel, we loaded our stuff into the jeep one last time. Most of our day would be spent getting to the Chile border. We had a few stops beforehand though! We visited the Dali Desert, which was vast and bright. The blue sky was so beautiful in the desert and I couldn’t stop staring at the fluffy clouds above us. We then headed to the Green Lake which wasn’t green at the time of our visit. Our guide explained that it turns green in the middle of the day, after the wind picks up the water and reflects the algae below. It was still a beautiful sight! We took our last photos here and headed to the border. Once at the Bolivian border, our guide handled the exit stamp process for us. After we got our passports back, we all dispersed onto different buses that would take us into Chile and to the immigration office in San Pedro De Atacama, which also happened to be our next stop for a few days. It was bittersweet leaving Bolivia! We had spent 10 days in the country and it was such a fun time but we were ready for sun in Chile. We made it to the immigration office in Chile and the entrance process was easy.
The Red Planet Expedition 3 day Tour through the Salt Flats and Bolivian Desert was a life changing experience. We were able to see untouched nature and animals. I would recommend this tour to anyone curious about the salt flats and/or desert. I have absolutely no complaints about this tour, as it was simply a great life experience. I am so happy I got to experience this with my nature loving, hiking enthusiast husband, Andrew. I think we will be 70 years old, still talking about the time we walked with a herd of llamas.
You can book the tour here: http://redplanetexpedition.com/
My tips and suggestions:
- The jeep is not the most comfortable vehicle, as its stuffed to the brim with people, supplies and luggage. Your luggage will be strapped to the top of the jeep but you have to hold your day bags. The trunk was full of food, blankets and any gear. If you get car sick or do not like cramped spaces, this is not for you. I could consider possibly booking a private tour so you have plenty of room.
- The driver did not speak any English but your jeep follows 2 other jeeps and those guides all speak English. The English speaking guides explain everything to you at every stop.You sort of move in a giant group but you will spend the most time with those in your car.
- The food and accommodations are basic. You won’t find any fancy dinners or nice bed spreads. The hostels are in tiny villages far away from any main roads. The private tours allow you to stay in much nicer hotels but it is far more expensive.
- Bring lots of snacks and water. You will get to stop a tiny store each day to stock up. The desert is hot and the salt flats are dry. You will be thirsty and hungry often so it helped to have lots of snacks on us.
- BRING THE BEST SUNBLOCK YOU CAN FIND. I got sunburnt on my shoulders just from the car window. I have only been sunburnt once other time in my life so thats how strong and high the sun was.
- Be friendly! Your jeep mates and you will spend 3 days together. We loved our group and we got to know each other pretty well.
- Bring your headphones and an extra charger. There is a lot of time spent just sitting in the car, driving for miles and miles. I listened to a lot of music!
- Pack layers. It was so hot at times and then we would arrive at the next location and the wind was frigid. I had a sweater or jacket tied around my waist always!