From Tupiza to Uyuni

Last year I went to Salar de Uyuni; the world´s largest salt flat/desert. It is located in south west of Bolivia, next to the city of Oruro. .  map-of-Bolivia The salt desert is absolutely breathtaking and has been on many a “wonders of the world” lists. When you arrive there you will know why. I started my journey to the salt flats from a small town in the south called Tupiza in a four wheel car together with our Bolivian driver, our Bolivian cook and three German guys traveling through the continent. During three days we passed by small villages, lakes, untouched fields, volcanos and natural reserves while spotting lamas, ostriches, flamingos and other animals brave enough to live in one of the toughest places on earth. IMG_2127 IMG_2130 We passed by a few villages along the way that couldn´t have been further away from civilization. IMG_2144 IMG_2181 IMG_2186 These photos were taken in a ghost village abandoned centuries ago due to an outbreak of tuberculosis. IMG_2200 IMG_2204 The trip offered many close encounters with animals. IMG_2155 IMG_2176 IMG_2183 IMG_2367 IMG_2365 IMG_2337 We spent many hours in the car gazing at these landscapes. In a way it is sort of soothing and meditating. IMG_2216 IMG_2265 IMG_2259 IMG_2363 Throughout the trips we stopped at many interesting locations such as this one called “Dali´s desert” IMG_2253 Another one was the amazing hot springs. You are at extreme altitudes and then all the sudden you dip into a hot tub of natural spring water. It is truly heaven on earth. IMG_2251 On our third day we arrived to the salt lakes. It is indeed a place like no other, and I honestly could not wrap my head around the fact that this was a salt lake and not a frozen lake. How odd to grab some salt from the ground… IMG_2454 I have to say that looking at these photos now it feels so far away as I am sitting in my apartment on the 17th floor in noisy and busy Manhattan…. IMG_2499 IMG_2538 IMG_2546 We also visited the island located in the middle of the lake. It is an island completely covered in cactuses, and feels at times very hostile. As if you are intruding…. IMG_2464 IMG_2486 IMG_2467 IMG_2487 The last stop before concluding the trip was a visit to the so-called train cemetery. IMG_2563 IMG_2566 IMG_2570 We were then dropped off in Oruro, a small town nearby. After having seen these amazing landscapes the town of Oruro looked less than average. Luckily I did not stay long and I caught my plane back to La Paz shortly after having arrived to Oruro. After 3 days of traveling I was full of impressions, and my conclusion was that the trip had been tough and exhausting both for the body and the mind. And absolutely amazing! Some tips for a great trip:

  • Pack warm clothes. As you travel to extremely high points during the trip, up to 5000 meters above sea level, temperatures tend to get very low. Dress as if you are going to the mountains in the fall, and preferably in layers. One moment you are almost blown away by cold and strong winds, and in another you are inside a warm car with the burning sun right through the window on your side. Being able to dress and undress is a good thing.
  • Don´t expect a 5 star hotel accommodation. You usually share room with others (3-6 people) and it is not uncommon with no electricity and heating in any of the rooms. Keep an open mind and be flexible. The food is quite good in my opinion but others might not be too impressed. Also, if you have some special food restrictions BE SURE to let them know BEFORE you leave Tupiza. The best thing is to lower your expectations and be positively surprised.
  • Be respectful and grateful towards the people you meet on your trip. It might be a given to most people, but it can never be understated that showing respect and appreciation toward the people who drive you around, cook for you, host you and guide you is key to a successful trip. Keep in mind that you visit peoples´homes and communities, and you should therefore act accordingly. Showing appreciation, cleaning up after yourself and acting responsively and maturely and just being friendly are traits you should always “carry in your back pocket”.
  • Always remember to charge your phone and camera whenever you have the chance. As mentioned, you might stay in places with no accommodation whatsoever, so never forget to charge your equipment when you have electricity available. With such astonishing scenarios, you would want to have your camera fully charged.
  • Bring snacks and drinks. You will usually be given snacks and drinks along the way, but unfortunately this is not the case with all travel agencies. As there are no (and absolutely no) shops along the way where you can get some biscuits or fruits you are on your own if some serious craving for sugar kicks in. I packed some biscuits and energy bars just in case, you never know.
  • Bring a hot-water-bottle. A pharmacy in Tupiza should sell them. Alternatively you could get a 1,5 liter plastic bottle as well. Trust me, you are going to thank me later. I used a 1,5 L plastic bottle filled with hot water that our cook generously prepared for me (an example of how being friendly with people and knowing some Spanish takes you a long way) and it was the BEST THING EVER to keep close to my chest during VERY cold nights in the Andean mountains.
  • Learn some phrases in Spanish. As many of the people you encounter along the way have poor English skills it is useful with some words or phrases to break the ice. Normally the agency you travel with would ensure that you travel with English speaking guides, but this is not always the case.
  • Stay away from shady travel agencies. Tripadvisor is a good starting point for weeding out the worst ones. Remember; you get what you pay for. You might find agencies offering cheap trips and you might save yourself a couple of bucks. But in countries like Bolivia paying more for your trip usually means more money to spare for car maintenance.  I traveled with Tupiza Tours and although I did pay a little bit extra I got my money´s worth in terms of safety, comfort, quality and reliability.
  • Remember to bring your bikini. One of the stops you will most likely be making is to the hot springs. Trust me, you would NOT want to miss out on that as it is absolute heaven dipping into the water.
  • Don´t bother staying in Uyuni. If you have the possibility to go somewhere else and sleep before moving on to your next destination I would recommend you to do that. Uyuni is not a beautiful or interesting city in my opinion, so unless you have a lot of time on your hands move up to Potosi, a mining city at 4000 meters and stay there for the night.
  • Enjoy the trip. You are sitting inside a car for most of the time so just sit back, relax and enjoy the landscapes changing as you move closer to Salar de Uyuni.
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