I finally made it to Uyuni after successfully breaking through a Bolivian roadblock. I had booked a three day all inclusive tour of the Salar de Uyuni and the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Abaroa for an incredibly cheap 750bs. I was looking forward to starting the tour the next morning.
I settled into the very basic Hotel Palace Uyuni with Celine in a double room with a private bathroom. This hotel was extremely cheap at 100bs for a single room with a hot shower, so I shouldn’t complain that it was colder inside the room than it was outside. Toilet paper was provided but soap was not. Also, wifi worked sparingly. It was cut off during certain hours of the day. There was a restaurant at reception with a decent breakfast. The hotel is located right on Plaza Arce, the main tourist center in Uyuni. There are several restaurants, tour agencies offering trips to Salar de Uyuni, shops, and other hotels and hostels located in or near the plaza.
I woke up early the next morning and got ready to leave on my tour which was scheduled for 10am. I walked around the corner to the tour office that organized my tour, Sol de Mañana. The owner, Edith, was shocked to see me and couldn’t believe I made it through the roadblock. She explained that my tour along with many others was cancelled. I would have been the only one in the jeep. She promised she would have a tour ready for me the next morning at either 5am or 10am and would let me know later that day. I had a full day ahead of me with absolutely nothing to do. Celine had already left on her one day tour so I had nobody to share the misery with.
Uyuni is a dusty frontier town. It’s one of those places most people pass through or stay for a quick night. For me, it quickly became the most miserable place I had ever been. There is absolutely nothing of interest in town. Since my room was freezing cold, I spent my entire day in Plaza Arce sitting around doing nothing. In fact, I hated Uyuni so much, I didn’t even bother to take a single picture. That says a lot because if you read this blog regularly, you know how much I love taking pictures.
Having so much time on my hands, I was able to try a couple of restaurants. If you like pizza, you are in luck because that’s pretty much the only thing you can find to eat. Some places advertise pasta or Mexican food, but when I would walk in they were only willing to make a pizza for me. All of the meals I ate were overpriced and of very low quality. I can’t recommend any one single place. Good luck to you.
Edith stopped by my hotel at 10:30pm to tell me to be ready at 5am for my tour. I went to sleep and in the morning was greeted at the hotel door by my jeep driver flashing a smile of golden teeth. We walked to his very dusty and unkept Toyota Land Cruiser and I claimed the front seat. There were two other passengers with me, and the driver told me we had to go pick up more passengers before starting the tour (each tour can take six passengers). We set off and started our drive through the middle of nowhere in complete darkness. I had to cover my nose and mouth with a scarf to protect myself from the dust that was coming through the vents. To make it worse, the driver had these stupid little things hanging from the top of the window that were hypnotizing me.
I was a bit confused when four hours later we rolled up to the town of Challapata, well north of Uyuni – and anything else on the tour for that matter. We had a quick breakfast and hopped into the jeep to meet the other passengers at 10am. However, it wasn’t just three more passengers. It was a whole group of 15 from Intrepid Travel. They couldn’t break through the roadblock so they hired our driver and two others to drive through the wilderness and meet them in Challapata.
By 10:30am, normal tours stop at the village of Colchani to see mounds of salt and the salt processing plants and a train cemetery just outside of Uyuni. But for our tour, it would be another four hours drive back in the direction we came before stopping for lunch, and six hours before we would see anything included on the tour! A full day lost sitting in a jeep! I was very upset that we would be missing the mounds of salt because it would have been one of the most photogenic parts of the tour.
For lunch, we stopped in a small town called Salinas de Garci Mendoza. I was able to meet some of the Intrepid group and chat with them during lunch. There were some very interesting people from Canada, England, Germany, Ireland, and Australia. We had a family-style meal of chicken, potatoes, salad, and rice.
After lunch, we took a 90 minute drive to Salar de Uyuni. Finally, something to see! The largest salt flats in the world at 10,582 square km, Salar de Uyuni is 100 times bigger than the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. The salt flats are a thick layer of salt covering a lake, completely flat in every direction. In the rainy season, the flats are covered in water and form an incredible reflective surface. That’s something I would love to witness.
Salar de Uyuni is also a place where many people love to take ridiculous photos. I sat back and laughed at the Intrepid group as they made fools of themselves, and I joined in as well.
We stopped at Isla Incahuasi, an “island” made of ancient coral and filled with cactus. Also known as Fish Island, it is the only “island” of its kind in the salt flats. There is a path to follow up to the top for breathtaking views of the entire flats. Admission costs 30bs.
We watched the sun set over the mountains to the west of the salt flats and headed in pitch darkness to our next stop, the Hotel de Sal Tambo Loma. It is a hotel made completely out of blocks of salt. The beds were comfortable and it was much warmer than I was expecting at night.
By dinner time at 7:30pm, my stomach was starting to act up. A couple others in the group were also feeling under the weather. I couldn’t eat anything but a bowl of soup. We pinpointed the chicken at lunch as the problem. The Irish girl gave me some medicine and I bought some Gatorade to try and settle my stomach. A bunch of us sat down and played card games for the next hour before it was lights out for the night.