Existing Member?

The Big Trip. Stephen, Laura, James and Sinead head for an epic adventure: 17 weeks in South America 8 weeks in New Zealand 2 weeks in Fiji 11 weeks in Australia 14 weeks in South East Asia.

Tupiza to the Salta flats.

BOLIVIA | Friday, 19 June 2009 | Views [4040] | Comments [3]

our guide, driver and us

our guide, driver and us

After crossing from Bolivia at 7am we had a eight hour wait for the train to Tupiza. The Bolivian border town is a dirty, dusty and very basic town. The wait was long and cold; the food was bad and we were wrecked.

We eventually got the train at 3pm. Two hours later we were in the small town of Tupiza. We all had well deserved showers and an early night in our nice hotel. The next day we explored the nice little town and its markets. We booked onto a tour to Salar de Uyuni. The trip was three nights and four days and took us from Tupiza through the most isolated parts of Bolivia and ending at the amazing salt flats in Uyuni. It would cover 1,200 kilometers in all.

Day 1

An early start. We had breakfast and headed to the bank to get cash. At 9am we set off with our driver Daniel and guide Raul. In the other jeep were four others, a couple from Belgium, Tom and Veronik; and George and Evereck, two brothers, also from Belgium. We set off on a dirt road that brought us higher and higher into the mountains. It was a nerve wracking drive at times as there were very steep drops down the mountain side the higher we went. The views were amazing.

After four or five hours we reached flat land. We were driving along enjoying watching the llamas when all of a sudden the land cruiser pulled of the dirt road to the right. We looked to our right only to see our front right wheel rolling at speed into the distance toward a group of llamas who were scarpering in every direction. The lads and our guide jumped out of the car and ran after the still moving wheel. Meanwhile Sinead and Laura began to realise what would have happened if the wheel had come off a couple of hours before!!! The wheel was retrieved. However four of the six bolts which held the wheel to the hub had sheered off and all of the six nuts were gone.

We searched the track for the nuts and bolts but they were not to be found. After a couple of hours the two drivers had taken the other front wheel's hub apart for parts and we were on the road again with two half held on wheels.

We were hours behind and were late arriving at the first nights accommodation. Located at 4300 meters above sea level it was standard accommodation to say the least. No hot water, an outside toilet, no heating and it was freezing cold out. The lights to eat by ran off a car battery. Dinner helped to warm us up. We had delicious hot soup followed by goat meat and Smash, a gloupy potato substance. We had a few drinks and got to know the others on our tour. Tom and Valorik were quiet and didn't say much. George and his brother, we were told to call him Nipples, were a good laugh and very cheeky. We had an early night but didn't get much sleep as it was so cold. The beds were paper thin mattresses on concrete. 

Day 2

We had to get up at 5:30 am. It was so, so cold and dark. After a breakfast of stale bread we were off. During the day we visited a ghost town. This mining town was abandoned a couple of hundred years earlier after plague and leprosy hit hard and wiped most of the population out. The remaining population left believing the town was cursed. We also visited Laguna Celeste and a number of other lakes coloured white by the substance borax which is used to make explosives and in the manufacturing of cocaine. At lunch time we stopped at a hot spring. We had the option to get in but it was so cold we decided against the idea. After lunch we set out for the geysers Sol de Manana.

These were at 5000 meters above sea level, the highest we would reach on our trip. We couldn't stay here long because of the lack of oxygen. Our guide told us that last year two Israeli tourists fell into one of the boiling geysers and died. We didn't get too close.

That day we also saw Laguna Verda, which was a beautiful blue, green colour and over shadowed by Volcano Licancabur.

After a long day reached out digs, this time located at 4,600 meters. It was just as bad as the night before but colder. We spent the night huddled around a tiny stove, desperately trying to get warm. We had a few laughs and a few drinks with our Belgian friends.

Day 3

Day three started with a lie in until 6:30 am. After breakfast we set off. First stop was Laguna Colorado. This lake is a deep red colour from a distance . After this we went to the Desierto de Siloli rock formations in the middle of the desert

Here we got a flat wheel. Our faith in the wheels of our land cruiser was fading fast. After a quick wheel change we were on our way again. We saw another five lagunas that day. Some were completely frozen it was so cold. After lunch we passed a small salt flat called Salar de Chiguana, and an active volcano, Ollague Volcano (5865 meters), which marks the border with Chile.

Last that day we passed through a small isolated town and visited an Inca burial ground. We wondered if it was just put on as a tourist trap as it looked kind of fake.

Our last nights accommodation was in a salt hotel. The hotel was built from blocks of salt, our beds were on salt bases, tables and chairs were salt and floors were covered with rock salt which was like gravel. It was cold again but at least we got to have a hot shower. It was another early night as we had to be up at six next morning.

Day 4

Up at 6am. We headed straight to the salt flats to see sunrise. It was well worth the early start. When the sun was up the hard salt earth was blinding white and looked more like ice.

We headed for a coral island in the middle of the flat which is called fish island and covered in cacti. It was a climb to the top to see an amazing view. The salt flats are 12,000 square kilometers in area. It is the remains of a prehistoric salt lake. After breakfast on the salt and a bit of football we went to the middle of the salt flats to take some photos.

After this we visited the illegal salt hotel in the middle of the flats. It is now a museum. We had lunch in a nearby town before finishing our trip in the town of Uyuni at 2pm.

We waited for the bus office to open so we could buy tickets to Potosi that evening. Our Belgian friends George and Nipples arrived shortly after. They had counted on an ATM in Uyuni as they had to pay for half of their tour and also to buy tickets to La Paz. All banks and the ATM were closed as it was a holiday. They somehow managed to get their guide to believe they would transfer the money they owed and they also blagged the bus company into letting them pay when they arrived in La Paz.

After a bit to eat we got on our small crappy bus with bags strapped to the roof. During our journey to Potosi we had three flat tires, (what is it with us and wheels). The journey was long, cold, bumpy and tough. We finally arrived in Potosi at 3am.

Tags: bolivia, salt flats




Hey thebigtrip,

We liked your blog and decided to feature it this week so that others could enjoy it too!

Happy travels!

World Nomads

  World Nomads Jun 22, 2009 12:51 PM


Hi Stephan, The pics look amazing.Looks like ur enjoying urselvs,even if it is a bit on the cold side.All well here tell Laura I said Hi
Mary xx

  Mary Halligan Jul 13, 2009 6:32 AM


nice bit of narration , who is writing this stuff, not the jamesy boy anyway

  michael murphy Jul 22, 2009 8:32 PM



Travel Answers about Bolivia

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.