Backpacking across the Andes Bolivia Potosi

Backpacking across the Andes – #10: the Uyuni Salt Flat (Bolivia)

On day 3 of our excursion in Bolivia, we woke up at dawn to be ready to watch the sun rise in the Uyuni Salt Flat! We would finally discover this amazing place! It had been quite an adventure to get there! We were so excited that we jumped out of bed as soon as the alarm clock rang at 4:30am.

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 But what is the Uyuni Salt Flat?

Well, it is a desert entirely covered with salt! It is spreading over 12 000 square kilometers and located at about 3 650 meters of altitude in Bolivia! In Prehistoric times, the Minchin Lake was covering most of southwest Bolivia and, as it gradually dried up, it left a huge salt area: the Uyuni Salar. Today, it is the world’s largest salt flat.

SEEING THE SUN RISE AT THE FISHERMEN ISLAND

Edgar first took us to a place called Isla de los Pescadores (Fishermen Island). At first I did not understand why it was called “island” as we were in the middle of the desert and there was no water. But then I remembered that the salar used to be a lake and it totally made sense.

FINDING OUR WAY AROUND GIANT CACTI

It was still pitch dark when we arrived and we started climbing this little hill. We were progressing in what seemed to be a forest of giant cacti! They looked pretty impressive in the darkness. Climbing this hill was not easy… We had just woken up, we had not eaten anything, it was dark and we were at 3 650 meters of altitude. I took a few breaks to catch my breath and finally reached the top of the hill. My Mexican travel companion was so excited to be there that he literally ran to the top… I don’t know how he did it.

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SEEING THE UYUNI SALT FLAT FOR THE FIRST TIME

And finally the sun began to rise and we discovered this huge sea of salt all around us. Once again, there was not a single cloud in the sky. We were on a little island lost in the middle of the salt flat, surrounded by giant cacti. It was beautiful.

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After taking hundreds of pictures, we went back down and had breakfast with Edgar who had prepared everything while we were at the top of the hill. We were now ready to go farther into the salt desert!

 GOING FURTHER INTO THE SALT FLAT

We got back into the jeep and Edgar took us to a place where there was literally nothing around us. We were in the middle of nowhere.

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We discovered these strange heptagonal shapes made of salt on the ground. Edgar explained that in summer it rains a lot in the salar and it becomes covered with a slight layer of water. When the water evaporates, it creates these shapes on the ground.

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PHOTO SESSION IN THE SALT FLAT

Since there is literally nothing, it is easy to play with the perspective. Edgar had the funiest ideas to take pictures. We must have spent more than an hour there, taking LOTS of pictures. And here is the result of our artistic photo session in the salar!

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BUYING ALPACA SWEATERS IN COLCHANI

We then went to a little village called Colchani, where we had lunch and where we bought some very warm alpaca sweaters and socks, very useful for the rest of the trip! We browsed the little souvenir shops, tried not to buy too many things as our backpacking trip was far from being over, we saw Bolivian women wearing the traditional bowler hat, and I fell in love with the cutest little boy.

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DISAPPOINTMENT AT THE TRAIN CEMETARY

Our three-day excursion ended with the visit of the train cemetery in Uyuni. After three days in the middle of beautiful landscapes, this train cemetery did not have a great interest. It seemed that the rusty trains had just been abandoned there, with no particular care.

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 THE END OF OUR ADVENTURE WITH EDGAR

Edgar then dropped us off at the bus station in the little town of Uyuni. We were kind of disappointed because he was supposed to drop us off at the travel agency where we were hoping to receive useful information about how to reach La Paz. It was 1pm and he told us that the secretary was on her lunch break and that she would not come back until 4pm. We thought the lunch breaks in Bolivia were pretty long…

AND THEN OFF TO LA PAZ

STEP ONE: FROM UYUNI TO ORURO BY TRAIN

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We decided to stick to our original plan: taking a night train to Oruro and then a bus to La Paz.

We walked to the train station, which was closed until 3pm… So we waited at the terrace of a café and then came back. The train was leaving at 1:45am! So we had a lot of waiting time. We spent most of this time at the terrace of a café with our friends from the tour who were also taking the train, enjoying the warm afternoon sun. When it started to get cold and dark, we decided to rent a hostel room to be warm and sleep a few hours before taking the train.

At 1:45am, we were in the train. It left an hour later, with no explanation… And then started a very long and not very pleasant ride to Oruro. The train was very old and it was bouncing right and left.

And there was something else that I had not expected: dust! As we were in the middle of the desert, it was very (VERY) dusty, to the point that it was hard to breeze. I wished I had brought one of these masks that Japanese people wear when they have a cold. It would have been very useful.The next morning, the train staff even came to sweep the floor as the train had become so dusty! So between the bouncy ride and the dust, I did not manage to sleep much on that train.

But then when the sun rose the next day, we were amazed by the beautiful landscapes that we were passing by. We were in the middle of the Andes. At one point, it looked as if the rail road had been built in the middle of a lagoon. Whether we looked right or left, we were surrounded by this beautiful lagoon, with thousands of birds flying away as the train was progressing. Just for the sake of this view, the train ride was worth it!

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STEP 2: FROM ORURO TO LA PAZ BY BUS

Once in Oruro, we went to the bus station and took a bus to La Paz. Our adventure in the Uyuni Salt Flat was now over. We were ready to explore a new capital!

How to go from Uyuni to la Paz ?

There are 2 options:

UYUNI ORURO  LA PAZ The first one if the night train that will take you to Oruro. From there you will take a bus to La Paz. Be careful if you want to choose this option because the train does not leave everyday.

UYUNI LA PAZ Your second option is to take a night bus from Uyuni to La Paz.

We had chosen the train for the “old train” experience and the beautiful landscapes. But in the end, the ride was not pleasant at all and arriving in Oruro, which is not particularly nice, was not very convenient. I think that I would take the bus if I could go back.

If you still want to take the train, bring a mask with you to protect yourself against the dust!

Continue reading

  • Next stop: La Paz!Click here to read the article.
  • All articles about this country: click here to see all articles about Bolivia.
  • All articles about this trip: click here to read see all articles about this backpacking trip across the Andes (Chile – Bolivia – Peru).
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  • Reply Backpacking across the Andes – #9: day two on our way to the Uyuni Salt Flat (Bolivia) - La petite valise d'Aurélie 20 February 2016 at 18 h 14 min

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