A 3-day offroad tour to Salar de Uyuni

To reach San Pedro de Atacama from Salar de Uyuni you have to pass through many beautiful places and experience many unexpected moments. It takes 3 days on a jeep tour to Salar de Uyuni. The first two you spend at 4000 m above sea level. Even though it isn’t a smooth ride along the highway but a bumpy off-road trip, most of the people have very positive faces. For us, it is a convenient way to get out of Chile and move on to Bolivia.

journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia

Crossing the Chilean-Bolivian border

The migration office and the Chilean border are situated in San Pedro. After a 50-kilometer climb, you reach the Bolivian border, where you are processed – they check your visa, etc. Turns out on this border we don’t need any documents except passports and the fee in dollars. We got our photos taken, printed reservations, yellow fever vaccination certificates, all in vain. Welcome to Bolivia! Where for 60 dollars you get a sticker in the passport, a.k.a. visa.

journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia

Outside we are surrounded by high mountains, most of which are volcanos. The temperature drops to unpleasantly cold, but the open-air breakfast served with hot tea helps. Of course, many people ask about the toilet and they all receive the answer “There is only natural toilet here, we practice nudism”. So you go and moon the volcanos.

We are awaited by Bolivian 4×4 pick-up trucks, which will be our home for the next several days. The drivers are chefs and tourist guides and mechanics and whatever else we’d need. Our driver’s name was Johnny and he did everything within his capabilities to assure that we had an unforgettable experience. Our group consisted of an Italian couple on their honeymoon, a Brazilian student and a Polish man, who lived in Bali.

Laguna Blanca, Laguna Verde, Salvador Dali desert

We loaded the luggage and set off for the entrance of the national park. We paid the fee and, without further procedure, we went to see the first landmark on our way, Laguna Blanca. The reflection of the mountains in the water made it attractive for the cameras.

journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia

Later we saw the Laguna Verde. It changed its color to green when the sun shone brighter and the wind blew. The color is caused by different minerals on the bottom of the lake.

journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia

We move on to the Salvador Dalí Desert? Why Dalí? Well, it looks like some of Salvador Dali’s famous artworks.

journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia

Polques Hot Springs and Sol de Mañana geyser

We need a little relaxation, so we go for a dip in Polques Hot Springs. The water temperature was about 38 °C. The hot springs must’ve helped us with the adjustment to the local conditions, if it’s true that they lower the pressure.

journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia

No more than a half hour away we started to smell boiled eggs. Well, it is normal. The geyser Sol de Mañana emitted steam in front of us. The steam reached only several meters height because it was in the afternoon and there was a lot of sun and wind. In the mornings the geyser normally reaches a height of over 20 meters. In the different holes there was bubbly mineralized mud.

journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia

A night at Laguna Colorada

We arrive at the first place to spend the night near Laguna Colorada.

When we paid for our excursion we were told that the conditions would be very basic and there won’t be water or electricity. We expected just a piece of wood to put out sleeping bags. It turned out there were very comfortable beds and not-too-clean bed sheets, so we used the sleeping bags after all. Otherwise, while we stretched ourselves on the beds, Johnny cooked for us and we filled our bellies. He had an interesting approach to vegetarian cuisine- fried eggs or eggs with vegetables.

journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia

In order to burn the calories, we took a walk around Laguna Colorada, which changed several colors and had thousands of flamingos. Three species of flamingos inhabit Eduardo Abaroa National Park – andino, chileno and james. They differ in size and coloring of the tail. The wind was cruel, but it didn’t stop the flamingos from digging for food constantly, or us – from walking. We felt our heads a little bit heavy, but we have to get used to 4600m altitude, where we’ll be spending the night.

journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia
journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia

The Polish man decided to skip the walk but when we came back after 7 o’clock he decided to change his mind. That’s alright but it got cold and dark outside and he still hadn’t come back. Johnny was preparing the car for the trip tomorrow and had to cook dinner. We, the men of our group decided to go look for him because at this altitude it is easy to fall or get lost because there aren’t lights anywhere. It took us about 20 min. The guy had decided to photograph the flamingos in the dark and got carried away. He had forgotten that he was a part of a group and the others would worry about him.

journey on the road to Uyuni in Bolivia

After the first day, some things were clear. Firstly, Johnny was an awesome dude and drove carefully. He even promised to cook without eggs for Bistra. Secondly, the symptoms of the altitude sickness were complaining and headache in half of the people. Thirdly, it is hard to explain the idea of sharing to 12 people. Fourthly, the lack of shower facilities unites strangers. And lastly, never go looking in the dark for a stranger, driven crazy by the corporate world.

Arbol de Piedras and Hill of the Seven Colors

After the first day of fun on the road to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni, we are ready for new adventures and memorable landscapes. Our day starts with the caress of the first rays of the sun on the colorful lagoon and tasty marmalade pancakes and coca tea. We stock provisions and venture on.

Our first stop is a surreal landscape, a tree made of rocks (Arbol de Piedras). Later, the Hill of the Seven Colors.

second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia

The altitude lagoons

Next is a visit to the altitude lagoons, there are many in the region. There are those, which are filled by underground water sources, and those which are filled by rain (when it stops, the lagoon dries up). We visited the three most famous – Honda, Hedionda, and Cañapa.

Each one is prettier than the last, all of them full of flamingos and surrounded by tall mountains. The heights attract rain and clouds so we can travel in peace. However, the Polish guy made sure that we didn’t get much peace. Once again he doesn’t come to the car at the designated time and the group has to wait for him. This time he was 30 min late, even though the time for taking pictures was 15 min. With a bit raised voice we explained to him that this is not a private excursion and that he’s a part of a group, no matter how small. We made it clear that we wanted to have the time to contemplate all the beauty along the way and not wait for him to catch up and then move in a hurry. It had an effect on him, he became more silent and evidently more punctual.

At the third lagoon, while we were having fun observing the flamingos playing, Johnny and Ruben (the driver of the other half of the group) prepared delicious lunch. We inhaled it within minutes and went for a walk in the desert. The drivers were to collect us when they finish loading the luggage. A third car had broken down and our goody-two-shoes went to help them, so we had a lot of time amid the desert landscapes. We truly experienced what it’s like to be in the middle of nowhere, without anyway of communication. We passed by Chiguana salt flat.

second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia

Ollagüe volcano

We rode around similar landscapes for about an hour before we reached the most comfortable point for observation of Ollagüe volcano. The interesting thing about this region is that some volcanos are semi-active and smoke mysteriously while we wonder if they’re going to erupt and ruin our day.

second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia

From here on we only had to ride while singing Vivir mi vida of Marc Anthony, which somehow became the anthem of our group. We still can’t get it out of our heads. The final destination for the day is a salt hotel on the edge of the Uyuni salt flat. On the way there we stopped at a store, which was called 5mentarios or no comment. It consisted of a small room where you can find anything – candles, batteries, food, water, wine, beer, medicine, clothes, Nike shoes, and souvenirs.

We tried beer made of quinoa and coca. The one from quinoa was great. It turned out that this was a region where a lot of quinoa is grown. While we were contemplating the quinoa field a few raindrops fell, then we heard thunder and it started pouring, there was even hail. We were no more than half an hour away from the salt flat. There is an unwritten rule that nobody enters the salt flat when it is raining, especially to visit Incahuasi, because it is risky and you can get stuck there. Then the only way for you to be rescued is by helicopter.

A night at the salt hostel

We arrived at the salt hostel. Definitely one experiential stay.

second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
second day of adventures on the way to the salt flat Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia

The walls, the tables and the chairs were all made of salt cubes and the floor was made from larger grains. It was impossible to sleep outside the sleeping bag, but there was a hot shower for the fee of 10 bolivianos. We decided it was a good investment.

The dinner was tasty with a special menu for the vegetarians and a complimentary gift from the driver, Bolivian wine.

We were all awaiting the decision of the two drivers about our plans for tomorrow because of the rain. They discussed, called their colleagues and their boss at Uyuni and came up with a proposal. We leave at 4:30 in the morning and very slowly and carefully go at the salt flat. If there is too much water we go back and try to enter for a bit from Uyuni. So it was decided, within minutes everybody was in their beds in the hopes of getting what we came for instead of the alternative. The alternative is more likely in this situation, but hope dies last. Wish you a salty and rainy good night.

Continue reading to find out how we got captured in Salar de Uyuni.

Let’s travel to South America! Here’s our 2-month South America backpacking itinerary.

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