Bolivian Salt Flats & Altiplano Desert

Getting there!

We started our adventure in San Pedro de Atacama and headed to the Bolivian border where we met our drivers for the next 4 days. This was all organised by G Adventure. If you don’t have the option to be able to do a G Adventures tour then there is a company called Adventure World  or Rick Shaw Travel who basically offer the same tour I did but just the Altiplano Desert to Uyuni leg.   If you are just wanting to do a day tour to the Salt Flats themselves then you can easily organise a tour in Uyuni but do be careful on who you choose because some tour guides are very unreliable in Bolivia.

What to bring:

If you are doing a day trip just to the Salt Flats this is what i recommend you to bring/ wear

Short/ Long sleeve T shirt
Pants (if its not too warm)
Closed toe shoes
weatherproof jacket/ Shell

What to Expect:

If you are hoping for the Mirror like effect like everyone does then you have to be willing to travel through the wetter months around the Feb and March time. Most of the year it is Sunny and the reflection off the salt is intense so make sure you use lots of sunscreen. It gets really cold really quickly and it can be really windy so make sure you have some warm clothes with you.

One major thing that occurs through Bolivia is the lack in quality of facilities. You are there to appreciate the awesome landscape so do not expect 5 star treatment. It is not unusual if your car breaks down at some point, and do not be alarmed if every light on the dashboard is lit up. Most of the toilets are drop toilets so be prepared to be attacked by flies.
In saying all of this the 3-4 day tour is amazing and of the best things I have done.

Be Prepared to face altitude

The Salt Flats are well above 3000m so be ready for the altitude to hit you. Getting the the Bolivian border is a shock as well.  San Pedro de Atacama is 2,407m and  isn’t too harsh on the body but going from 2,407m to 4,900m above sea level is a shock to the system, my body did not like this one bit and from this point on I was sick for 3 days.
If you want some more advice and to learn more about my experience click here.

My Trip 

After Exploring in San Pedro de Atacama for a day we set off early in the morning to cross the border of Chile and into Bolivia at. Its a little bit of a process but once we were through it was smooth sailing. We had to go through two different stops, one we had to “technically” leave Chile and then we had to make our way to Bolivia’s “border control”. Bolivia’s state of the art border control building at Hito Cajon was pretty impressive, it was basically a small concrete house in the middle of the desert at the base of a volcano and literally looked like an abandoned building sitting at 4,900m above sea level. Being at almost 5000m above sea level there are a lot of people vomiting so be prepared for a quick tactical spew. Once you get everything stamped you’re all good! There may be some fees to pay to enter into Bolivia but that depends on what country you are from ( click here to see if you need to pay and click here for my Chile and Bolivia Tips and tricks)

Lining up to cross into Bolivia and start the 3 day 4×4 excursion to the Uyuni Salt Flats

We waited for everyone to get stamped and we all divided into small groups of 5 and chose a car.  And from that point on it was probably the best and worst couple of days on my life. I got severe altitude sickness, and unfortunately for me there was no way we could turn around. (click here to read on my experience and tips to deal with altitude sickness).

Driving through the Altiplano desert is bloody amazing.  Before you can enter the National park you have to pay a small fee of about $20 AUD. As sick as I was it was actually some of the most beautiful terrain I had ever seen. The lagoons you cross and hot springs you see are just breathtaking, the header image on my blog (Laguna Blanca) was taken at one of the stops through the Altiplano desert it was spectacular. ( if you want some more info on Salar de Uyuni click here)

Laguna Verde -this area has dramatically decreased in size due to climate change.

Throughout the day you come across some awesome places and you do stop for a little bit and get to explore the areas. On the first day we were in the car for a good 12 hrs, and it wasn’t a smooth ride. The roads out there aren’t roads, its rocks, sand, water going up hills going down hills. Our driver got separated from the other 3 cars and of course once we were separated our car had to break down right then and there in the middle of no where and no one to be seen… Luckily the car was just overheated and we were on our way in no time. By late that night we were still driving and we were all over it, sitting in a car with nothing to look out because it was that dark. Our driver was struggling to keep focused and I remember looking at him and watching the sweet beed off his face from him stressing to stay awake and get to the right place..
But we got there in the end and we were all happy chaps. I was extremely sick that night and I didn’t sleep at all, I actually thought i was dying and I was feeling that horrible. The next morning I was still really sick. I was vomiting a lot and the other end wasn’t in great shape either.

We set off that morning to continue towards the Salt flats. Passing lagoons and some hot springs again and watching wild llama and alpacas wonder through the area. We stop for lunch in a really small village and get to stretch our legs a little and we even played some basketball there.

We left once we relaxed for a little bit and finally after a couple of hours of driving we arrive to the amazing Uyuni Salt flats. This place is something you will never forget. It is literally white everywhere, you can see some mountains in the distance but for most of it it’s just white and surrounded by nothing…

You can get some great perspective photos here so make sure you think of some different ideas to try! (check out some of the photos that have been taken already click here).

If you are lucky and there has been rain in the last couple of days you might get a small layer of water onto of the salt plain creating a mirror. We had patches of this but we didn’t get to have the real mirror effect.

Once we got some good photos we headed to Fish Island AKA “heart of the Salt Flats”, and quite literally there is a island in the middle of the salt flats that is shaped like a heart. Its worth checking out it has some giant cactus growing there. Beth was in her element she has a weird love for them. There is a good little hike to the top of the Island and you get some great views.

 I was lucky enough to drive from where we took our photos of the Salt Flats to the island. But it wasn’t because we got along with our driver. Like a lot of things through Bolivia money can pay for anything. I asked my driver if I could drive and he first said no, and then I offered him money and he was more then happy to let me drive. I think it worked out to be about $10 Australian. That $10 got me an experience that I will never forget and it is something I can say not many people have ever done.

That night we stayed on the edge of the salt flats. Now the accommodation wasn’t anything to get excited about… but the locations was. The Village was located at the bottom of a volcano and the views out of your bedroom window where of the salt flats, couldn’t get any better then that. Our accommodation was like everywhere else in Bolivia this place had cold running water/showers, drop toilets and we where split up boys and girls  for the night which was kinda weird, it felt like I was on a school camp. That night they cook you a traditional Bolivian dinner and let you relax and enjoy the sunset over the Salt Flats.

One of the last stops on Salt Flats and you get to see the the monument that Bolivia has made for the most dangerous race in the world “The Dakar Rally” it’s a pretty cool thing to check out and just behind it is a small museum with some information about the Salt Flats. There is an area outside with most countries flag flapping about in the wind.

The Very last stop of the day before we headed to Uyuni is the Cementario de Trenes. It is basically a place where people have dumped trains that have broken down and the area has basically collected busted trains over time creating a “train cemetery”

We left the Salt flats and headed to Uyuni for the night.