Uyuni is a small town in the middle of nowhere SW Bolivia, thriving touristically due to its proximity to a host of wonderous natural formations near the Chilean border.
We arrive after a brutal seven-hour bus ride from Potosí, on bumpy unpaved roads, suffering a flat tire along the way. A dinky little town with a surprisingly pretty town center around which tourism is focused (littered with tour operators offering the same packages and same -- mostly broken -- promises).
Tim and I booked ourselves on a 3-day jeep tour to explore the region, ending at San Pedro de Atacama across the border in Chile. It was an amazing journey and the scenery we experienced was truly unique.
We started Friday morning, November 14th, in a 4-wheel-drive jeep with our driver/tour guide, three bubbly Norwegian medical residents, a German nanotechnologist and a Russian that didn´t really speak enough English or Spanish to communicate with anyone.
After a few quick stops at a train graveyard and town that makes stupid figurines out of salt, we finally made it to the main stops of Day One: Salar de Uyuni, or salt plains. Back in ancient times, the region was covered in a salt lake that eventually dried up, leaving a field of salt. It is literally fine white flooring extending in every direction as far as the eye can see, uninterupted. Quite amazing. Further stops brought us to islands full of cacti, looking like coral (must have formed underwater in the lake); we felt like we were scuba diving above water.
We slept that night just outside the Salar de Uyuni in a small village. Our hotel was literally made out of salt bricks, from the walls to furniture to salt-covered flooring. An interesting experience indeed!
We left the next morning, Day Two, with a number of stops. Highlights included a series of lagunas featuring volcano-tip backgrounds and hundreds -- if not thousands -- of pink flamingos. Quite gorgeous flocks! Never seen so many wild flamingos before! We also stopped at a number of interesting rock formations, including the Piedra de Arbol, a large rock in the shape of a tree. Like in Capadocia, Turkey, volcanic activity and millenia of erosion created these wonderful shapes.
Our final stop was the cold and gale-force-windy Laguna Colorada. Nearly 5000m above sea level, this laguna was partially colored a deep red hue due to iron deposits, and was also full of flamingos. We slept in our sleeping bags in the minimalist hotel as it was so cold that night (below freezing).
Day Three started uber early, leaving at 4:30 in the morning to make it to the natural steam geysers during sun rise where the cold outdoor temperatures enhanced the effects. Full of dry red rocks in the background, the geysers were a field of steam and bubbling mud that made me feel as if I were on Mars or some other Star Trek world on an away mission, rather than on my home planet, Earth. The pictures speak for themselves.
We also stopped at a thermal spring fed by volcanic activity below. Our freezing temperatures were welcomely warmed by a quick dip.
The tour group dropped me and Tim off at the Chilean border where we switched to a bus to San Pedro de Atacama, the others all returning to Uyuni.