Bolivia is a beautiful but very poor and isolated country. With the capital at such a high altitude, it is not uncommon to experience some degree of altitude sickness upon arrival. A bit rough around the edges, Bolivia offers cultural richness and some the most unique landscapes on the planet. From the Amazon Rainforest, mountainous peaks, jungles, and the world’s largest salt flat, Bolivia has something to offer to every type of adventurous traveler.
The Salar de Uyuni Salt Flat is one of Bolivia’s most iconic landscapes. The Southwest Circuit is the term used to describe the jeep route that most travelers take. These jeep tours can begin in Bolivia at Uyuni or Tupiza, or from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. You can also end at any of these locations depending on where you are heading next. From Uyuni, the jeeps leave at 11:00 am with six passengers, so there is plenty of time to arrange a tour once you arrive. If you have a group of less than six people, you will be added to others that have signed on with the same company. The most common option is to begin in Uyuni and end in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, for around $700 Bolivianos (about $100 USD) with a local agency. The agencies want to fill the jeeps leaving that day, so remember to use your haggling skills! Tours that start in Chile tend to be a bit more expensive as Chile is a pricier country. The drivers will likely only speak Spanish; if you want an English-speaking guide expect double the cost per person.
The tours are usually three days/two nights. Only one day is spent on the salt flats, where blue skies and snow-white salt stretch far into the horizon. The day includes visiting the Cemeterio de Trenes (Train Cemetery), where old abandoned trains lay derailed. The Isla del Pescado (Fish Island) is an isolated hilltop covered in cactuses in the middle of the salt flat, with mountains in the distance. After watching sunset over the salt flats, you will spend the night in a Salt Hotel! Further southwest, colorful lagoons and flamingos replace the white salt flats. The famed red lake of Laguna Colorado boasts an array of colors. The barren desert surrounding this area inspired Salvador Dalí, the famous surrealist painter. Geysers and hot springs are just a few other sites on the tour, as are the wildlife. Wild llamas, vicuñas, emus, flamingos, and other birds roam the picturesque landscape.
As always there tends to be an ample amount of downtime during the trip. Such is the South American lifestyle; bring a good book and embrace it! Make sure you pack warm clothes. Depending on the season it may be hot during the day, but since you stay on the salt flats for sunset it gets very cold and windy. Make sure to charge your electronics as soon as you arrive each evening to your accommodation as the charging stations become very busy. Now just sit back and enjoy the beautiful landscape!
Photo Credits: Erin Burt