Squashed into the back of a jeep, I was mentally preparing myself for the phenomena of the Bolivian Salt Flats. I had only waited seven years to finally get to this point. And looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way because the day that I found myself in a car filled with Israelis, my South America trip took an unexpected cultural turn.
Some of my better travel planning decisions, we had avoided the four day trip up through Bolivia (I’ve heard it’s cold at night, involves a lot of driving and the rainy season does not guarantee laguna views) and instead opted for an overnight salt flat hotel stay.
Having spoken to a friend who had been ten years prior, I can confirm that the tourist route has not changed one jot. First stop was the train cemetery. Eerily beautiful and remote, we jumped out the jeep and walked around the rusting debris, wondering why we weren’t already at the salt flats. As usual, we attempted to avoid the crowds of tourists to achieve the perfect, artsy photo.. I’m starting to think I only like these places because it feeds my Instagram profile… At what point do we start becoming our stereotype I wonder… I shrug and crouch lower to get a better view on my screen of the broken train rails disappearing into the horizon.
Returning to the car, we resume the 3 hour long drive, plastic figurines, grasped ready in our hands, anticipating our arrival at the iconic salt flats and the depth perception fun.
As we drive, the surroundings fall away from the window, opening up to an area we soon learn, at 10,000sqm, to be half the size of Israel. It’s mind bogglingly stunning.
The jeep’s tyres soon become submerged in salt water as we press on, getting deeper and deeper into the white desert. As if we were all bees heading for honey, our jeep joins a convoy of others, and I can’t help but wish I had some birds-eye view drone pictures as I feel so Lara Croft right now. Sympathetic to our photo-taking obsession, our driver periodically stops for the mandatory posing. Upon exiting our vehicle, I quickly learn not to run through the warm salt water lapping around my toes. My skin and clothes are already whiter than a certain Irish friend’s skin tone from the dried salt and there will be no showers at the hotel… given that it’s made of salt.
So I soon learn that this is the salt flats not in its normal state; the 1cm level of water is a two week phenomena that very few get to experience and even less with good weather. Our plastic figurines, drift out of our minds as they lay, uselessly floating on top of the water. There will be no decent optical illusion photos here today. Instead, we are absolutely blessed with the most jaw-dropping views I’ve witnessed in my life.
With a full 24 hours to lap up the scenery, soak up the sunset and talk abut waking for the sunrise over some wine and cards, I fall asleep knowing I couldn’t have ticked something off my travel list in any better way.
Tips for Travellers
Do some research into the 5 day trip up Bolivia from Tupiza/Uyuni and ending in Uyuni – do you really want the amount of driving and have you not had any of those experiences already? I heard some very mixed opinions on doing this!
If you’re staying in the salt flats, they provide you with dinner and breakfast but it’s not worth writing home about. Take wine, take snacks and take a spare bottle of water to wash that salt off you!
You don’t take your whole bag on the overnight stay so wrap up warm, it starts out hot but it gets mighty cold at night.
Bring a drone if you have one.
Plan the optical pictures that you want ahead of time, it goes way too quickly when you’re there.
Seconds to Make Count
We have so much more to learn from people than we can from the media.