The combination of the blue sky and a white plain sounds unappealing in contrast to cities or beaches. The monotony of blue and white in addition to the barren desert which surrounds it, may look dull if you compare it to colorful and rustic towns. While travelling, I have met people who decided to bypass Salar de Uyuni in their plans. They mentioned that there were not much to see and it is not worth the long bus ride. Honestly, I had second thoughts and had considered what they said. In the end, I pushed on with my plan.
Was it worth it?
I started my journey in La Paz. From there, you need to book a bus going to Uyuni. I decided to book in two companies just for the experience: a tourist bus going there and an ordinary bus on the way back, the difference was around $15-20, if I recall. I’m used to long bus rides in ordinary buses but I just wanted to try what it was like in a tourist bus.
The bus departed in the evening , that was also when I saw the difference between the buses. In a tourist bus, there were fewer passengers and we were provided with food. Our journey went smoothly for most of the trip and then it was bumpy as we got near our destination. The bus traveled in the rough roads for two-three hours. One of the worries I had was the bus breaking down as I read that this was a common occurrence. Luckily, nothing happened and we arrived on time.
It was quite cold that morning and the office of the bus company was still closed. I waited for the tour company to pick me up in front of the office. I was not worried at first as I arrived there 30 minutes earlier but when the appointed time came ( no sign of them) and when I was the only one left, I got a bit anxious. I asked help from the office when they opened and they gave me the directions to the tour company.
As I walked, I noticed that there were lots of stray dogs in the area. I have not even pass a block, when they started snarling and barking at me. I tried ignoring them but they were approaching me. So I walked slowly back to the office and insisted that they accompany me. They were not busy that time and I pleaded that they call the tour office or they accompany me to go there, not caring whatever impression I may have left. I felt disappointed that the tour company was actually planning to pick me up two hours later than the appointed time.
In my thoughts, I was wondering if that was an indication that this trip may not go well.
Upon arrival, I waited along with other travelers. I had booked for only one day as I needed to get back to Cusco immediately. A tour is necessary in visiting Salar as tourists are not allowed to travel on their own around the area. When booking a tour for this tour, it may be best to book companies which have reviews from previous costumers. Avoid companies that offer dirt-cheap tours as they might be dodgy. The hostel staff even told me that some of the 4×4 drivers carry drugs and that giving tours was just the sideline.
I book this trip with my hostel and kind of expected that it will go well, as the tour company was affiliated with a popular place.
When the tour started, I was surprised to find out that the driver does not speak English and the group I was travelling also does not speak English. For a moment, I was speechless but I could not complain because majority speaks Spanish. I did not know if I will come to enjoy the trip but then again, it is better to just join the flow rather than spend the rest of the day in a bad mood.
The driver, Jose ( I’m not sure if I remember it correctly), was nice and considerate. Throughout the trip, he spoke in a moderate speed so I could keep up with the conversation and even talked to me during breaks. The other people I was travelling with, ignored me though. I guess my Spanish was not to their liking. Still, one jolly companion was enough to lift up my spirits. I really liked how Jose was dedicated to showing the beauty of the place and not just doing the job for the sake of earning money.
We then proceeded to our first destination: the train cemetery, a 10-minute drive from the town. Decades ago, Uyuni has served as an important transportation hub when the mining industry thrived. Back then, the trains were used to transport minerals from the Andes mountains to coastal towns.
The depletion of minerals caused the industry to collapse thus leaving many trains in abandonment outside Uyuni, hence the train cemetery. The train cars and locomotives, dating back to the early 20th century, are now rusted and eroded by the salt winds.
The cemetery has this eerie aura into it. I do not know why but I can imagine the sullen faces of the people who used to work here. Years ago, it must have been a thriving place but now, it serve only as an attraction for travelers’ eyes and cameras. Then again, I was alone exploring, I cannot help having weird and nostalgic thoughts.
After the train cemetery, we spent the rest of the day exploring the salt flats. I was quite lucky that it rained so I was able experience “the largest mirror” in the world. The beauty of its simplicity was breathtaking.
As I walked around, I felt like I was in a different place. It was as if it was just me and the sky in this white landscape. I cannot help but reflect how far away I am from home, that I was completely alone. It felt great to feel peace and solitude, away from the pressures of reality. Since the place is quite massive, you could easily avoid the crowd and be immersed in your own world.
The world largest salt flats, Salar de Uyuni spans over 4000 miles and contains ten billion tons of salt reserves. It is also the highest salt flats in the world as it is located 3,700 above sea level. Aside from the salt, the area contains a large amount of sodium, magnesium and potassium.
Another interesting fact is that the brine found in Salar contains high amounts of lithium, an important resource to make batteries. Approximately 50% to 70% of the world’s lithium reserves can be found here and are in the process of being extracted.
As of now, the process of extraction is done by the locals as foreign corporations were not permitted by the Bolivian government. The lithium is extracted by boring into the crust and extracting out the brine.
Aside from the salt flats, our stops included the salt hotel, where the exterior and majority of the furnishing are made out of salt. We also visited a cave where there was a skeleton of a panther ( I think) and several humans. I felt bad to see plastic bottles though, I hate it when visitors are irresponsible with their trash.
So, was it worth the effort? This trip to Uyuni was definitely memorable. I’ve enjoyed my time though I also suffered but nevertheless, my only regret was that I was only there for a day.
I brought back to La Paz not only souvenirs but also a memory of misadventure.
The misadventure I’m referring to was the food poisoning I had during that trip. After the tour, I felt a bit queasy.My stomach felt really uncomfortable. I dismissed this, thinking maybe I was just full. How wrong was I.
Later on the bus ride, I was frequently going to the toilet and kept vomiting. The bumpy roads made it even worse. I felt so weak that I was so uneasy for the rest of the bus ride. A 12-hour bus ride could never be that long.
I felt a bit better when I arrived in La Paz. I rested for a few hours then proceeded to my trip back to Cusco. Looking back, now I think I’m crazy. I took three 12-15 hour bus ride in just short amount of time. Then again, Cusco is where I felt the most comfortable.
I recuperated in Cusco and stayed there for a couple of weeks. I thought I was completely well but my sickness came back while I was in Lima. Yes, it came back just a day before my flight back to Europe.
So, my adventure continued in a public hospital in Lima. Thankfully, my friend and her family helped me with everything. I could never find enough words to thank them for their hospitality and consideration.
Although I encountered some mishaps, in the end, my trip ended on a high note. I would never forget the kindness and hospitality of all my friends and locals who welcomed me in their homeland.