We arrived in Uyuni at 5AM with no hostel or tour booked for the Salt Flats, our initial thought was that we could wonder around in hope that tour agencies would be open to start the tours that day. We got off the bus to freezing temperatures, got our massive rucksacks on and made our way to the centre of town. We quickly learnt that all the agencies were closed at this hour and so we made our way to a hostel in hope they would let us use their wifi, however they didn’t. At this point we were both pretty grumpy to say the least and freezing, so we didn’t have much hope. Luckily after another short walk we came across once agency that was open with heaters blasting, so we thought lets go in here and see what they have to offer. In the end all turned out well, the company was legit and after giving us a great price we decided to book with them. We had initially booked the tour with a Spanish guide but ended up with an English one for a fraction of the cost to fill spaces up. Our 4×4 cars were going to leave around 10am so we had a few more hours to kill, we had a big breakfast at a cafe down the road which was open, walked around Uyuni for a bit and saw a hilarious dog sliding down a massive slide.
With the jeeps loaded with all our bags it was finally time to set off. The first stop of the day was the train cemetery just outside of Uyuni. We ended up setting off a bit late but this turned out to be good as we had the final half of our time there with far less people. The train cemetery was really fun and a cool way to start the tour. Our guide explained that these trains were built by British engineers in the 19th century and were mostly used by the mining industry, however when the industry collapsed in the 1940s the trains were abandoned in this area and are now a popular tourist sight. We had 30 minutes there just walking around and climbing onto these rusty trains that were abandoned a long time ago. From the top of the train you could see as far as the eye can see with the landscape stretching out as a flat dust land.
The first main stop in the salt flats was the Dakar statue and flags in celebration of the salt flats rally. There’s also a museum about the salt flats which we decided to skip. We spent our time taking photos with the statue and the flags. It’s harder than it looks to find your flag with the high winds!
The next stop was the main part of the tour, the salt flats. After stopping off for lunch and looking at souvenir shops we finally arrived after a good 2 hour drive. Straight up this was one of the most beautiful, surreal and amazing landscapes we have ever seen. To be completely surrounded by nothing but glistening white surfaces was out of this world.
We had just under an hour in our spot to take as many photos as we wanted and to simply admire this natural beauty. You’ve probably seen perspective photos before, this is a popular place to try some out. One thing we can tell you, it’s a lot harder to get them right than it looks on Instagram. Below are some of the fails to show you what you see online isn’t just one quick snap of the camera and most importantly the few we managed to get right.
With our photos done it was time to drive to the next stop, the cactus island. Our guide explained to us that the cactus’ grow 1cm every year. Some of them were over 10m in size meaning they had been growing for over 1000 years!! On the island we walked along the path taking us full circle of this weird place in the middle of the salt flats. Once at the top we were treated to panoramic views of the whole area in the late afternoon sun.
With the cactus island done it was time for a relatively long drive towards our accommodation outside of the salt flats. But before that we stopped off in another remote area to see the sunset. We’ve shared with you beach sunsets, mountain sunsets and city sunsets but this is probably the best of them all. With the sun disappearing behind a distant hill, the skies turning purple and our shadows reflected on the white salt surface it really had everything.
With all of our stops now done we jumped back in the jeeps and drove to our hostel for the night. This was no ordinary hostel, it was made out of salt! Being so remote we really weren’t expecting much but were pleasantly surprised to have our own private room with a double bed. The room was really warm which surprised us considering it was minus something outside and the walls were made from salt. We treated ourselves to a hot shower for an extra £1 and had a lovely dinner with the group. Everyone went straight to bed after food after a long day.
Our second day of the tour started off with a fairly long drive across baron and beautiful landscapes, we were out of the salt flats at this point and the landscape had turned into deep red dirt tracks with mountains all around. Another great day was in store for us. The first stop we made was at some rail tracks in the middle of nowhere. This was the same line we saw from the train cemetery the day before just several hundred kilometres further down the line towards Chile. The line is still used for transporting coal from the Chilean mines but we didn’t see any trains. After taking some photos for 10 minutes we set off to the next stop.
After a further 30 minute drive we stopped on the roadside to admire the view of a volcano not too far away. The landscape looked like we were on Mars. The other great thing about this stop we made was the alpaca burgers. Yes that’s right, in the middle of nowhere some family decided to live there purely to set up a mini shop and BBQ for the tour groups that pass by each day. They served up an amazing alpaca burger which was delicious (ok we feel a bit guilty as they are cool animals).
With our bellies replenished it was time to hit the road once more to arrive at the first lagoon of the day to see some amazing landscapes and our first glimpse of flamingos. As excited as we were to see flamingos in their natural habitat, the lagoon stole the show. The water was so still that it gave a near perfect reflection of the surrounding mountains. We only had a very quick stop and walk here but managed to get some amazing photos of the lake and flamingos.
The next stop was only a short drive away and it was another lagoon with lunch as well. Despite it being another lagoon it was completely different. For a start there were a lot more flamingos and they were everywhere. The lake also had a layer of salt ice over some of it giving it a wonderful contrast of white and blue. After a nice walk close up to the flamingos we sat down for lunch before heading off again to the next stop of day 2.
The next stop involved lots of driving to get there. It took a good 2 hours to reach the stone tree which may not seem like long at all (especially considering the bus journeys we’ve had to do) but when you are in a cramped jeep, with no air-con and unable to open windows as you are driving through a desert, it makes 2 hours seem like a lot longer. Eventually we arrived at the stone tree and some other huge rocks in the middle of this desert and had a bit of a walk around. We were able to climb some of the rocks to get a panoramic view of the area too. We were given a 20 minute stop here, luckily we had now done most of the driving for the day so it wasn’t too hard getting back into the jeep.
The final stop of the day was the red lagoon. This lake has a red colour in the afternoon from the algae at the bottom of the lake. The views were once again magnificent and even though it was our 3rd lake of the day we did not care. It was once again completely different to the others and equally beautiful. At this point we were quite high up in altitude again so it was very windy and the temperature had plummeted even before the sun had gone down. We stayed at this lake for 15 minutes or so before driving off to our accommodation for the night.
The place we stayed was in a small village purposefully built for accommodating people doing the tour. We somehow ended up with a double bed in a dorm to ourselves which we thought was weird but we did not complain. That night we were given a couple of bottles of red to share, some nice food and we played cards with the group. Before going to bed though we decided to head outside to stargaze for a while with one of the guys on the tour. Fully wrapped in all our clothes and a duvet each we sat outside for an hour admiring the most amazing sky we have ever seen. The sky was so clear and as the moon was not visible this made it even better for stargazing. Niamh saw a few shooting stars and we could also see Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and the Milky Way in its full splendour,
For the final day of the tour we all woke up very early at 4am, had breakfast and set off in the jeeps to go and see the Geysers at sunrise. The Geysers were at 4900m altitude so it was absolutely freezing when we arrived. Seeing the steam rise up from the ground and then getting up close to them and seeing the grey bubbling liquid was insane. It was so cold outside we only stayed for 5 minutes before we caught frost bite.
With this awesome stop done and dusted we drove back down the other side of the mountain to reach the hot springs. This was an optional extra for the trip which we decided against doing as we couldn’t imagine how cold it would be getting out. Only one guy from the group decided to get in but he said it was great. The water was at a nice 35 degrees but outside it was about 2 degrees.
This now brought us to the final stop of the tour, the white and green lakes. Not going to lie the lakes were beautiful but weren’t as good as the 3 others we had seen. With us only stopping briefly here we then drove 1 minutes to the Chilean border where we said goodbye to the group as only three of us were going into Chile. We certainly did not envy the rest who had to drive 7 hours back to Uyuni compared to our 1 hour drive to San Pedro de Atacama.
All in all this was an absolute highlight of the trip and at amazing value. The variety of things you see over 3 days is amazing and is so much more than just the salt flats. We would definitly recommend ‘Tres Gigantes’ the agency we used as they were really friendly and professional the whole time and both the driver and guide were lovely.