Long and uncomfortable journey to Uyuni was over. One half of the horizon was covered in dust, it looked like half of the salt from Uyuni was on its way to welcome us. On the other hand bad visibility was a good thing as town of Uyuni was, how to say it politely, quite ugly. Dirt (and dirty) roads, buildings that looked like they remember better days. Lot of people who were offering hotels, tours and food appeared at the bus at the moment we stopped and got out. Maybe it was caused by a long journey, but I was not happy at all and my expectations of the “must see in Bolivia” were rapidly going down.
I put smile back on my face as it was time to look for accommodation. There were some hostels on the main street which we decided to visit (even though they looked quite worn down). First two were managed by kids (really! behind the desk was a kid who looked twelve years old). We asked about a price (although we felt like asking for some adult first) and when they told us it is more than 100 bolivianos per night for a double / matrimonial room we were on our way. There were not many hostels nearby, so we spent quite some time walking around. We stopped at really nice bed and breakfast (Chostel B&B) which was only 93 bolivianos per night (breakfast included), sadly they were full. After that we had a look at MapsMe where we found few more hotels and decided to go there, it could not be worse than the first ones. First hotel where we stopped was a winner, 80 bolivianos for a private room with small tv, wi-fi and shared bathrooms. It was actually clean and looked like it was recently refurbished. We took a shower to look like human beings again, rested little bit and went out. It was dinner time. And again we were lucky, just next to our hotel entrance was local restaurant / fast food. Salchipapa and burger to go for less than 30 bolivianos. It was a long day so we went to bed early to regain some energy.
In the morning there was no dust, Sun was shining and everything looked little bit better. Even the town. We went to store to buy some food for breakfast. One shop nearby looked open but there was no one inside. We did not know what to do but then one of the locals appeared and rang a bell, it worked like a magic because immediately a shop assistant appeared and opened the door for us. We bought some bread, water and biscuits (their name was Kuky and they were really delicious). We did not do much else as we were tired after all the time in buses and decided to have a free day.
Next morning was different as it was time to check agencies and tours. There was one just in front of our hotel and it had very good reviews on the internet but unfortunately it was closed. It did not stop us, we visited quite a lot of agencies (once you get to main street there are loads of them). We were looking for a four day tour.
Program in all agencies was the same:
- First day train cemetery, then stop at the market (Colchani) before entering salt flats, short stop at the Dacar “statue” and some pictures in the salt flats. Final destination for the day is small town (Coqueza) below the volcano Tunupa. There should also be some time dedicated for a short ride to salt flats for sun set and even later one for star-gazing.
- Second day starts with a trip to see the mummies and short walk to the first viewpoint at the volcano. After that there is a stop at cactus island (Incahuasi). It is a long ride so after that you head to next hostel and maybe you can go to see a sunset again.
- Third day leaves the salt flats. Finally getting to see some life as there are at least three lagoons with flamingos (three different kinds). There is also a short stop at Stone tree (arbol de piedra). Last stop is Laguna colorada which has beautiful red color and there are also flamingos.
- Fourth day is quite short, wake up early in the morning to make it to geysers (looks like it is necessary to be there before sunrise otherwise it loses a lot of its magical appearance). Then there is Dali’s desert and Laguna verde. Then they’ll drop you at the border.
Difference between three and four day tour is only in the Tunupa volcano (and the mummies), on three days tour you don’t go there. We decided to go with agency Tierra Mystica. Lady in the office was quite pleasant and there were only four of us going. Prices were raging from 950 to 1500 in the agencies, we paid 1070 bolivianos per person (actually made it to 1050 after short haggle) it was with spanish driver/guide (you pay more for english speaking guide). We were able to pay in american dollars but they did not accept credit cards. Tour sorted it was time for lunch, main street and small park like area is very touristy and prices are high. On our way back to hotel we found one small local restaurant with lunch menu for 10 bolivianos. They don’t have many options but food is tasty. You even get a plastic bag with juice in the end. There was not much more to do, so we walked around town for a while (sadly there is not much to see) and packed our stuff to be ready for tomorrow.
We were suppose to be in the office at 9:30 in the morning. There was a surprise waiting for us, other two people who were suppose to go with us had some stomach issues and cancelled it. It was not worth it for agency to go with two people only. We were little scared about what will happen with us as we did not want to postpone. We’ve been told that we don’t need to worry. We’ll simply do first day with one car and the rest in some other car. After few minutes the car was here, full of people (four of them), driver loaded our backpacks, we squeezed to the back (most uncomfortable seats with no space for legs) and our adventure started. Train cemetery was already full of people, lots of cars were waiting there. It was difficult to take a picture without a people in it but we were patient and got some. After twenty minutes we were ready to continue.
Next stop was little market with salt museum. Musem was closed for repairs and maintenance. So we only walked around looking at different local products at high prices. We were told that this place is not too expensive and we’ll see higher prices at salt flats. I actually bought an Alpaca scarf there for 35 bolivianos. After few minutes we boarded car again and were on our way to the center of salt flats. We made a quick stop at a strange monument which (after more thorough look) turned out to be something commemorating rally Paris-Dakar. We finally made some pictures where we looked like giants thanks to the different perspective you can get at the salt flats.
Then we were on our way to volcano, with one short stop in the middle of nowhere to take more pictures. This time our driver did the shooting, they really know what they are doing. We got some nice pictures where we looked either like a giants or dwarfs. When we arrived to the village below the volcano it was lunch time, which was served by our driver. This was the end of our journey with first group, they continued to Cactus island and back to Uyuni and we went to our hostel. It was few hours before the other group arrived. It was actually car from our agency, sadly they were full. Which meant that we won’t be going for a sun set nor star-gazing tonight. Only thing he promised was to take us tomorrow morning to see the mummies and that there will be another car waiting for us. We were not very happy but there was nothing to do with it.
After dinner (which consisted of soup and some spaghetti with vegetarian sauce) the other group went for sun set. We decided to walk to the edge of salt flat (it was roughly 20 minutes walk from the hostel). White land was turning red and it was really nice view, especially because this was the only place with little bits of water which reflected colors nicely. There was another hour of free time before star-gazing. Some people from other group did not want to go so there was space for us. We drove few kilometers away from village got out of the car and looked up into the sky. We did not see many stars as it was time of full Moon. Still it was really nice. In the end we were happy to return back to hotel as strong wind was blowing and temperature drops a lot in the night (even new alpaca scarf did not help). It was our first time in salt hotel (they cut salt into bricks and made everything out of it, beds included – just to clarify it is not your usual salt, it is almost as hard as concrete). I must say it was very pleasant night.
You can read rest of our adventure in the salt flats, lagoons and desert here.