Team Flamingo Does Southern Bolivia

Posted by on Jan 31, 2013 in Bolivia, Play-by-plays, South America | 2 comments

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Salar the Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, is one of the most popular attractions in Bolivia. In the austral winter it is dry and the perfect spot for fun perspective shots. In the summer (now) it is covered with 30cm of water, is often impassable, but if you’re lucky and the winds are low, becomes the world’s largest mirror.

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While you can theoretically do a one day Salar visit without a formal tour (hitch a ride, bike, walk?), the popular 3day tour of the salt flats, lagoons, volcanoes, flamingoes, etc. is virtually impossible without hiring a 4×4 with a driver who knows the “roads”, “towns”, has extra gasoline, and how to get out of situations like getting stuck in mud. Yus and I were initially going to do a budget tour to save money, but after speaking with an agent at Kanoo tours (nice website with live chat!), we upgraded to midrange for several reasons. One, the budget tour wasn’t available because the rainy season made certain lodging, etc spots unreadable. Two, the midrange tour came with an English speaking guided and therefore (three) English speaking passengers (awesome ones, at that) and on a 3day tour we wanted to be able to have conversations with others. The actual operator of the tour is Red Planet Expeditions, and I recommend to book directly with the operator instead of with Kanoo because it is MUCH cheaper.

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Being in Bolivia also means understanding that some/many places on the advertised tour may not be reachable either because of rain/flooding (this is why I called the thoroughfares “roads” in quotes) or because certain “towns” can’t decide how to divide up tourist money and thus stop letting tourists in … To make no money and thus have no issues dividing it, I presume (logic is not a Bolivian strongsuit). These “towns” are pretty much off the grid, so the information flow is slow hence the warnings to the tourists because the conditions can change at any time. As an aside, I’ve also been warned about unexpected Bolivian bus strikes and blockades but luckily have never had to experience either.
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Ok back to the tour, it started with the Train Graveyard which is exactly what it sounds like. Trains that were used to transport minerals on the railroad became worthless, so just strewn aside to rust instead of being scrapped for materials. Then we continued to the Salar, which as I mentioned, is covered with 20-50cm of water. We drove about 2km into the water, just enough to enjoy the scenery without ruining the cars. Next was the Salt Hotel, which is made mostly of salt, and then we drove to our lodging for the night. The 11 of us on the tour drank the town dry of its beer (which meant 2 each) and after a few heated rounds of Uno, called it a night.

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The next day was a smorgasbord of lagoons, snow capped mountains, rock formations, llama packs, and of course, a myriad flamingoes. The most impressive to me was probably the Laguna Colorada. Its brick red hue was a stunning contrast to the azure sky above, the grayish clay mountains in the background, and almost lime green vegetation on the shores. And naturally, the flamingoes were a pink cherry on the landscape cake (many photos until more text).

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The night’s lodging was more basic, but my standards are pretty low at this juncture so I was not fazed (insert your favorite “when did you ever have high standards?” joke). We celebrated Australia Day that night with numerous bottles of wine and a round of King’s Cup, a game that proved to transcend borders and age groups.

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The 5am post vino wake up was rough, and I think most of us didn’t feel human until breakfast. We saw a natural geyser field which was almost ethereal in the light of the rising sun and then proceeded to the hot springs. Holy cow those hit the spot. It was almost surreal to relax in the clear pool of hot water, watching a llama herd taking a drink nearby (2 llama photos because… You can never have enough llama/alpaca photos. Remember my unrequited love from Machu Picchu?! Sigh…)

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We drove towards the Chilean border, and Laguna Verde would have ordinarily been one of the main attractions, but it is currently brown, so not very exciting. So we continued to the border, parted ways with half the group going back to Uyuni, and crossed to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile.

Things to note: overland crossing into Chile is free for Americans (saves $140 reciprocity fee that Santiago airport charges). However, it costs 15Bs to leave Bolivia (this fee is charged everyone and thus egalitarian, unlike the $135 entry visa for Americans).

2 Comments

  1. I want to go to Salar salt flat so much! Thanks for blogging your travels and tips Natalya :) I’m going to use it as a guide when I get to go to S.America haha.

    • Oh you would totally love the Salar especially since you are artsy and have an amazing camera…that place is a photographer’s heaven!

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