A short time ago, I fulfilled the dream of traveling the Uyuni Salt Flat, the largest in the world. It was one of that travel experiences that changes the way you see life, for a lot of reasons. My trip starts in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile and from there I took a 3-night tour that returned to this same starting point.
In this article I want to share, some tips that will make your trip to this place, geographically inhospitable, a little easier and comfortable.
1) Travel in Bolivian winter: surely the beautiful photos that you have seen are from the salt flat turned into a real mirror of the sky and to be able to see it that way it is indispensable that it has rained.
The intense rainy season is between December and March of each year, which is when the so-called Bolivian winter comes. It is important to say that although the rain allows to see the effect of mirror, sometimes they can make difficult the arrival to the place.
If they can not travel at this time, the salar looks impressive when it is dry too. At February 1, 2017 the salar is as seen in the following photo:
2) Take a tour: this I do not usually advise because of the large amount of free travel benefits, but in this case I found a very good alternative for two reasons: the first is that the value of the tour is very low (between 110 thousand and 140 thousand Chilean pesos for 2 or 3 nights departing from San Pedro de Atacama, depending on whether you wish to return to the starting point or stay in the city of Uyuni), considering that it includes transportation, accommodation and all meals, besides Guide that will accompany you every day, the price is quite low.
The second reason is that in addition to the visit to the Salar de Uyuni, there are multiple points of interest that can be visited within the “Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa” and doing the tour on your own account, these other places are lost and they are worth a lot on the way to the salt flat. Among them are: visits to the lagoons, white, green and red, where they can enjoy the flora and fauna of the place in their habitat, getting to see foxes, flamingos, chinchillas, among others. The visit to the Dalí desert, which recalls its distinctive painting of melted clocks, the stone tree and multiple rock formations that are truly impressive, the geysers “morning sun” and the thermal baths of polques, where you will also have the possibility of taking a bath.
The tour starts from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile or from the city of Uyuni in Bolivia, in both cases you will visit the same places. The agencies for this are multiple and are everywhere in both places, prices are the same. One of the shelters in which you will sleep corresponds to a hostel made entirely of salt, which becomes an experience, without a doubt. (*) Side note: this advice I give without recommending any particular agency)
3) Carry loose coins: When you change money to “bolivianos”, ask that they give you also coins. When you take the tour you are asked to take an approximate 300 Bolivians, to cover the cost of the entrance to the Andean wildlife reserve Eduardo Avaroa, which costs a little more than 200 Bolivianos and the rest will be for other expenses that you want to do, Like buying handicrafts.
The coin has a logical explanation, during the trip are made stops in some basic places to eat and use the bathrooms. These places charge for the use of the bathroom and if you pay with bills it will happen like me, that they have no change and are very rude if you pay with bills. Better to have loose money and avoid bad times.
4) Take extra sanitary measures: before traveling, I was scared by the sanitary conditions in which shelters are where you spend the night on the way to Salar de Uyuni and in Bolivia in general terms. In the first of the shelters there will be no access to showers and cleaning of the bathrooms, also on the way is to say the least deficient (although to be honest, I thought it would be worse).
On the Chile-Bolivia border, a man approached us to give us the coca leaves that had been left for the altitude sickness and he told us “I never go back to this place, the baths are the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen in my life “And of course it was to expect the worst, but it was not that bad either. What precautions do I recommend taking for comfort and not getting sick:
- Bring gel alcohol and use it before eating or handling food and entering and leaving the baths anywhere, since in some baths there will be no water.
- Bring disinfectant wipes, there are ones that comes in a portable size package and were of tremendous utility, either to disinfect bathrooms, to clean tables to eat and anything that seems to carry some health risk.
- Use mineral water to brush your teeth. Due to the height and somewhat isolated conditions of the shelters it is better to consume bottled water and use the same to wash the teeth. Believe me you will not want to get sick from the stomach in a place where you do not have access to the bathroom
5) be cautious with altitude: there are times when you will reach heights near 5000 meters above sea level and the first night, if you depart from San Pedro de Atacama, you will stay in a basic shelter that borders That altitude. My recommendation is that if possible bring something that alleviates the discomfort of the height, for example coca leaves, coca candies, or coca tea.
Another option, if you come from Bolivia or Peru, is to buy “Soroche Pills”, a medicine that relieves discomfort. The most frequent discomforts include: tachycardia, pressure rise, feeling tired when walking, ears covered and headache.
The first night in the first shelter, with the tiredness of the day we ate quite a lot before going to bed and during the night the height played against me and the group of travelers who were with me and for having a very heavy stomach we had nightmares And enough difficulty sleeping. I recommend eating, but not over exaggerated to avoid these inconveniences.
6) Pack some extras that will be useful: when hiring the tour you will be told that it is necessary to wear sunscreen, a drum of 5 liters of water per person (important because the height makes the body more easily dehydrated), Comfortable shoes, sunglasses and warm clothing.
I would add some extras, it was helpful to have a padlock to close the shared room when we were not in it, as they had no insurance. A small flashlight made things easy at night, since shelters have few hours of electricity and if you want to get up at night to the bathroom you will not be bumping into everything.
Toilet paper and toiletries such as refreshing towels, since you will not have access to shower and are sure to want to refresh, after walking, climbing rocks, getting into the hot springs, etc. A bottle of water of half liter to fill, because certainly while you walk, you will not walk with the 5 liter drum on the shoulder, so you fill it and it is more comfortable. Sack or sleeping bag becomes useful in the cold seasons, I was in January and did not need it.
7) Stamp your passport in the park: If you have gone to Machuppichu you will know that at the exit of the archaeological site, there is a window where you can stamp your passport with the seal of the citadel. Here you can ask to be stamped with the seal of the national reserve, which has some very beautiful flamingos or in Isla Incahuasi, already in the Salar de Uyuni, there is a stamp with the shape of the island.
To get the first stamp you must request it when you pass your receipt of income (which you should not lose for any reason, because it implies a fine you dont want to pay, believe me). If, like me, you are a stamp collector, this is a nice and free memory – which you can take from the trip, to have in your passport.
8) be cautious in loading your cameras and mobiles: to the Salar de Uyuni you will arrive at the dawn of the third day to see the sunrise and in the shelters that will find in the way the electrical energy is limited to a certain schedule. In addition to this, the rooms do not have sockets, therefore if you need to charge, it will be essential that as soon as you reach the shelters, run to plug their electronic to the community tables for these purposes.
In the first two shelters there was a table in the common space, with some extensors with multiple entrances, however they were few for the number of travelers who were staying in the place. Another smart alternative is to carry an adapter that allows you to charge the mobiles in the 4×4, which is where you will spend even more time. There are adapters that connect where the lighter of the jeep goes and are inexpensive. When you load on the common tables, do not lose sight of your devices, there are many people in the shelters.
9) respect fair trade: you will read on many blogs and travel websites, that there are cultures and countries where it is rude not to haggle, but do not do it here. It hurt me a lot to see some tourist in a kind of handicraft fair, before going to the train cemetery in Uyuni, trying to buy fabrics at a third of the value they were asked for.
When you are there take a moment and look around. You will see that most artisans are women in whose faces you can see the hard life they are carrying, you will see that they are probably the sustenance of their families and that around there are a lot of children running that are part of their families. They will also see these women working the looms.
You will realize that the handicrafts are not like in other destinations “made in china” but are fruit of the effort and talent of these women. Not to mention that the prices are really cheap, you can buy alpaca wool vests for prices close to 10 dollars, dont you think is cheap enough for handicraft work?
I recommend you bring a little more money in “bolivians” if you want to buy a couple of souvenirs, you will see many things woven with looms, salt ornaments and much work in alpaca wool. Do not forget to take some souvenir and step to collaborate with these hardworking artisans.
Bonus! Do not run illogical risks for a photo: this is a bit of common sense (by the way the least common of the senses) and is valid for infinity of tourist destinations, I know, but there are still reckless and irresponsible people capable of everything for a Photo. The Geysers “Sol de mañana”, they have quite large fumaroles and there is nothing that limits the step not to fall in them, besides being judicious. Be careful because I assure you that being there, in the middle of nowhere, if something happens to you, there will be no way to help you.
Finally in the Uyuni salt flat, use your imagination, are infinite the ideas of photos that can be carried out using the perspectives thanks to the infinity of the salt flat, enjoy thoroughly and if you are lucky enough to find the salar turned into a mirror Take photos with your camera and with your eyes, sure will be a moment that you will never forget.
Were you there already? talk me about your experience!
What an incredible place! I imagine that is somewhere you will never forget. Wise advice too, about how to keep yourself safe and healthy on the journey.
This place is so unique and beautiful and intrigues me! Saving your post for next year when I finally get to go!