We arrived in Uyuni after one of our worst bus rides yet and thankfully we knew it would be our last in the country. Of all the countries we’ve visited, bus travel in Bolivia has been the most unpleasant. The majority of the roads in Bolivia, including those connecting major cities, are unpaved, rocky and dusty as was the case with the road connecting Potosí and Uyuni. After being bounced aroundfor almost eight hours in a stuffy, smelly and overcrowded bus with no bathrooms, clouds of dust pouring in through the open windows and a very drunk man repeatedly passing out on Carlos’ shoulder we finally made it. We decided we would visit the Salar de Uyuni and Bolivia’s southwest region en route to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile on one of the popular three day/ two night jeep tours. With various tour agencies in Uyuni offering similar tours to the Salares we had originally planned to spend our first day in town comparing agencies and prices. We were barely off the bus when we were surrounded by people offering tours and hostal deals and one woman in particular caught our attention. She was looking to fill two remaining spots on a tour that was leaving the following morning and offered us free accommodation that first night in Uyuni and free transfer to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile if we signed on, it sounded good so we did.
The Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat. At an altitude of 3653m and covering 12,000 sq km, it was once part of a prehistoric salt lake, Lago Minchín, which covered most of southwest Bolivia. Today, a tour of the Salar and its surrounds is a surreal experience with visits to salt plains, hot springs, geysers, colored lagoons and volcanoes. The ‘climatically challenged’ landscape is incredible and isolated with just a few small towns scattered across the region. Heading south of the Salar through the far southwest of Bolivia toward the Chilean border the landscape is nearly treeless with gentle hills, volcanoes and lagoons that are home to three types of flamingos. Located within the national reserve, Laguna Colorada is a bright, adobe-red lake fringed with white minerals and backed by mountains. Also within the limits of the reserve is a 4950m high geyser basin. Tucked into Bolivia’s southwest corner just across the border from Chile is Laguna Verde, a stunning aquamarine lake. Looming over the lake at 5930m is Volcán Licancabur.
Fortunately, our tour turned out to be amazing and the sights we visited are surely some of the most impressive natural wonders I’ve ever seen. Our guide, Lucio, was professional and took us everywhere we were promised we would go, the vehicle was in good condition, our food and accommodations were acceptable and everything was included in the price of the tour. But what made our tour really special was the people traveling with us. Aside from the two of us our group of six included Ivonna and Humbert from Poland and Angela and Johnny from Colombia. We were all around the same age, spoke English and got along immediately. Quite a relief since throughout the duration of the tour we were together constantly, even sharing the same dorm room while we slept. After the tour ended we traveled together across the border to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile and when it finally came time to part ways it was like saying farewell to old friends.