The Salar de Uyuni desert in Bolivia

3-day jeep tour across the salt lake

Book a three-day, two-night trip and traverse by 4×4 the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia’s salt desert at more than 3,656 meters above sea level. Experience adventure and see lakes, deserts, cacti, mountains, geysers and starry skies. Photograph llamas and flamingos, sleep and dine with Bolivian families, and capture the moment when you see the salt museum and the monument to the legendary Dakar Rally. Set out to discover the world’s highest and largest desert: 12 thousand square kilometers of nothingness.

The best way to visit the Uyuni Desert. is a jeep trip from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile to the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. Or vice versa. Apparently, the same trip purchased from Bolivia costs a third. In this case, it is best to rely on an agency, also because alone, the desert is hardly passable. You can get lost and hurt yourself if you are not a real expert. Then there are those who do it by motorcycle, those who do it in a fully equipped jeep. But that’s another story, and even I, who love to plan my own trips, relied on an agency.

It is a three-day, two-night journey in a 4×4 to be shared with the driver and four other hapless travelers. In this three-day event, if it suits you, you can even shower with hot water. I paid about 200 euros for the trip from San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni, including travel, food and lodging. Your driver is also a guide who tells you a lot of information about the place.

Alexander Schimmeck, the salt lake

What to see in the salt desert in Bolivia

The Salar de Uyuni is one of the highest deserts in the world , and on the way you will also touch 5 thousand meters. My advice is to incessantly chew coca leaves, and yet you will always feel a little sick, it will be hard to digest what you eat, you will always have a headache and feel exhausted. Drinking lots of water helps. The landscapes are incredible, and so different, from each other: deserts, mountains, lakes (which they call lagoons) geisers and humales, which are ecosystems apart, where plants and animals balance each other perfectly.

During the trip, you will see them grazing freely and perhaps happily, such as llamas, flamingos, rabbits, and vicuñas (small camels that live in Patagonia and the Andes).

Another very interesting element is sleeping over at the families, in these little villages in the middle of nowhere . There is good food and sleep, it is clean, but it is not for the squeamish. Because in fact, everything in Bolivia is very beautiful, but also everything is a bit of a mess. The unpaved roads, are a metaphor for this trip or Bolivia.

L’Odyssée Belle, villages in the Salar De Uyuni

The houses are spartan, the rooms also. One bed, one pillow, sheets and blanket and bedside table. Choosing which house to stay in is not up to you, but up to the agency and availability. There may be no hot water and you may have to share a room with someone. Generally speaking, they always assure you a shower in three days. Then for a fee you will also have internet, but the advice is to enjoy the trip, completely disconnecting from the rest of the world.

Also because it will be three days of peace and silence, with the possibility of seeing starry skies as never before. Throughout the desert area from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile to the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia offers crazy starry skies, and given the altitude, the sky is so sharp that there are scholars from all over the world who go to see the stars in this corner of South America.

The Salar de Uyuni itinerary in Bolivia

Departing at 6 a.m. from San Pedro de Atacama, the first stop is the Chile-Bolivia border, and all the jeeps pour through customs at the same time, so consider that you’ll be standing in line for an hour or so in the cold. Before crossing the border, we have breakfast and then the first day is really intense and perhaps the most beautiful, exploring Laguna Blanca and Laguna Verde, which are lakes named after the reflection of the water. You will see geysers and stop at Polque where you can bathe in natural thermal pools, ending your tour at Lagua Colorada, where you can see flamingos. Then you finally arrive exhausted in your family and by 9 p.m. you are already in bed.

Gabriel Rojas, flamingos at the Salar De Uyuni

The second day is also nice and intense, exploring Desierto Siloli and Arbol de Piedra , which are basically two grand canyons. Then it’s time for more lagoons and the Anaconda Valley, which in my opinion is one of the most magical places since you can walk in a Humales, which is a separate ecosystem, where a number of animals coexist, including llamas and flamingos, and there is a marshy environment. Described this way, it doesn’t make it at all, but it is one of the many spectacular landscapes you will see in the Salar de Uyuni. The day ends in a small village where there is a disused railway and two bars. You can have a beer at sunset in Julaca. I can’t tell you what a beer over 4,000 meters feels like.

Robin Noguier, Isla Incahuasi

Third and final day, wake up at 4:30am and have a packed breakfast to finally go visit the Salar de Uyuni, which is immense so you’ll first see the sunrise, then Isla Incahuasi, a cactus oasis in the middle of nowhere. It is then time to visit the Salt Museum and the Dakar Monument and then arrive in Uyuni by lunchtime. Consider that Uyuni is an expensive and ugly town, as journalist Selvaggia Lucarelli rightly said. If you want to continue your trip to Bolivia, my advice is to take a direct bus to Potosi, a colonial town where you can spend the night. By the way, after three days of adventure, it will feel strange to return to civilization.

Diary of a long journey: Bolivia

Bolivia is over-visited for the Uyuni Salar, the salt desert more than 3,656 meters above sea level. As many as 12,000 square kilometers of nothing. Just salt. And water, during those 15 days a year when it rains and I go there. But in this case, it is not a bummer, in fact it is super fascinating, because, people, jeeps and objects are reflected in the body of water. Read the full article on Substack, it’s in Italian and in English.

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What to bring to the salt lake

What to bring on your journey through the desert depends mainly on one factor. If you start from one point and get dropped off at another or if you have to go back. I personally went from San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni and then stayed in Bolivia. But there are also those who for logistical reasons choose to return to Chile. In the latter case, the trip is four days and three nights. One day you practically spend it going back. If you are traveling light, you can pack only the essentials: hiking shoes, pants, three T-shirts, underwear, a sweatshirt, a waterproof windbreaker, a down jacket, a hat for the cold and one for the sun, gloves, sunglasses, sunscreen, soap, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, pajamas, slippers, swimsuit, towel and technology.

Gabriel Rojas, installation of flags near the Palacio l De Sal

In any case, the agency tells you what to bring. Usually: lots of water, toilet paper, snacks. I would also add electrolytes because I always feel dehydrated on these kinds of adventures. They advise you to bring extra water because you will find very few stores on the street and I don’t even know if you can call them that. But still your water supply you must have it and it is best to bring a 5-liter canister. They recommend toilet paper because you don’t always find a lot of it in the bathrooms and it can be useful in the stops you make and also to use as tissues and napkins.

If, on the other hand, you have to take all your luggage with you, I recommend keeping a small backpack with you, with the essentials for the three days and everything you don’t need, in the large backpack, which will be loaded on the roof of the jeep, so you potentially won’t touch it until the end of your hike.

What to eat at Salar De Uyuni

Meals are prepared by the families you are staying with, sometimes you eat directly in the houses, other times they are packed lunches or breakfasts, depending on the itinerary. Generally speaking, you eat very lightly, because as I said, it is very difficult to digest food at an altitude of 5 thousand meters. There are options for vegetarians, just let us know your food preferences or any intolerances before departure. It usually revolves around these ingredients: avocado, tomatoes, soups, chicken, potatoes, cheese, papaya, fried banana, rice. Sometimes we have breakfast in the open air and the driver sets up a feast of bread, avocados, tomatoes, coffee, coke tea.

Photo credits: Unsplash

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