Photo: Heike Rammelt
One useful thing you should definitely consider before traveling around South America is to know your Spanish. That helps getting around easily in several situations. Me and Fabri arrived at Uyuni around 5am, coming from La Paz. We traveled during the night, and it was one of the coldest bus rides we’ve ever experienced. Nevertheless, the night sky in the middle of the desert – and at 4,000+ 3,500+ metres high – sure looked pretty amazing.
Well, there’s not much to do in Uyuni at 5am. Most open places are a couple of excursion agency offices (you’re free to come in and crash inside, where it’s warmer, and especially if you do decide to travel with them!). We still had several hours before the majority of agencies around town would start opening, and it was a cold night to be standing around outside.
There was this really small tent-ish place in the middle of the street, where an old man makes coffee and cooks these sweet, egg-and-bread-based (?) round fritos. We sat there chatting, and after a couple of coffee-and-fritos, the old man told us about the nearby train station. A worker which was also in the tent drinking coffee confirmed; we just might be lucky enough to find the station open, and most likely it’d be warmer inside.
So after a really cheap breakfast which felt like a luxurious meal in our stomachs, we started making our way to the train station. It was open. Nobody there, just a dog walking around and saying hello to us strangers. We were warm, tired and excited about the salt desert. In one word: happy.
When the agencies selling excursions for the world-famous salar de Uyuni start opening, you should get yourself ready and start bargaining around town. Try to visit the maximum number possible. You’ve got several tour options: one, two, three or four-day excursions (maybe there’s more but I don’t recall). If you go for less than three days you miss the chance to take a photo like the one above.
We went for the 3-days tour. We bargained with most agencies in town – most of the agencies’ managers know each other, and some of them phone others to know if you’ve actually been there before, etc. We chose the agency with the ugliest jeep (never had a problem, though!), but for a really, really good price. If you’re actually going there, I can share with you the “where” and “how much”.
The salar is something unique, mind-blowing really. I tasted an immaculate part of the white ground, and yes – it is, indeed, very salty (you only live once, right?). It’s huge and I find it surprising that so many people (especially in my country, where a few do travel) know nothing about it.
The “final touch” of our amazing experience was the third day. We woke up in the middle of nowhere, with no electricity (you’ll get used to it) and very cold – at about 4am. We left to see some geysers. Then back to the jeep and then we arrived at this place with a house, and hot springs nearby, where a small group of happy British (I think) was already splashing around. It was really cold, but we just had to go for it. And what you see in the picture above is bliss. We changed our clothes, putting on our bathing shorts, and got in the springs before sunrise. Basically, you’ll be cooking for more or less half-a-minute (it’s a quite sudden thermal variation) but then you’ll be just fine and warm. And then the sun came up, and the light spread through the valley as if it was some golden liquid, and it was beautiful. We were silent, in awe standing before Nature. Good for the soul, my fellow readers.
Approximately one hour later we got dressed and went inside the house for a terrific breakfast. This was surely one of the greatest dawns I’ve ever experienced in life so far and I recommend it to anyone who’s considering to visit that part of our wonderful planet.