I can imagine that many people won’t be interested in reading long post like that, but this was one of the best experiences we had in South America, and anything write is simply not enough. So pardon for a long post, but here we go.
Arriving to Bolivia
When our Chilean adventure came to an end, we took a bus from San Pedro de Atacama to Bolivian city Uyuni. 3-day tour through the border would’ve probably been a better option, but then we wouldn’t have ended up exploring Uyuni in the way we did. The bus journey was slightly torturous 10-11 hour ride in a very uncomfortable bus. The views, however, were gorgeous! Border crossing turned out to be fairly easy and fast. Mountains at the border gave some people an opportunity to practice their photography while waiting for other bus passengers to cross into Bolivia.
Our bus left San Pedro at 3 am and we arrived to Uyuni a little after 1 pm (mind the time difference). After we checked into our lovely hostel, we decided to go out and find out how we can visit the Salt Flats (side note: that was one of our favourite hostels in South America – Piedra Blanca hostel – make sure you get the right location, they moved in 2018). Of course, as for most travelers in Uyuni, this was our main point of interest.
We asked lovely receptionists at the hostel if they can recommend any particular company. Their answer was that most of them do exactly the same thing for exactly the same price, except of maybe Red Planet, which is a bit more expensive, but has a good reputation. “But hey, check out these guys,” – receptionist gave us a brochure, – “they are really good and do something completely different from all the other tour companies. They run a bar in town, but they also do tours.”
Looking for a tour
We went to the city and started going from place to place asking about itineraries and prices. As it turned out, most companies charged 150 BOB per person and offered the same tour. Red Planet asked for 490 BOB, which seemed too steep in comparison to other agencies. Somehow, on the way through the town, we stumbled upon sign that said “Extreme Fun Pub“, just like on brochure from the hostel, but the place was closed and we decided to check it out later. When we went out for dinner, Extreme Fun Pub was still closed. Luckily, the local lady was passing by and told us that they moved two blocks away.
Determined to find them, we took a walk, but didn’t see them where she said they would be. Universe works in funny ways, and on the same street there was a shop where we bought coca candy earlier that day. As the lady who worked there was very friendly, we decided to go in and ask.
“¡Hola!” – she says and smiles at us as if she recognizes us.
“¡Hola! Sabes, donde esta..(do you know, where is..)” – and I show her a brochure.
“No, mamita, no se..” – says the lady (she called me mamita a few times before that day) – “¡Aaaah, cabeza de llama! (a head of llama)” – she exclaims happily and points on the picture of llama head on the brochure – “¡Aca, aca!” (Here, here!) – she says and walks with us down the road until we see a sign with the llama head hanging next to one of the doors. We thank her, and happy that we finally found it, we walk straight to it.
Bo-hoo!! We really had some bad luck with getting in touch with them. The place was closed. What? The bar closed in the evening? Yep. Later we found out that Uyuni has a dry law on Mondays and selling alcohol on that day is prohibited. Therefore, all the bars were closed that day.
So, what did we do?..
Well, we didn’t get to check out the Extreme Fun Travel, so decided to go with one of the 150 BOB agencies. In the morning, while walking to book our tour, we passed the pub again, and guess what? We see the door open and three guys packing a car. A coincidence? We had a talk with them as they were waiting for their 4-day tour customers to arrive. The tour they described sounded amazing, but unfortunately was a little too expensive for us and they were busy for the next 4 days anyway. So, we went to the Ripley Tours and booked our tour with them.
When we came back to the hostel, the receptionist said that Extreme Fun guys have called us. Their customers didn’t turn up and they were willing to offer us a discount! We discussed it a little, and thought that this is the case when experience matters more than money, and decided to go with them. Unfortunately, we only got third of our money back from the Ripley Tours, due to the late cancellation. But it was still worth it.
While normal tours in Uyuni start at 11, Extreme Fun Travel start at 9am. However, while we were figuring out our tours, time has passed and we had to make slight change to our program. So we started driving around 10:30 to.. we weren’t sure where.
Stop #1: discoveries
Do you know what it is? We had no clue. The answer blew our minds: these are fossilized corals! Yes, that’s what it is. At that point I thought: of course, that makes sense! Salt flats used to be prehistoric lakes. But we wouldn’t have come to this conclusion on our own. Later on we found out that some people used these fossilized corals as bricks to build houses. Frankly, I was impressed that you could see some life there – small plants growing, lizards, insects and more. At the first sight seems like there is nothing around.
Stop #2: pink flamingos and boat builders
Next we drove to the two lagoons. Besides being very beautiful, they present a very interesting phenomena: two lagoons located 100 meters from each other have completely different composition.
First one is red, with lots of matching phytoplankton (hence the pink flamingo), and another one is a mix of blue and green.
Second lagoon is surrounded by Totora plants, which were used by Uru people to built boats.
Both lagoons might or might not be meteorite craters. Unfortunately, Bolivian government isn’t interested in sponsoring that kind of research, so these places were never really studied. This area is really stunning: lagoons and mountains with snowy tops on the background.
Stop #3: quinoa
From lagoons we continued our way through the beautiful fields. We saw vicunas, llamas and then we noticed some colourful plants. For those who wonder what these are, the answer is: quinoa.
Different colors of the plants correspond to different sorts of quinoa. Bolivia is a birthplace of quinoa, but today over 70 countries produce it. Quinoa used to be too cheap, so many farmers moved away from their fields. Lately, however, the price of quinoa grew so much that interest in growing it sparked again. This resulted in many fields being ruined because soil can’t get enough rest. Quinoa farming remains an issue in Bolivia, as do many other things related to natural resources. By the way, here’s a couple photos of wildlife:
Stop #4: heart-stopping and hair-raising lunch
Our travel guides, Juan Carlos and Roberto, picked the best place for lunch. We drove off the road for a long time and finally arrived to the amazing rock formations. Suddenly, J.C. and Roberto pulled a table and chairs out of the jeep, set food and drinks on the table and we enjoyed our lunch looking over the salt flats, mountains and beautiful Bolivian nature. There was not a soul around us for many kilometers. The place was so breathtaking that I forgot to take any descent pictures of the lunch table.
Talking about Juan Carlos and Roberto – these guys are amazing. Juan Carlos studied law, but then discovered his passion for tourism and since then he’s been doing tours in addition to running a bar. Roberto’s story is quite inspiring as well. As a kid, he loved fish and when he was 10, he met some foreign scientists who studied fish. Of course, he wanted to know who they were – they were doing exactly what he loved: looking at different fish! So, as it turned out, they were biologists, and Roberto decided to study biology. He then ended up working with bugs and lived in Bolivian jungle for several years, until he got offered an opportunity to change his research field. He worked on what he called “TripAdvisor before the internet”, and finally ended up in tourism.
As Roberto said, studying people is not very much different than studying bugs – you see their behavior in different environment with different conditions. For him tourism is also a way to help Bolivian people’s prosperity. Both guys are very knowledgeable about Bolivian nature, culture, food, people – everything. There wasn’t a question they didn’t answer – they are both smart and funny, and we really enjoyed spending time with them. They see ways to show the region from different sides and they really enjoy discovering new places on their free time and bringing travelers there.
Stop #5: Uyuni salt flats
10-15 minutes before we reached salt flats, our tour guides asked us to put masks on to create an element of surprise. Not seeing how we approach Uyuni salt flats, but experiencing it in a moment to feel the difference of the environment. And when the masks came off – wow, that was amazing! White and bright, as far as you can see. This is the place that everyone should visit once in their lives. It looks like sea covered with ice, but it’s not. The way nature works is absolutely amazing.
Uyuni salt flats are not a national park, but a national reserve, and some mining takes place there. Their content of lithium accounts to almost half of the world’s lithium reserves. In the rainy season, the upper layer is water, so it looks like a giant mirror. When the salt dries out, it often cracks into polygons and offers completely different scenery. We visited Uyuni in the beginning of dry season, so we saw a bit of everything. After driving around for a while, we found a place to take some pictures and headed on to watch sunset.
Stop #6 – final and breathtaking
Watching sunset was an incredible experience. With no people around for as far as you can see, sun going down, giving magical colors to mountains and clouds. Juan Carlos and Roberto set up a table with some wine, cheese and snacks for us.
This was simply beautiful! It felt like we were having wine on the water looking over the horizon. After the sun was down, guys offered us to try some light painting. We got some pretty cool pictures!
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try it as much, because the wind started blowing so hard that we decided to pack up and leave. We stayed there until dark, enjoying starry night, wine and great company.
I must admit that this tour have by far exceeded my expectations, but I felt like we were meant to do it. Anders and I had an incredible day, and at no point were we surrounded by crowds of tourists. We really got to see the area from the different point of view. We learned so much, and the scenery was stunning.
On their tours Extreme Fun Travel also do barbecues and visit some other places, but even though we didn’t do that – I couldn’t wish for more. We don’t get paid for promoting them, neither do we have any affiliation to their travel agency or their bar. That day was simply so unforgettable that we couldn’t not share it. Therefore, the most sincere recommendation from the bottom of my heart would be the following: if you are taking a tour in Uyuni – go with Extreme Fun Travel! And if it’s ever a question for you whether or not to visit Uyuni Salt Flats – please, choose to go. It’s places like this that make you humble and inspired, and it’s experiences like that you remember for many years to come.
More travel stories:
Lessons We Learned while Visiting Te Anau and Milford Sound
Salkantay Trek: a Terrific Trail to Machu Picchu
OMG what an amazing adventure! I had NO idea quinoa plants were so gorgeous and the llamas! So many llamas!! Trip of a lifetime for sure!
Thanks, Elizabeth, it definitely was! And quinoa is gorgeous – that’s just one of the colors, there were so many!
The salt flats are amazing and your right it is the worlds biggest mirror!
True! Pretty amazing 🙂
Wow! Absolutely beautiful. I hate it when things I want to do are closed; glad it worked out!
Oh, it did, all for the best!
Love when things work out like this!! Bolivia is high on our list of places to get to as are these salt flats. We’ll have to keep these guys in mind for a tour out to the flats! Love they have a llama representative 😉 as we love those adorable llamas!!
Bell, to be honest, Bolivia is one of our favorite countries in the world! We love love love it. Hope you go there soon, plenty of llamas there =)
How amazing our planet is! Living in cities, we almost forget the beauty of wild nature… Thanks for sharing your story and inspirational pictures. I guess this was a trip to never forget ))
Absolutely! One of our favorite experiences in South America, and in general!
Amazing! I was traveling through northern Bolivia last autumn and we thought of making a trip down to Uyuni. But we decided not to go since we had so little time. But this post convinces me even more that I have to go back there and visit the Salar. Thanks for sharing!
Mike, we have so much to explore in Bolivia.. I feel like we have only seen a small part of it. Such an incredibly amazing and versatile country! So I get what you mean – and yes, there is always something to come back for!