We decided to do the tour of the salt flats via the lesser known route from Tupiza rather than the usual route from Uyuni as the Tupiza tour is 4 days and takes in more of the National Park and saves the salt flats till last. We also had heard that as this route runs in the opposite direction, you were more likely to have the scenery to yourself.
We met up with our travelling companions, Tania and Colin, two lovely Australians, on a break from their careers in mining, and our guide, Carmelo, and loaded up the 4×4 – our home for the next 4 days.
The first day took us through the countryside that we had seen the day before on the triathlon but there was still enough to keep us amused on the 8 hour journey to San Antonio De Lipez. This hostel set the theme for our accommodation for the trip – basic room, electricity for 3 hours. extra blankets against the bitter cold (we were over 4200 metres altitude) and tucked up in bed by 9pm.
Day 2 was an early start so up at 4.30 and on the road by 5. Our first stop was at some indigenous ruins which we think were impressive but aren’t completely sure as it was still dark! The sun came up shortly afterwards and it was then that we realised just how beautiful Bolivia could actually be.
The next 10 hours were spent gawking at spectacular mountains, lakes and rock formations and taking a dip in some natural hot springs with an amazing view over a flamingo filled lake. In the afternoon we visited the Laguna Verde, an amazing lake where arsenic has turned it a vivid green colour that has to be seen to be believed. The day ended with a visit to the geysers and boiling mud pools before retiring to a very basic refuge where their idea of heat and light was to provide you with a candle!
Day 3 was quite a leisurely start at 8am when we departed to see the Arbol de Piedra (tree of stone) and other rock formations before cruising past the cinco lagunas all of which were stunning in different ways – white, red, or reflective. Our lunch spot today was the Laguna Flamingo where we got to get up close and personal with the pink flamingos (well as close as the smell would allow).
The afternoon was a whizz around to view the active volcano and then across the small salt flat to our hotel for the night. The hotel was completely made of salt – walls, floor, tables, chairs, beds were all solid salt (with cushions etc), however the most exciting thing was that this hotel had hot showers which after 3 days without one was the highlight of the day. We formed an orderly queue for the single shower and enjoyed ever minute of the glorious hot water!
The next day was another 5am start, but as we cruised over the salt flat, the sun slowly came up to reveal miles of crunchy whiteness. It was perishing cold but we jumped up and down on the salt flats and watched our shadows shorten as the sun started to warm.
Our breakfast stop was at the Isla del Pescado , a fish shaped island covered in 1000 year old cacti (they grow at 1cm per year and most were over 10 metres tall) where we ate cake, it was a good day!