After a relaxing few days in Coroico, we high-tailed it south to the small town of Tupiza, famous for being near the (possible) final resting place of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and for being the less-popular gateway to the fascinating high-mountain desert of Bolivia. We booked a four day tour and hopped in the Jeep.
This was one of the things we were most looking forward to when we started the trip. Between reports from friends who had been, and looking at other peoples’ pictures online, we were excited to see some of the world’s most unique and otherworldly landscapes, and we weren’t disappointed!
The first day started slowly with relatively normal desert landscapes and a few small towns and archaeological sites.
After a cold night in our spartan accommodations, the second day really started to get weird: floating grass islands at the las bofedales marsh, windblown volcanic rock formations resembling surrealist art at the Desierto de Dali, then a green lake full of arsenic and, after a quick dip in a refreshing hot spring, a flamingo-populated orange lake full of red algae.
The third day was full of more abstract rock formations, eerily reflective mountain lakes surrounded by snow-capped peaks and populated by three different types of flamingoes, then our first salt flat (much smaller and browner than the one we would see the next day), and an ancient burial site with egg-shaped tombs built out of coral from when the land was at the bottom of a great sea. We finished this day in the posh accommodations of a salt hotel on the edge of the Salar de Uyuni: The walls and floor, as well as the beds, tables, and chairs were all built out of bricks of salt harvested from the Salar. The experience was surreal, and reminded us of stories of ice hotels in Scandanavia, but luckily despite the chilly appearance, this was our warmest night in the desert.
The last day started with a 4:30am wakeup, but with good reason: we got to witness one of the most unique sunrises we’ve ever seen; from the largest island in the middle of the huge salt flat, the Salar de Uyuni. This area used to be an enormous salt lake, but as it dried up over the course of many centuries, the salt deposits remained, so while this might just look like an island in a regular mountain lake, what you see is all incredibly flat salt that you can walk and even drive a car on. Driving around on the lake was an especially surreal experience: with really nothing in the foreground (not even a road, only some faint tracks from previous cars) and only distant mountains on the horizon, it’s hard to tell that you’re making progress, going the right way, or sometimes even moving at all. We were glad to be chauffeured around by our excellent driver, Mario. We’re not sure who took the first “foto loca”, but ever since it’s been one of the favorite pastimes for visits to the Salar, due to the extreme flatness and uniform surroundings.
The tour definitely lived up to our expectations. Before we arrived, our friend described the scenery to us as feeling like you’re on another planet, and while it’s hard to describe the experience, this is as good an attempt as any. The desolate landscapes, multicolored lakes, and the sheer strangeness and enormous size of the Uyuni salt flats are things we won’t soon forget, and are excellent reminders of how varied and amazing the world can be.