Salar II: The Deep South

We awoke for an early breakfast before returning to the 4WDs.

Day two of the Salar tour leaves the salt flat and ventures further south towards the border. The already bizarre landscape turns completely alien as the salt gives way to mountainous volcanoes.

We drove for about 30 minutes or so along a sloppy, saline mud track, and then we stopped. Or rather, the car in front stopped. The drivers all got out to help diagnose the transmission problems of the car in front. But there was nothing that could be done from out here.

Have you tried...

Have you tried…

So, we waited for an hour and a half for a replacement vehicle from Uyuni. These things happen I guess.

Eventually we set off again. We passed through a small town where we all stocked up on wine. We were promised the opportunity to sip wine in hot springs that night and nobody wanted to miss out.

This beautiful thing was hiding just off the main road

This beautiful thing was hiding just off the main road

Our lunch stop was a grassy marsh in a valley, filled with grazing llamas.

Llamas relaxing

Llamas relaxing

After lunch the landscaped turned to barren gravel desert and mountainous volcanoes emerged from the horizon. It looked like the surface of Mars.

Volcanoes in the distance

Volcanoes in the distance

We stopped at a mineral rich volcanic lake, filled with flamingos feeding on whatever was living in there. We set off through the dunes to make up lost time from the morning.

And then, we lost the other car.

Our car stopped at another lagoon and waited 10 minutes or so, but the other car didn’t turn up. Our driver, thinking they might have had more mechanical problems, backtracked to the lake, but it wasn’t there. We drove around looking for a bit, but nothing.

Seriously, they were right behind us

Seriously, they were right behind us

Of course, the other car was was waiting for us at the next stop. They just had a different stop in mind than our driver had, a collection of huge rock formations.

Quite the balancing act

Quite the balancing act

We found another lake filled with flamingos. The whole area is actually an enormous wildlife reserve for the flamingos and other birds that spend time in the lakes.

Flamingos in the distance

Flamingos in the distance

By this point we had ascended to over 5000m. Due to earlier delays it was dark, freezing cold and windy by the time we arrived at a series of geysers, spraying sulfuric gasses and steam into the atmosphere. My first geysers, I wasn’t expecting them to be so loud!

It is difficult to photograph geysers in the dark

It is difficult to photograph geysers in the dark

We finally rolled into our rustic accommodation for dinner. Then, as promised, got to enjoy wine in the nearby hotsprings, under an incredibly clear milky way.

Not a bad end to the day

Not a bad end to the day

The third morning brought us to Laguna Verde, a vast volcanic lake. Devoid of life, but quite pretty to look at. From there, we headed to the border.

Much greener in real life

Much greener in real life

A salar trip is actually a great way of moving south from Bolivia into Chile. About half our group took this option, with the rest of us driving back to Uyuni. The border crossing is a strange place. In the middle of the desert, the Bolivian immigration office is a good 10km from its Chilean counterpart.

We ran across the border into Chile, just to see what it was like.

No fine at this border crossing

No fine at this border crossing

After saying goodbye to those leaving us at the border, the rest of us started the long drive north to Uyuni. We stopped in another village for lunch, then drove to some more weird rock formations.

I'm actually about 10m off the ground here

I’m actually about 10m off the ground here

The other 4WD didn’t show up. We lost it again.

We waited for 20 minutes, but nothing. Our driver called the office to explain the situation and then we pressed on for Uyuni.

The other car had simply decided not to stop at the rocks, but didn’t tell our driver.

We made it back to Uyuni on dusk and checked into a hotel. In the last 3 days we had travelled over 1000km and seen a lot.

Here's what the hotspring looked like in the predawn light

Here’s what the hotspring looked like in the predawn light

A quick review of Red Planet Expeditions

The 3 day salar trip is great, you should definitely do it. Overall, Red Planet was pretty good. All the tour operators go to the same places, but the schedules are different. For example, everyone visits the hotsprings, but we spent the night there. Cheaper operators also don’t supply an English speaking guide. Our guide seemed pretty knowledgeable and did a good job. The food was mixed. The lunches, which would have been prepared in Uyuni before we left were quite good. The dinners, prepared by our hosts at the accommodation, were a bit shit. The mechanical problems delayed our tour by about two hours, but again these things happen. However, we managed to lose the other car twice. That was a bit ridiculous. And the thing is, it could be avoided so easily by putting 2-way radios into all the vehicles!

Still, it was a well worthwhile trip.

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