Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia
The Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia is one of the most spectacular sites and commonly referred to as the world’s largest mirror. Resting at an elevation of 3,663 meters (11,995 ft), this was something I knew I needed to see while traveling around South America but the altitude made me nervous as altitude sickness can be really rough on the body especially mine.
This was a serious concern going into my Bolivia and if I couldn’t manage a few days in La Paz, I was just going to fly straight to Chile and completely bypass the Uyuni Salt Flats. I am so happy that it all worked out and I was able to go on this 3-day road trip into the Slat Flats and ending at the border with Chile.
When booking the tour, you can, of course, go on a private tour but that gets crazy expensive. There was even a significant price difference in picking the English tour versus the Spanish tour. In the end, the Spanish tour was chosen and it didn’t make a huge difference as our driver/tour guide hardly said a word anyway.
There is also a one night option or a two-night option. Each tour or booking consists of one SUV type of vehicle seating 6-7 people total, including the driver. The bags and larger luggage is piled on top of the truck, covered with a tarp and strapped down for the journey.
I did my research but when I searched for photos of the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia only two types of photos generally came up. There are the photos of the water on the salt flats reflecting back everything that you see and the white salty endless desert with maybe a few portraits of people running from oversized toy dinosaurs or being shoved into oversized pots by playing with the depth perception. There is a lot, however, that I think gets left out considering that it is just a few hours of the three-day tour.
When the tour first starts, the next stop is right outside of the town of Uyuni. A train graveyard, with all sorts of old trains and even some old buses, just lined up in the middle of nowhere. Everyone stops there first so all of the tours that are heading into the Uyuni Salt Flats stop there so when I was there, approximately twenty other trucks had stopped there as well holding anywhere from 5-8 people in each truck. It was really cool to see all the different rusted cabooses, trains and old tracks in the middle of the bright white desert-like that though.
We drove for quite a while to a little town that had shops, toilets, adorable puppies and there we ate our lunch that was included before heading on out into the desert. Next up was a little rest-stop with an altar of flags from all over the world. Walking up to this in the middle of nowhere while people from all over the world were all walking around taking photos and chatting and having a good time really brought a sense of unity amongst everyone there.
Dry Salt Flats
Soon after we found our little spot in the middle of the pure white salt plains and took some time to admire the beauty of it all and of course, my truck-mates took their wonky perception photos with an oversized toy dinosaur… It’s a classic photo to take while there I suppose. lol
Cactus Island was a bit surprising to me as I hadn’t really seen any photos of this place. To go up onto the island and hike around there was a little bit of an extra charge but it was minimal and included free toilet use, Hurray! As I had mentioned before the altitude was a bit of a struggle for me so I had to take this short hike reeeeaallly slow so as to, ya know, not die! (Listen I know I sound dramatic and it sounds hilarious and if you don’t suffer from altitude sickness you will never get it but it can be very serious and cause a lot of issues so just take it easy.)
It was super hot in the middle of the day too so I highly recommend you take plenty of water with you and cover up your body! By the time we got back down many of the fellow travelers in their matching SUVs had taken off to head to the most anticipated location in the Uyuni Salt Flats, the giant mirror.
Real Life Vs. The Internet
Now I want to preface this next bit by saying that I really try to be upfront and honest of my travels by showing the good and the bad and showing the real side of things, not just the Instagram version of things because when researching I find that more often than not, a place looks perfect, serene and all-around ideal but when I arrive there is isn’t always like this.
I have traveled enough that I certainly don’t expect things to be perfect like they are in all the photos and videos and half of it probably comes down to lucking out with timing, weather and the convenience of accessibility.
The Giant Mirror
When we arrived at the Giant Mirror that is the water on the Salt Flats it was cold AF and windy AF. I think I got a couple of photos with the calm water but mostly it was a struggle to not freeze and to stay upright. It was mind-blowing and I couldn’t get enough photos and video footage regardless of my immoveable fingers and shaking hands.
We arrived just before sunset and got to watch one of the most incredible painted skies reflecting off of the rippling water. Here’s the thing, we only stayed for about an hour which made me sad since this was what I had seen so many photos of and had been waiting for for a while! But the sadness faded fairly quickly as the sun and consequently, the heat disappeared entirely. lol That’s It! I was ready to go to our Salt Hotel buuuut not before I made the driver stop once more as the sun was setting the sky ablaze!
Apparently, there are several different hotels that are prearranged for you based on the tour you book and ours was quite lovely but fairly cold and unfortunately we somehow missed out on the hot water that the others had, so I roughed it and opted to save myself the shock and not take a shower that night. I was dirty and gross and I had zero f*#ks to give about it, I mean we were about to do something similar the next day anyway right? Right!
Day Two – The Lagoons
Day two consisted of driving and not much walking (thank God, because my breathing was really shallow) and stopping at some railroad tracks in the middle of nowhere, scenic views of some Volcanoes, crazy looking rock formations, Lagoons lined with borax and dotted with flamingoes!
We also stopped at the famous pink lagoon that I had in fact, seen photos of as well, they even stamped my passport. (Be careful with this because some countries may reject your passport based on these false stamps.)
A Moment of Peace & Breath
This day was filled with things I had no idea even existed in Bolivia and seriously I could’ve easily spent hours watching the soft pink Flamingos graze through the lagoon as the sun shone overhead. In this space, I found peace and contentment and oddly enough I was able to breathe decently for the first time in days.
Side Note: I write about Mental Health a lot and so It’s important for me when I am writing about the places I visit to acknowledge the moments that brought me a sense of peace and calm. As someone who lives with an array of issues, these moments do need to be recognized and shared to hopefully show that anyone and everyone can travel despite our obstacles and I believe that travel can bring a sense of healing along with the chaos, anxiety & adventure of it
It’s Basically Like Camping
Needless to say, when it came time, I wasn’t ready to leave this place or this moment but we had to move on. We were going to have a super early start to our next day and as there wasn’t any heating at our accommodation that night there wasn’t much sleep involved and yeah… you probably guessed it, no hot water.
Listen, I was getting really comfy with myself at this point. My clothes and shoes were covered in salt, my hair basically didn’t even need a hair tie to stay up, it was so tangled at this point but I had a hat to cover it up. I hadn’t done a ton of hiking or walking or sweating for that matter so I know I wasn’t too bad but I was dreaming of that hot shower I was gonna bask in once we arrived at our place the next day in Chile, ooooohhhhh it was gonna be so good! I just knew it!
Like I said our day started crazy early like it was still super dark outside early, lucky for me it was so cold I just slept in my clothes so I just needed to roll out of bed, yeah I did that. lol We hopped in the cold truck and drove for a while and just as the sky started changing from a black to a dark blue I could see steam coming up from the ground.
Geysers & Hot Springs
We were going to see the geysers! What a sight (and smell lol) as the light started to creep across the sky and the steam from the geysers poured from beneath the ground, shooting up into the sky carrying the sulfur smell along with it. Epic.
In my experience that normally means there are probably hot springs somewhere nearby and sure enough that was our next stop on our final day. We would only have about an hour in the hot springs and I was actually really torn about whether I wanted to get in or not with such a tight schedule.
Mind you, it was still freezing outside and I knew that water would be glorious but I also knew that the getting out would be a f*#%ing nightmare. After going back and forth for a few minutes and watching everyone else enjoying it so much I decided to just go for it. Oh, baby! It was, in fact, glorious and so hot it burned my whole freezing body to bits as I submerged right up to my chin. I never wanted to leave. That hour went by way too fast.
Make Sure to Check where You Change
I hopped out and grabbed my towel and clothes as fast as I could and made my way to the girl’s toilets/locker room to get changed. I stripped my wet swimming suit off and tried to dry myself quickly to just throw on my dry clothes and retain some of that heat for as long as possible when suddenly I realize there is a window right behind me and there wasn’t anything covering it.
Yup, I was sharing my wet bare-ass nekked self with at least 12-15 people outside, mostly men. I paused for a second and made fierce eye contact with one man who was staring a little too intently at me and gave him a look that said, “I see you seeing me.” At that moment I figured there was nothing I could do and I would probably never see these people again and I was too cold to think about it too much more anyway. I finished throwing on my dry clothes and ran to the truck for our drive to the border of Bolivia and Chile.
My adventure through Bolivia and the Uyuni Salt Flats had ended and it was time to go to a whole new country!
My full name is Courtney Elizabeth and growing up some of my nicknames were Coco & Betty, thus the name Coco Betty. Feel free to call me Coco, I still answer to it. I empower women to love themselves through travel, one trip at a time.