We booked to do a three day tour to the Salar de Uyuni with Pamela tours, as they had been recommended by our hostel and were one of the cheaper options. I had read really mixed reviews of all the tour companies, including stories of jeeps breaking down, terrible food and lodging etc…so we were hoping for the best but prepared for the worst. We left San Pedro at about 7.45am and headed to Chilean immigration, where we were stamped out of Chile. An hour’s drive saw us at the border, where we were stamped into Bolivia.
We were divided into groups – our group was all from the same hostel in San Pedro, and was Reuben and I, a couple from Switzerland, a girl from Austria and a guy from Belgium. We were really lucky with our group – they were lots of fun, and three of them spoke Spanish and could translate what we were being told.
Following customs, we then transferred into four wheel drives and drove to the entrance to the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina, and to our first stop – the Laguna Blanca, where part of the lake was frozen over.
Our next stop was the Laguna Verde. This whole area was really beautiful.
We drove past the Rocas de Daly (named because they look like Salvador Dali’s painted deserts) and further up to the Aguas Termales – a hot spring where we could swim and look out onto a beautiful landscape. We were at about 4000 metres elevation here and I started really feeling the altitude with a strong headache.
Our next stop was the Sol de Manana geyser, which was at 4,800 metres. It was really interesting to walk around the geyser field and see the bubbling mud – we would not be allowed to get that close in New Zealand! Unfortunately, my head really didn’t like the altitude. That night I had some tea with coca leaves, a local remedy that did help a little bit. Apparently the coca leaves are from the plant that is used to make cocaine but in tea it is fairly harmless and recommended for altitude sickness.
The final stop for the day was the beautiful Laguna Colorada (4278 metres), where we had both lunch and dinner at the “refugio” that we were staying at, which was right across from the Laguna. The six of us who were travelling together all shared one room – it was pretty basic, but fine. The Laguna was beautiful, with red tones, a salt island and flamingos. We went for a walk around it and saw both grey and pink flamingos. This was a very cold night – we had been warned it might go down to -15 and it definitely felt like about -10!