Monday, July 18, 2016

Through the Bolivian Desert to Uyuni

The Bolivian border

From San Pedro to Atacama is a three day drive through the remote Bolivian desert, climbing to Altitudes of over 4000m. 

There are many tour companies that offer the drive in San Pedro but they are of extremely variable quality (I heard some serious horror stories about this route). I chose Cordiella Travel and was very happy with the service.

Fellow travellers

The drive starts at the Bolivian border and after the border formalities, we headed off to our first destination - one of many borax filled lagoons.

The first lagoon


The lagoon with the snow capped Andes in the distance

The white colour of the water is caused by a combination of borax and salt, the lake often reflects other colours too but unfortunately it was too windy which stirred up the water.

The "road" (basically 4wd tracks) then continues through the desert.

The desert

Rock formations caused by wind erosion

Until we reached the geysers.

Don't breathe the gases

Unlike the geysers in San Pedro, these geysers were volcanic - spewing out toxic Hydrogen Sulphide (hence the sign saying not to breathe the gasses).

Gasses emanating from the volcanic vents

The geysers consisted of many pools of boiling mud and water, and at well over 100°C probably not the best place to fall in. 

Mud pools


The many pools of boiling mud

After the geysers we continued through the desert until we reached our accommodation for the night - a simple, yet comfortable, hostel on the shores of the Red Lagoon.

The hostal

The red lagoon

The red lagoon is coloured by minerals in the water. It can actually be many colours but the wind had stirred up the water, so it was only a red-brown colour.

Another view of the Red Lagoon

Sun shining over the lagoon

The lagoon attracts many animals to its shores, such as alpacas from the local farms

Alpacas

A baby alpaca

And pink flamingos

Flamingos

After a freezing night of -9°C we were greeted by a beautiful sunrise and a clear day without wind.

Sunrise

So the lagoon could show off its colours.

The many colours of the lagoon

Another view of the lagoon

The drive then continued into the desert, past many rock formations created from wind erosion.

"The stone tree"

More formations

A panorama of the formations

Before heading back into the desert.

The desert "road"

Where we met some more of the local wildlife.

A Viscacha


More Viscachas


Andean Fox

Before we headed to the ashfields of one of the active volcanoes in the area.

The Ashfields

Smoke rising from the volcano

The next stage of the trip was to travel past the various lagoons as we descended towards the salt flats. The lagoons were populated by a large number of pink flamingos.

Flamingos


More flamingos!


Even more flamingos!


panorama of one of the lagoons

Once we had passed the lagoons we began the descent to the salt flats. The first salt flat was a small salt pan over which ran the railway that goes most of the way to La Paz.

Railway through the salt flat

This salt pan was just a taster of the giant Salas de Uyuni which we planned to see the next day - for sunrise.

Sunrise over the salt flats

It is difficult to explain the sheer scale of the Salas de Uyuni or capture it in photos but it is truly spectacular.

Looking into the distance

Mountains far far away

And of course, you can mess around with perspective.

Wine, hooray!

Throughout the salt flats there are several islands thick with cacti.

An island in the salt flats

From which you get a different perspective on the flats.

The salt flats from the island

A panorama of the salt flats from the island

As we left the salt flats we passed the start point for a stage of the Dakar rally 

Dakar stage start point

Close to this are the salt flat springs. The water in these springs is pushed up from below through the weight of the salt.

The springs

From this point we exited the salt flats and headed towards the small town of Uyuni.

In years past Uyuni was an important rail hub for freight from nearby mines. This can be seen in its vast train graveyard where the once busy trains were left to rust.

The train graveyard

After three days we had finally reached Uyuni - and there was only one thing left to do:

A refreshing end to the trip