All the tours stop to spend time taking perspective shots. They are more difficult to take than we expected, this one is our favorite.

4 days Exploring the Bolivian Highlands and Salt Flats

Exploring the Bolivian Highlands and Salt Flats by Jeep

July 14, 2014 – July 19, 2014

Full Salt Flats Photo Gallery Here.

The Bolivian National Reserve can be found in the southwestern corner of the country along the borders of Chile and Argentina.  We signed up for a 4 day jeep tour of the Bolivian highlands and salt flats.  A jeep tour was a nice change from our constant hiking, we could finally sit back, relax and watch the beautiful scenery.

After Sucre we spent an uneventful day in Potosi.  Potosi was at one time the biggest and richest city in South America after one of the worlds largest deposits of silver was discovered there just beneath the surface.  The precious ore ran low however and the city does not resemble its former glory days.  The old mining town did not have much to lure in tourists except tours of the mines, and we were happy to be moving on.  If you have limited time in Bolivia we recommend skipping the city, unless you really want to tour the mines.

Our next stop was Tupiza near the southern border with Argentina, where we arranged for a 4 day 4×4 tour of the Bolivian highlands and salt flats.

Day 1

Bright and early we met our driver/guide Orlando, and our fellow jeep companions Lars and Jessica from California, and Yann from France.  Much of the reserve that we would be exploring was between 15,000 – 17,000 feet, so  we spent most of our first day driving slowly uphill through the dry badlands of southern Bolivia.  Early on it was easy to see why this journey must be done in a 4×4, we crossed too many creeks or rivers to count.

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Our ride for the next four days through the high Andean deserts and salt flats in the Bolivian National Reserve.
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The broken badlands of southern Bolivia.bolivian_saltflats_day1_3
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One of our first stops was to see free ranging llamas. They are owned by farmers but roam the highlands without fences.
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bolivian_saltflats_day1_6 All the tour operators take similar routes and we could often see at least one other 4×4.
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An Andean ghost town, this once mining town was abandoned after unexplained haunting sounds drove the residents away.

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The first of many high alpine lakes, near our first nights lodging.

Day 2  – Hot springs, green lakes, and geysers.

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Vicunas, similar to llamas and alpacas but smaller and wild.

bolivian_saltflats_day2_2 bolivian_saltflats_day2_3Small salt flat in the distance.

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The shores of this high lake are made of crusty salt deposits and ice can been seen on the surface. Despite looking like a desert the highlands are very cold.

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We came across a hot springs in the middle of the cold desert.

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The hot springs were great, but it was freezing cold getting out.

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The Dali Desert, so named because the oddly shaped rocks look like a Salvador Dali painting.

saltflats_2More wild vicunas.

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Our ride broke down for the first time… It overheated despite the cold. Our driver is pouring our drinking water on it to cool it down.
Road with Dali desert in the distance.
Road with Dali Desert in the distance.
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Bright green Laguna Verde was in the farthest southern corner of Bolivia, the backside of that volcano Licancabur is Chile.

bolivian_saltflats_day2_13bolivian_saltflats_day2_14Our next stop was in a valley covered in volcanic thermal vents, geysers and boiling pits of mud.

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These boiling mud pits smelled strongly of rotten eggs.

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This hot steam geyser was as loud as a jet engine.

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Our last stop for the day, Laguna Colorada had a red tint.
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We saw our first pink flamingos.

 Day 3 – Rock trees, active volcanoes and salt hotels.

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The Arbol de piedra – The tree of stone.
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Dozens of 4×4 tours.

bolivian_saltflats_day3_2bolivian_saltflats_day3_4 bolivian_saltflats_day3_5This lake had a sheet of ice covering its surface.

This lake had a sheet of ice covering its surface.

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More pink flamingos.

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We stopped near an active volcano, you can see a bit of steam or smoke coming from the left side.

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We stopped for lunch under the volcano.

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The salt hotel,  the walls, bed frames, tables and chair are all made from solid salt bricks, the floor is crushed rock salt.

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Each night of the jeep tour was spent in a dorm room with the group from your jeep.  Accommodations the first two nights were extremely basic with no heating or showers.  Our last night in the salt hotel was a definite step up, with hot water showers available and although it did not have heating, it was noticeably about 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in the salt hotel.

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The hallways outside the rooms.
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The eating area, everything except the windows and fabrics is made of salt.
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A fun evening where Jess and Lars taught the rest of us how to play the card game called “Shithead” and copious amounts of wine were consumed.

Day 4 – The salt flats.

The Bolivian salt flats or Salar de Uyuni, are the worlds largest salt flats.  It’s possible in some directions to see the horizon uninterrupted by any mountains.

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Up before dawn in order to drive out and see sunrise on the salt flats.

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The salt makes a flat hard crunchy surface.

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The moon above the cactus island Incahuasi.

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Isla Incahuasi and our shadows stretching out to the horizon.

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Once a large coral reef in an ancient sea, this island full of coral fossils is now covered in cactus.

bolivian_saltflats_day4_9 bolivian_saltflats_day4_10 bolivian_saltflats_day4_11 bolivian_saltflats_day4_12All the tours stop to spend time taking perspective shots. They are more difficult to take than we expected, this one is our favorite.

All the tours stop to spend time taking perspective shots. They were more difficult to take than we expected, the shot above is our favorite.

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There was yet another strike as we attempted to leave the salt flats.  Buses and cars and their occupants were in danger of being stoned for using the roads in and out of Uyuni. Luckily we were in a 4×4 and drove around the affected areas in order to get back to Tupiza.  The strike did change the travel plans for the others on our tour who had planned on ending in Uyuni to head north, and were not expecting to return south to Tupiza.  We were headed to the Argentinian border so heading back to Tupiza near the border actually worked out just fine for us.

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A small town we passed through while navigating around the areas affected by the strike.  Our guide is eating lunch inside.

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Krista went to find a “bathroom” outside and snapped this pic of a pig farm in the tiny village.

The Uyuni strike aside, the Bolivian salt flats tour was the highlight of our time in Bolivia.  We highly recommend it to anyone thinking of taking a trip to Bolivia, and be sure to go with a reputable company.  Many of the landscapes are quite surreal.  Bring warm clothes though!  It was colder at times, especially when we were on the salt flats in the early morning,  than we have experienced on our entire trip.