Flamingoes, Volcanoes and Salt Lakes in Bolivia’s National Parks

August 22, 2016 Worldwide Travel
Layers are essential as the temperatures shoot from freezing to boiling

Layers are essential as the temperatures shoot from freezing to boiling

Bolivian Safari – The Salar de Uyuni and the Reserva de Fauna Eduardo Andino

 

Safety First

When in Bolivia, make this trip. It’s easy to arrange, affordable and mostly very well organised. Before you start though, check the tyres on your jeep. Ours were worn thin in places and had nearly lost the grip necessary to traverse the rough terrain  We only realised this at the end of day one when we were in the heart of the wilderness, with little choice but to continue the journey. Don’t be put off by this warning. Just choose your vehicle carefully.

 

The drivers are good, expert and friendly. To get the most from their explanations you will need decent Spanish. Otherwise make sure you have your own guidebook – a printed or downloaded version. You won’t find wifi on this trip.

 

The Scenery

The landscape on this four day safari is the stuff of dreams, especially for European travellers, unused to  such exotic views. Lagoons, salt lakes, desert, mountains and hot springs, volcanoes and extraordinary rock formations will all unfold as you bump along the paths and tracks.

Most famous of all the scenic highlights is the vast expanse of the Salar de Uyuni itself. The magic of the salt flats will stay with you forever and the dawn viewing of this astonishing natural wonder can’t fail to move you.

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The Journey

The travelling was quite arduous for much of the time. The days were long and we  often felt anxious about tyre safety.  Our jeep was comfortable and Mario the driver was lovely, especially once we were accustomed to his habit of chewing handfuls of dried cocoa leaves every half an hour. He needed the energy of this legal high in order to sustain the pressure of hours of negotiating the extremely bumpy roads.

On day one, we slowly climbed higher and higher through dramatic, mountain scenery and ended up in an eery ruined village, our last port of call before hitting that night’s hostel.

 

New Friends

 

Four of us shared a large room. The beds were fairly comfortable but there were no showers, only hand basins where we did our best to wash off the dust of the day.

We shared with our jeep mates – a  French woman and her adult daughter. They were great fun, very courteous and respectful of the fact that we were sharing a sleeping space within hours of meeting. Their company greatly enhanced the experience.  We bonded well and even continued the trip together once the safari was done.

Expect astounding scenery all the way on this exceptional journey
Flamingoes are a distinctive and amazing feature of the landscape

Flamingoes are a distinctive and amazing feature of the landscape

Bed and Board

This is not a luxury experience or even a very comfortable one. However, it’s fine for a few days and you will really appreciate a hot shower at the end of it.

The beds in the three different hostels were fairly comfortable with clean sheets. The wash rooms were regularly cleaned.

At each stopover you mingle with travellers from many different tour companies and a range of countries. The mood is upbeat and lively as everyone shares their experiences of the day. Being a bit grubby and weary doesn’t matter. You’re in the wilderness, exploring the planet and it’s amazing.

On the last night you stay in a hotel made entirely from salt, even the furniture. And if you’re desperate you can queue for the shower. Two between about 100 travellers.

Meals on Wheels

The food provided is a special part of the trip.  Each party has its own chef who travels with you in one of the jeeps. These mobile cooks are miracle workers, managing to whip up delicious, fresh, Bolivian food in the middle of nowhere.

Marisa, who cooked for us, made delicious stews and salads, vegetable dishes and even home-made cakes. There was fresh fruit and plenty of rice and pasta. . Eating freshly baked coconut cake after climbing to the top of Tica Wasi island, with flamingos watching from a few  metres away, made a divine picnic.

Uyuni and Out

We ate our final meal together in Uyuni after seeing the delicate pink dawn break over the salt lake. Mario drove us gently across the lake in which the soft, pale sky was reflected. It was like travelling through a great white expanse of light. Like gliding towards heaven.

Uyuni on the other hand was a little bit of hell. Millions of tourist stalls sold soggy souvenirs as rain fell on the ponchos and the toy llamas.

Don’t linger here. You can easily get a bus to Potosi, on another amazing trip through the mountains, travelling with local people, resplendent in their wonderful colourful clothes, smiling and curious.