Our five and a half week trip through Southern Peru, Bolivia, and Northern Chile ends with a 3 day/ 2 night overland tour with Cordillera Traveller through the Altiplano to see the Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia – one of the highlights of the entire trip.
September 30, 2015
Day 1 – San Pedro de Atacama across the Bolivian border to Laguna Colorada.
A bus picked us up at the hotel shortly after 8AM. We had been told to be ready by 7:45. We stopped at two more places and picked up four more people; a couple from Italy, a young English woman and another young woman from Brazil. We didn’t know it at the time but this was to be our group for the three day journey to Uyuni. No one spoke much at first but after a short time everyone proved to be very friendly and accommodating.
The morning began with two stops for the border crossing – the first at the edge of San Pedro de Atacama to exit Chile and the second near the actual border (in the middle of nowhere at an elevation of 4,400 meters/ 14,435ft.) to enter Bolivia.
The crossing went fairly easily and quickly as we already had purchased our Bolivian visas when we entered Bolivia at Lake Titicaca. The border guard seemed disappointed to find out that he wasn’t going to collect the $160USD each for us to enter the country. While most nationalities are issued a free visa, Americans and a few others are required to pay.
The border is the turnaround point where the passengers and gear heading to San Pedro de Atacama descend the overland vehicles to board the buses we arrived on and we unload our gear from the buses to be loaded on the overland vehicles.
Included in our gear is water. Although the tour supplies Coke and hot beverages they do not supply drinking water. We were, therefore, required to bring 5 liters of water each. Although it’s important to stay hydrated at high altitude, this turned out to be way more water than most of us needed.
There turned out to be two Cordillera Traveller vehicles traveling to Uyuni. We would meet up with this second vehicle at all of the stops and have our meals with them. In this second group were one Brazilian couple, one 60 something Canadian man, a younger American guy and two young German sisters. One of the sisters was dating the American.
Breakfast was served buffet style in a small dark building with no place to sit. Everyone ate while milling about the room. The simple spread consisted of hot beverages, juice, bread, jam, margarine, cheese and cold cuts.
Finally, bags loaded and us settled in the Land Cruiser, we head to the first scenic stop a short distance from the boarder. Six in a vehicle is a pretty tight squeeze, especially for those in the back, so we agreed early on to rotate our seating positions from time to time.
At each of the following sights we got out to snap a few pics and walk around a few minutes. At some locations we could walk a bit longer. Although we did not feel rushed the itinerary is still rather controlled.
We stopped for the Dali Formations but could only see them at a distance.
Polques Hot Springs – The bath is located on the bank of a pretty lake. The vehicles coming from the other direction, however, also stopped at the pools at the same time we did making it rather crowded. A changing room is available but there is no place to lock your valuables.
Sol de Mañana Geysers – I found this location of fumaroles and pools of boiling water and mud, albeit smaller, more interesting and picturesque that the Tatio Geysers out of San Pedro de Atacama.
Painted mountains pull us deeper into the barren Altiplano.
On the way to our accommodations for the evening we pass Laguna Colorada where we will return after lunch and a short rest.
The hostel is better than I was expecting. Although we are six in a room the room is clean with six regular twin beds with sheets and blankets. I’m not sure why they require sleeping bags. A unisex bathroom with several stalls is down the hall. Supposedly hot showers are also available.
Lunch consists of a cucumber, tomato and avocado salad, Vienna sausages, mashed potatoes and Coke.
Around 3:30PM we head the short distance to Laguana Colorada.
When we reach the lake the parking lot is already full of vehicles that started in Uyuni the day before. These groups are ending their second day here.
The wind is bone chilling cold, but the rust colored water and the flocks of flamingos, some close to shore, are impressive. The water is red from an algae that the flamingos feed on. I love the pink birds and don’t stop taking photos until I’m forced to when my camera blinks memory card full.
The 60-square kilometer lake is hard to capture in photos from the ground.
Back at the hostel hot beverages and soda crackers are waiting for us. The two groups chat and get to know each other while we wait for dinner.
Dinner, served at 7PM, consisted of vegetable soup, spaghetti noodles with a no-meat tomato sauce – not very good but edible – and canned peach halves for dessert.
By this time everyone is quite friendly and the conversation flows easily.
Back in the room we each try to decide how to make our beds. Do we put the sleeping bag between the sheets or on top? Most of us figure that the sheets are cleaner than the rented sleeping bag so opt for the bag on top. Still don’t know why the bag is necessary. Although I have read reports that the night is very cold on the Altiplano, at this time of year it wasn’t that bad.