Touring Uyuni in Bolivia with Red Planet

To celebrate our 30th birthdays, a few friends and I recently travelled around South America, heading to Bolivia, Peru (including completing the Inca Trail), and the Galapagos Islands. I'll be posting my top tips and thoughts over the next few weeks: starting today with Bolivia, the land of the classic salt flats that you see in almost every iconic photo ever taken of the country.

Red Planet Tour around Uyuni Bolivia

Getting There

We flew into La Paz (the fifth highest airport in the world!) from Lima on LATAM Airlines, where we stayed for a few days before heading over to Uyuni. Out of all the places that we visited, I would add that La Paz was the most dangerous (and dirty - expect to spend your time dodging dog poo in the street, or failing to do so in my case), so while you can get some great photos looking down into the valley bowl that contains the sprawling city, we didn't spend too long there.

From La Paz, we caught a Bolivian Airlines flight to Uyuni (return flight was approx US$200), which arrives at Uyuni around 9 am. This is great timing for the tours (which usually start around 11 am), giving you enough time to check in at the tour office.

Uyuni, is, frankly, a city that feels like a very small town, with around 10,000 people, and very little to see or do in the city itself. We met other tour members who had flown in the day before who regretted the decision, so the US$200 for the flight in is actually a worthwhile price to pay. Others we know caught a bus, but that takes around 10 hours overnight (on the upside, you can pay for fully reclining chairs, and they even have chargers next to you).

Red Planet

We had originally planned to join the three day tour of Uyuni with Red Planet (US$210), but due to snow at the higher passes, that tour was cancelled and changed to a two day tour (US$150). To our initial disappointment, this meant we missed out on a hot spring and the famous Red Lake and Green Lake...but we later found out that the conditions were in fact quite bad, and that one car had flipped in the middle of the snowstorm, and that the driver had then abandoned his tourist passengers on the road in a blizzard!

Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia train graveyard

Overall, our experience with Red Planet was fairly average, despite it being one of the most expensive and highly rated tour operators in Uyuni. When we arrived at the office, the lady there attempted to charge us more than what they had originally quoted (and more than what they charged the other tourists in our group!), but we had their original quote in an email, and she was forced to (angrily) concede.

While there are reviews on TripAdvisor of Red Planet's tour guides and drivers being too drunk to safely drive their passengers, we were fortunate enough to not encounter this - although my friend claimed she smelled weed on our guide on the second day. Our guide in particular was nothing remarkable - but if you do opt for Red Planet, we highly recommend the half-French guide called Marcos, who is an absolute fountain of knowledge (and has a great sense of humour). On top of that, he was the one who rescued the other tour company's passengers who had been stranded in the blizzard, so he's a hero in our eyes.

Day 1

After paying for our tour, we left the Red Planet office around 11am in a land cruiser. The back of the land cruiser is cramped - anyone who is taller than 5 ft 4 will find it a bit of a struggle to make their legs fit comfortably. To make up for it though, our driver was really cool, enthusiastically urging us to connect our phones to the car stereo system so he could blast our music for us.

The first stop was what is known as the "train graveyard", which is only around 15 minutes away. You'll basically see a lot of abandoned, old-school trains (some of which have been stripped for parts by Bolivian youths), that are reminiscent of the latest Mad Max film.

Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia train graveyard
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia train graveyard
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia train graveyard
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia train graveyard
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia train graveyard
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia train graveyard

To my great surprise, this was actually one of the favourite parts of the tour - there are some great train ruins to explore, and you can get some really cool snaps (particularly if you are willing to climb up onto the train roofs)!

We then moved onto two parts of the salt flats (salar de Uyuni), taking some of the classic "there is no depth perception" photos. Along the way, we also visited a salt mining town (with buildings made out of salt!), with a stop at a salt factory - what appeared to be a barn where salt is processed and then dumped into big pyramids and packaged into bags.

We then had lunch in this town (provided by Red Planet), consisting of hot chicken, rice, salad, and chocolate cupcakes.

Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni salt factory town
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni salt factory town
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni salt factory town

After that, we headed over to Inca Wasy island (otherwise known as Fish Island), which essentially is a coral rock formation with sprawling, giant cacti. You can walk around the trail (which goes uphill and will take about 30 minutes - be prepared to feel the altitude kick in, as most people found it difficult to breathe) with views of what looks like a sea of salt extending to the horizon below.

Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni inca wasy fish island
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni inca wasy fish island
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni inca wasy fish island

We then continued on to the village of Atulcha to spend the first night in a salt hotel (where literally the entire place is made of salt). Red Planet offers the guests some tea and biscuits, plus a hot dinner. The rooms are very basic and we did not get any hot water (but discovered that was probably because other guests had used it all up, so be sure to get into the shower early!), but each room did have a private bathroom. Keep in mind that it can get bitterly cold at night (and hit below zero degree celsius temperatures) - while the sleeping bags that Red Planet provided weren't bad, you still need warm clothes to be comfortable.

Day 2

The next morning we had breakfast, packed up, and wandered around outside where we met the resident lamma and ridiculously cute vicuña. The latter is a protected animal, as it was previously on the verge of extinction - they have buttery soft, fine hair that is even higher quality than cashmere, and were a favourite for hunters. Both animals are incredibly sweet and friendly - they took a serious interest in my camera, with half my photos being of the noses they poked into my lens.

Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni atulcha lamma alpaca vicuna
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni atulcha lamma alpaca vicuna

After that, we visited Chiguana, on the south side of Uyuni salt flats, where we explored lava rock formations created thousands of years ago. On the horizon, we could see non-active volcanoes.

Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni chiguana lava rock formation volcano
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni chiguana lava rock formation volcano
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni chiguana lava rock formation volcano
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni chiguana lava rock formation volcano
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni chiguana lava rock formation volcano

After this, we headed to the Andean lagoon to view the pink flamingos, as well as eat lunch (again provided by Red Planet). It's quite windy up here, so again be prepared to wear warm clothing.

Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni andean lagoon flamingo
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni andean lagoon flamingo

The three day tour gives you an extra day visiting the famous Red Lake and Green Lake (so called because of their colours), as well as a visit to the hot spring, but sadly we missed out this time!

Expect the drive back to Uyuni to be a long one - we stopped once more to look at some more lava rock formations, but this was less spectacular than the one we had seen in the morning, so we didn't spend much time there.

We arrived back in Uyuni around 5:00 pm and had dinner with our tour group mates at the famous pizza restaurant called Minuteman Revolutionary Pizza that you can find inside Tonito Hotel - a great way to wrap up our visit!

Conclusion

Overall the experience touring the train graveyard, salt flats, lava rock formations, Fish Island, and the lagoon with Red Planet was not too bad - and certainly appears better than some of the experiences that other tour companies offer. Don't expect too much from the front desk staff or from some of the tour guides, but the scenery that you get on the tour is great (and diverse!).

  1. At the end of the two day tour, most tour companies give you the option to be dropped off in Chile instead, which is great for Australians because apparently you don't need to pay for a visa (US$117) if you enter via land instead of air!
  2. Pack warm clothes because it can get quite cold at night, and sunglasses because the reflection from the salt flats is pretty strong.
  3. If you tour with Red Planet, ask to have Marcos (the half-Frenchman) as your guide.

xx

Lifestyle Lookbook

1 comment :

  1. Nice place to explore and be with the nature.

    ReplyDelete

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