The road trip to Bolivia: an experience like no other

The three-day Jeep tour from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile to Uyuni, Bolivia was hands down one of the best experiences of my life. Ever.

The company; the surroundings; the locals; the adventure.

I’d highly, highly recommend if you need to get from Point A to Point B – don’t fly, don’t take the bus. Take a Jeep. But, of course, choose a reputable tour with a good safety record.  (I’ve actually forgotten what agency we went with but I’ll pop it in here if/when I remember.)

On the way we passed Laguna Colorada, Laguna Misteriosa, Laguna Verde … lagoons so clear, lagoons full of thousands of flamingos. I know I’ve said it before but I’d never experienced anything like this before. Forget the lack of wifi, plumbing (take two rolls of toilet paper everywhere). None of it matters when this is what you’re looking at.

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We got to dine with the locals, watch football with them (something they take very, very seriously). The experience was very humbling. Everybody welcomed us with open arms and did the best to make us feel comfortable, despite the language barrier.

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We stayed in this salt hotel on our last night, before seeing the salt flats. I can’t say whether I was any more relaxed because of the nature of the hotel (or if I was just really tired), but it was undoubtedly cool. I mean, look at those bricks of salt! The beds are also made of them – for real.

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And here’s something I’d been dreaming of experiencing for years: Salar de Uyuni. The world’s largest salt flats.

We woke up at the break of dawn to experience the sunrise and it was just incredible. There was nobody else in sight (which was slightly scary when our guide had to leave us for an hour or so). Just 10,000 square kilometres of salt. And no, I did not try any.

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And, one of the last stops: Isla Incahuasi. More hiking was involved (it’s actually easier to name activities that don’t involve this).

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What to do in the Atacama Desert

To start off, let me just say, you don’t have to pre-book any of this.

Most of the time your hostel or hotel will have deals with tour operators so you’ll save some dollars if you just buy your tickets when you get there. There are so many companies, they’re competitive, and very frequent.

The weather varies out here in San Pedro de Atacama, the driest desert in the world, so a few things I recommend if you’re thinking of heading out this way:

  • Sunscreen
  • Rain jacket
  • Insect repellent
  • Torch
  • A rich moisturiser
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Portable phone charger if you’re into your tech (it gets so cold at some of these places that devices will just switch off)

I’m not actually joking, you can go from wearing two layers, to eight, to six, within the span of a few hours. It’s ridiculous. So pack in layers. And pack multiple items because they’re bound to get wet/dirty pretty darn quickly. Or, bring a bar of soap and be ready to handwash everything.

Anywho, without further adieu, here are some of my recs:

Moon Valley

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It’s just absolutely stunning. The Valle de la Luna is out of this world – on this tour you’ll get to explore the landscape, explore caves and crevices. One second you’ll be walking along rocky terrain, the next you’re slugging it up sand dunes.

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Be prepared for it to go from hot to cold just like that *snaps fingers*. Also ready to take some stunning panoramic photographs.

The Lagunas

Lagunas Miscanti y Miniques are, again, absolutely breathtaking (apologies – I’m going to run out of these adjectives soon, but honestly, everything here is sublime). Just look at these photos! The water, so crisp, the sky, so clear.

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Piedras Rojas

Okay, I can’t say this was my favouriteeeee tour, mainly because our tour bus broke down in the middle of the road and we had to wait outside in the freezing, roaring, chilly wind until a replacement came. I’d never felt cold like that day. It was horrendous.

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But again, just look at Mother Nature. And the flamingos!

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Geyser del Tatio

Okay, it may stink a little, but the whole thing is pretty damn cool. Just tons and tons of geysers.

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Cycling and Hiking in the desert

I’m not sure if there’s a specific name for this tour, but it was organised by one of the guys at our hostel. And let me tell you it was arduous. It was tiring. But it was all so worth it.

It involved a 15km hike, which featured a little dip in a nearby waterfall – again with the layers thing (I wore a swimsuit underneath some thermals, along with activewear). Then, a 35km ride through the desert. Oh boy was it tough. There was so much cycling on this trip and, of course, to accompany that, a lot of hilly terrain. A must-do – it really makes you appreciate nature and I guess, at the same time, contemplate your mortality as you’re dying for breath.

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