My mate and I were in San Pedro, Chlie, looking for the best way to get to Bolivia. Flying from Chile to Bolivia was expensive; taking a bus meant that we’d likely miss out on seeing some cool places in between. After a bit of research, we found that we could take a tour with a 4-wheel drive through the Atacama Desert to Uyuni, a city in Bolivia’s southwest. It was a three-day adventure that cost about $150 USD with all meals and accommodation included. Without a doubt, it was an unbeatable option.
On the day we were scheduled to leave, a minibus picked us up from our hostel in San Pedro in the early hours of the morning. Once we arrived at the Bolivian border, we were divided into groups of 6 and assigned a 4-wheel drive to take us on our journey.
Our first stop was Laguna Blanca, “white lake,” colored by the minerals in the water. It was contrasted so perfectly by the tones of the sand. The fact that it existed in the middle of the desert was completely mind-blowing.
We continued on to a thermal spring on the edge of Laguna Verde, “green lake”. We spent a few hours floating and relaxing in the water before setting off to see a collection of bubbling sulfur pools elevated at 5000 feet above sea level. I recommend chewing some coca leaves as it helps to alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness; they are sold in shops throughout San Pedro.
Our final stop of that first day was Laguna Colorada, “colored lake.” Minerals, red sediments and the pigmentation of algae have dyed the lake a rose color, and it was yet another incredible site to see.
We spent much of our second day in the 4-wheel drive, covering as much ground as we could. We did stop at the Arbor de Piedra, “Stone Tree,” where boulders and rock piles have been shaped by wind and water, jetting out from the ground to a height of over 7 meters.
Our final day was consumed with the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat and the flattest place on earth at no more than 1 meter high. We woke up early to catch the sunrise as it cast an incredible glow on the sand. In some seasons, the flats will literally reflect the sky; unfortunately, we weren’t there at the right time to see that happen. We spent hours photographing the area, amazed by the vastness of it all. The salt flats seem to be never-ending; even as we drove, we felt as through we were standing still because of how far they stretched.
From the salt flats, we drove to Cactus Island, a large rock in the middle of the flats on which an abundance of cacti grow. You can climb on the rock and between the cacti, and when they are in bloom, they sprout the most beautiful purple and yellow flowers.
Finally, that evening, we arrived in Uyuni.
The journey by 4-wheel drive was incredible; we saw so much, from the lagoons to the salt flats to the unique rock formations, and never had to worry about where we would spend the night or find our meals. The fact that everything was provided – and at a reasonable cost – allowed us to focus on the natural beauty that surrounded us and on the people we met along the way. Find a tourist office in San Pedro, Chile to help you arrange the trip; there is simply no better option for crossing the Chilean-Bolivian border.