The Uyuni Salt Flat & The Atacama Desert in a 4WD

An amazing three day adventure traveling through the Atacama Desert. No electricity, no internet access, you’re lucky if you can find a proper toilet, freezing temperatures, bumpy roads, or actually lack of roads, driving through endless expanses of nothingless…doesn’t really sound like an ideal trip, does it. But this three day 4WD trip from the small Bolivian town of Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile was a truely unforgettable experience.

Our epic journey actually commenced in La Paz where we boarded an overnight bus to Uyuni. Many people warned us not to take this trip, as the bus travels along a non-existant road in the desert, meaning, firstly it is extremely difficult to get any sleep on such a bumpy ride, secondly buses are known to breakdown in the middle of nowhere making help difficult to find, and lastly, highway robberies are not uncommon. But despite all this, we had a rather non-descript trip to Uyuni and even managed to get a few hours sleep.

After a few hiccups in Uyuni (a desolate, somewhat unexciting town in the centre of the desert – just think empty streets, delapadated buildings, tumble-weed being blown by the dusty wind), including a mad dash to get our Bolivian exit and Chilean entry stamps, a wild goose chase around town to locate our tour provided and being freaked out by a man with a python in a box, we set out in our 4WD with an amazing driver and a fantastic group of people. Over three jam-packed days we saw the rail graveyard of Uyuni, the Salar de Uyuni (the incredible blinding white salt flats of Uyuni), an island overrun by giant cacti in the middle of these salt flats, a number of sulpha lagoons (one of each of the colours red, blue and green – the properties of the minerals found in each location affect the colour of the lagoons) full of elegant flamingos, numerous extinct, a few active volcanos, we had an overnight’s stay in a hotel made entirely of salt, an early morning swim in natural thermal springs, visited the arbol de piedra (a site which influenced the work of Salvador Dali) and saw the spurts of gas from geysers during the few moments before sunrise. We had some good laughs, some delicious food prepared by our superhuman driver/guide/cook/interpreter (I can’t forget that home-made apple pie on day one), made some lasting friendships over a few bottles of wine. All in all, it was definitely one of those ‘one in a lifetime experiences’, although, there’s always the option of doing it all over again.

Our tour providers were Red Planet Expeditions  http://redplanetexpedition.com/, which come highly recommended. All 4WD expeditions include a Spanish/English speaking driver/guide, all meals (and they’re damn good meals at that), simple share accommodation with your tour group, but exclude a few national park entry fees, which are minimal.

Image thanks to Ryan Quiel

Image thanks to Ryan Quiel

Image thanks to Ryan Quiel

Words & Photography by Jade Spadina

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