Traversing Bolivia by 4×4: Atacama to Uyuni

Uyuni Salt Flats DipOut of all the countries we visited in South America (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia & Peru), Bolivia was by far the most rugged, untouched, traditional, economical, non-touristy of the bunch. To start our journey into this wild frontier we took a three-day 4×4 tour with Mystic Atacama from San Pedro de Atacama,Chile over the Bolivian Andes to the Uyuni Salt Flats—which satisfied all the aforementioned adjectives to a T. With no hot water, no heat, 15,000+ feet of elevation and some serious off-roading, it was definitely a stark change from our luxury stay at Awasi…and we loved every minute of it.


The Toyota Land Cruiser, our faithful steed for the next three days, appears loaded down with all our gear, food, water, extra tires, a come-along, 100 liters of petrol, huge bags of coca leaves and some Bolivian tunes (and a curious amount of J-Lo) to keep us rocking.


There must be something with the dry climate or the altitude in the Bolivian Andes, but the sky, clouds and lakes combined for the most vivid reflections.


Climbing up to our highest peak on the journey, we came up on a field of steaming geysers and burping mud pits. Here is one that I caught just as the earth sent a pocket of air through the sludge creating the most insane shape.


At the end of day one we stopped at a natural hot spring overlooking a lake rimmed with volcanoes (okay, before someone calls me out in the comment section below, there was hot water once on the trip ;). Here Anne and our car-mates Sabina, Justine and Anna are soaking in the quality views.


After a very cold night at 15,150 feet elevation in a army-style barracks, we were rewarded with a visit to Lago Colorado. Red algae has turned this lake the most surreal shade of burnt sienna and gives its 1000s of flamingo inhabitants even pinker plumes.


To propel themselves into flight, flamingos run along the water while flapping their huge wings for the first 30 or 40 meters until then soar above the reflective surface. It was quite the sight.


The Arbol de Piedra (tree of stone) was one of the many other-worldly things we saw on our journey. No security ropes, no park entrance fee, just wild expanses of amazing.


Our lunch spot on day two was filled with more super contrast skies and of course more volcanoes peppering the horizon. The lunches–usually chicken, rice, salad and fruits served on the back of the truck tail gate–were pretty fancy for roadside picnics.


This part of the trip was very unexpected, and not even an official stop, but it was quite possibly my favorite part of the entire three days. They call it the City of Rocks, and you could easily spend a day wandering through the never-ending maze created by lava flowing millions of years ago.


After a brief run in with a rock that didn’t like our truck tire we made our way to our second to last stop at the Train Graveyard on the outskirts of Uyuni. With over 10 locomotives and 50+ train cars, this is the final resting stop for the nation’s coal-powered granddaddies.


The Uyuni salt flats are 10,582 square kilometers of dried up ocean, creating mirage-like expanse white cracking crystal sheets and are the largest in the world. Tourists come from far and wide while salt harvesters spend the day with a pick axe and shovel, filling up their truck beds and doing their best to avoid the blinding sun.


In the center of the flats is the old salt hotel which happened to be hosting a three-day rave that weekend. Each participating DJ’s nation was represented with a flag driven into an island of salt.


One of the traditions when you make it to the salt flats of Uyuni is to use the reflective white ground and bright blue sky to play with depth of field and scale to take some trippy photographs. Yummmm…..


Twelve of us started this epic journey, and only 11 made it to its completion (kidding, my can is empty because someone has to be the photographer, and the 10 second delay on the camera wasn’t enough to make the 150-meter run).


If you ever get to this region of our amazing planet, you must do one of these multi-day tours from Chile to Bolivia or from Southern Bolivia to the Uyuni Salt Flats, as you’ll see from the rest of the photos below its of the most picturesque landscapes you may ever come across.


Which photo from this wild ride is your favorite?


12 thoughts on “Traversing Bolivia by 4×4: Atacama to Uyuni

  • July 2, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Can the photos get any better?? Wow!

    • August 5, 2012 at 10:48 pm

      ken, your comments are always so flattering. so glad you like the photos. if you ever like one especially a lot, feel free to ask me for the full size version of it, and you can have the photo store print it out for you. i would be honored to have one hanging in your house.

  • July 2, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    As creative as the last couple shots are, the burping mud pit is my favorite photo. That is art.

  • July 5, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    nothing rough about that “hot” tub … 

    • July 16, 2012 at 7:24 pm

      well, it was more like a concrete tub with stones in the bottom, fed from a volcanic hot spring…..but yeah, the view was beautiful 🙂

  • July 6, 2012 at 6:32 am

    Wow!  Your photos are incredible.  It brings me right back to when I was doing this tour back in 2010 🙂  I’d do it again in a heartbeat!  

    • July 16, 2012 at 7:26 pm

      Thanks for the love Samuel and Audrey…didnt know you guys were following along :). Glad you liked the photos and we could transport you guys back there!

  • July 10, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    I love the can photo!

    Also, did you go to the rave?

    • August 5, 2012 at 10:44 pm

      yeah that can photo was a long time in the planning phase. since it says Salta which is the region we were in for the salt flats. glad you liked it Rashaad. And some people went to the rave…however Anne and I opted for some more chill local music over in Uyuni….heard the rave was fun though. 54 hours of madness.


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