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Uyuni salt flats – why pay more?

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Salar de Uyuni Salt Pentagons Bolivia

Uyuni salt flats – why pay more?

Many ask what the difference is between the 3 day Uyuni Salt Flats tour we offer and the more budget alternatives you will find advertised in Uyuni.

Kat travelled to Uyuni to find out first hand why it is worth stretching your budget and is sharing her experience with us.

“I had been to the Salt Flats before, many moons ago and at the time had been travelling on a shoestring. I went on the classic “backpacker” experience and still remember the cold we suffered in basic accommodation. God it was cold.

I wasn’t sure if with the years’ things had changed but in fact, my colleague Maria recently returned from her very own backpacker tour round the salt flats and tells me it has not.

 

She writes:

“When we arrived to our first shelter we found an adobe building with several bedrooms with 6 beds each – one room per jeep – and shared bathroom. No water for washing and no heating – at an altitude of 4980m. You can imagine how cold the nights get! It did have clean sheets and a clean bathroom, although we had to take water in to flush. Meals were basic although unlike the rest of the group I actually enjoyed them! And of course, the incredible landscapes did make up for cold nights and having to “rough it” – I guess being a backpacker I didn’t mind it being so basic.

I did also like our guide, Pedro, who was very enthusiastic. In fact, he was our guide, cook and driver. Most importantly he was a safe, reliable driver and didn’t speed in our 4×4. One of the biggest problems with budget tours is sadly the safety and the standard of driving. “

Maria was right of course – the landscapes in this part of the world are so incredible and unique that I clearly remember thinking I had landed on another planet. To date this is one of the most stunning parts of this world I have ever been to and one of many reasons why I have fallen in love with Bolivia.

So you can imagine my delight in finding that I was sent to see for myself how one can enjoy the same amazing Salt Flats and surrounding desert without being bitterly cold as soon as the sun sets early evening.

 

Salar de Uyuni Salt Pentagons Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni, salt pentagons, Bolivia

 

Our groups stay at the a group of 4 community run hotels – the Salt Hotel, the Stone Hotel, the Desert Hotel and the Hotel of the Volcanoes. Each one is in a truly picturesque location, at the edge of the salt flats (Salt Hotel), towering over a little community of alpaca herders (Stone Hotel) and indeed completely isolated in the middle of the Altiplano desert (guess what, yes, the Desert Hotel) with breath taking views.

What is most wonderful is the idea behind the hotels. They are built on land rented from the communities, in the most unobtrusive way possible. The locals have been involved since day 1 and many have found jobs in the hotels or because of them – in areas where little grows and most make money from alpaca & llama herding this is a vital life line and a way to give alternatives to the younger generation – cooks, guides, receptionists, chamber maids are just some of the options now available to the villagers. A share of profits goes to the communities. The project has been giongfor 9 years and in another 5 years the hotels will pass over into the hands of the villagers who are being trained to run the hotels.

Hotel rooms are ensuite, of good standard, clean and – above all – WARM. Oh yes, heating and a warm shower was enough to make me happy. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t describe them as luxurious, but I didn’t need luxurious. When I visited they were getting an overhaul and rooms were re-decorated, adding lovely touches using local materials from the hotel surroundings, textiles with indigenous patterns, warm colours. The meals I had were delicious and staff friendly.

4×4 jeeps are well maintained, drivers reliable and oxygen is carried in each vehicle for those who suffer at this the altitude.

 

salar-de-uyuni-jeep-bolivia

Salar de Uyuni salt flats

 

Most importantly however, what I hadn’t realised was that the tour as we offer it does not just define itself by the fact that you’ll be staying in comfortable hotels and are contributing to the local communities. No, you also will find that you are following a slightly different route compared to the more budget tours, especially on the first two days. As we started out on the salt flats part (day 1) we were surrounded by 4x4s all heading to the islands in the middle of the flats. We then however continued on to a part of the Salar little visited and it was there that I felt the magic of the salt flats more – watching the most beautiful sunset for example, just us. A hill that we chose to climb (optional) to enjoy magnificent views over the salt, just us. A cave with well-preserved mommies (Coquesa) which we visited, just us. I think it was the fact that we were wandering off the beaten track wherever possible that made me enjoy this variation of tour even more.

That and the fact that I felt I was part of a worthy project, bringing out the benefits of responsible tourism.

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