It is said that a tour through the Uyuni Salt Flats and high southwestern deserts is a highlight to any visit to Bolivia. We could not agree more! We rode for three days in a Land Cruiser from Tupiza to the Chilean border, and witnessed some scenery that was at times simply hard to believe. Sometimes it seemed we were in Utah, sometimes Arizona, sometimes Death Valley, and sometimes another planet entirely.
The salt flat at Uyuni are the world's largest, and sit at roughly 3500 meters above sea level. We spent approximately 3 eerie hours driving across the wide white expanse, an experience that was slightly unsettling. We spent the night in a hotel made of salt, and just to be sure we did lick the walls, as we guessed most guests do.
After leaving the salt flats we continued through an incredibly barren, cold, and scenic series of landscapes, often above 4000 meters, sometimes 5000 meters. Even in these enviroments the salty lakes had birds, and we often saw Vicunas (wild relatives of llamas) that seemed to survive on nothing but the thin air.
We visited a very interesting cemetary near the village of San Juan. Incas, or their antecendants, had carved crypts out of a group of volcanic rock outcrops. Corpses, soon to be mummies, and their worldly belongings were placed in the open cavities, many are still there today for the viewing.
Another highight was a stop at a nice hot thermal pool at the edge of a saline lake, well above 4000 meters in elevation. The warmth and setting were quite enjoyable. More warmth would have been appreciated, as that night was spent in an unheated hostel – in bed under a pile of blankets by 7PM! Although sorry that the tour was over, we were looking forward to lower elevations and higher temperatures.
On to Chile!