Last year, we went to Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca with Llama Expeditions and had a great experience. It was a well planned trip with wonderful guides and excellent accommodations. When the opportunity emerged to be on their inaugural trip to the Salt Flats, we decided to travel with Llama Expeditions once more. The trip was really a combination of the Salt Flats and the Bolivian Highlands. As we had worked with Llama Expeditions previously, we were game for a new adventure even though we had never even thought of going to Bolivia prior to this trip.
We arrived in La Paz on the morning of May 8th. Some of us chose to leave a day early so we'd have extra time to acclimate to the high altitudes since La Paz is at roughly 11,800 feet. Last year, when we got off the plane in Cusco, I felt very light headed and found breathing difficult. This time, I took Diamox and it made a very big difference in my ability to handle the altitude. My husband arrived on the 9th and we left for Uyuni super early at 6:30 AM on Amazonas Airlines.
We spent two nights and three days in the highlands near the Chilean border in the Eduardo Avaroa national reserve which I'll discuss in another review. The next two nights were spent in Colchani right at the salt flats. Since we arrived fairly late, we checked into the Palacio de Sal, After a very early morning breakfast the following day, our drivers picked us up at 7:00. The salt flats are vast - about 4,000 square kilometers. The reflection of the sun off the salt is blinding. Make sure you have a good pair of sunglasses with you and wear them ALL the time.
After driving about 120 kilometers - roughly 72 miles - across the flats with our English speaking guide, Jeanett, we arrived at the Chiquiri Caves. These caves were discovered about 5 years ago. Thousands of years ago, the area used to be flooded and these "islands" in the salt were actually active volcanos. They'd spew lava which would tumble and fall into the cold waters since this was originally an inland sea. The geologic activity formed this particular cave (although they suspect there are many other undiscovered ones) which is quite lovely in the interior. It's not very large and only a portion of it has been dug through but the part that we saw was beautiful. From there, we drove to another part of the salt flats where the people of Colchani were harvesting salt. They explained the process to us and we all had a chance to try our hand at the pick axe and shovel. It is really hard work trying to peel away the layers of salt with a pick axe and shovel.
Then, we were off to Tahua to the "mothers" club where we met a group of women who weave and make all sorts of creations that they sell to tourists in order to better their lives. On this visit, we also went to the local school in Tahua and met many of the children who were quite curious about us.
Upon leaving Tahua, we went to the Chantani museum nearby, a creation of a very enterprising Bolivian who spent years finding all sorts of ancient artifacts in the surrounding mountains and created a museum interspersed with his sculptures. We were also invited to "herd" his llamas and have lunch out on their grasslands adjacent to the salt flats.
Our last stop was Isla Incahuasi, a "floating island" (there are roughly 50 or so of them) which is really an extinct volcano in the midst of the salt flats, covered with all sorts of cacti. The hike to the top was wonderful and the views were spectacular. If you like, you can go parasailing on the salt flats except that you are pulled by a car vs. a boat.
The rest of the day was spent taking those fun, "perspective" photos that you see all over the internet everytime you google the salt flats.
Our only regret was that this was the dry season and we were unable to get those amazing reflection shots. However, it's a trade off. During the wet season, you can only go to the edge of the salt flats where you can take these marvelous reflection photos. But, in the dry season, you can drive all over the salt flats (albeit with very qualified drivers who absolutely know where they are going or you can get seriously lost) and see things that you wouldn't be able to during the wet season. In some instances, you might be able to find a wet patch near the edge of the salt flats. Apparently, a Japanese group in our hotel did find such a spot and they managed to have some of these coveted photo opportunities.
Overall, we had a very good experience with a great guide and excellent drivers.
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