Bolivia: Flooded Salar de Uyuni – A Wet Season Mirror (7 Days)
There are few places in this world where we go to time and time again, year after year, and never get tired of it.
That place is the Salar de Uyuni when it is flooded!
If there ever was a natural spectacle that merits an award, an applause or a bow from us, it is when the world’s largest salt flat floods for about four months every year. The rainy season in Bolivia is from December to March and that is when Bolivia gets their rain – and specifically the Bolivian highlands get their snow – which causes flooding on the Altiplano.
At 11,890′ above sea level (3,625m), the lowest spot on the Altiplano is at the Salar de Uyuni – known as the Salar de Thunupa to the natives who know the real story. Interestingly enough, that’s about the same height as downtown La Paz, which is approximately a 7-10 hour drive north from the town of Uyuni along the Altiplano – depending on the season and road conditions. This photo tour is all about making photos during the end of the rainy season, when the waters go down and it’s safe(r) to drive onto the salt flats. As you can imagine, salty water and electricity do not play nice together.
Grab your rubber boots and come play with us in the flooded Salar de Uyuni!
We spend a day around La Paz to get sorted out and acclimatized before we head south via a northern route to the salar to make amazing photos. The natural mirror that is created here is like being in another world – one in which you do not know which way is up. You can make perfect mirror reflections – with volcanoes and purple mountains at your horizon line – with an ocean of salty water flowing slowly across your feet.
The cactus-covered islands are a safe haven and a great place to get the 360-degree perspective that are only possible during this time of the year. If conditions permit, we have an option to spend one night on an island as the photo ops are so amazing from that vantage point that it’s just something that should not be missed! We spend the nights in hotels at different locations in order to access different points of view and perspectives.
The water-logged landscape around the edges yields a rainbow of colors that is open to interpretation and photos are everywhere, you just need to look around you. We recommended you come prepared to get wet and salty – that means rain gear and rubber boots, as well as warm clothes since the Altiplano is rarely a balmy place.
The sun certainly does come out and when it does it’s like being on a glacier – plenty warm and beautiful with mind-blowing landscapes in front of you. When the sun decides to set, get ready for a spectacle that is second to none, especially when there is water. We’ve had days where the sunrises were as spectacular as the sunsets and shot so much that we were totally exhausted at the end of the day.
We want to share this with you. Join us on the flooded Salar de Uyuni…you’ll have an experience you will never forget!
Tour Dates: January 18-24, March 22-28, 2015, & March 29 – April 4, 2015
Tour length: 7-days
Difficulty level: Easy to moderate due to the altitude
Group Size Limit: 10
Tour Highlights: La Paz, flooded Salar de Uyuni, Altiplano, salt hotels, mummies, volcanoes, wild vicunas, pink flamingos
Pricing is in $ US dollars:
7-10 people: 2,100.00
4-6 people: 2,450.00
2-3 people: 2,975.00
1 person: 3,495.00
Deposit:$ 500.00/per person (this is non-refundable administrative fee)
*International airfare is NOT included in price
Inclusions: As per the itinerary: hotels, meals as noted (B,L,D), private transport, bi-lingual guides, airport transfers, decades of experience and local knowledge
Anyone can book a single spot on any tour at any time. These prices reflect the cost for one person, based on the total number of fully-paid people booked on a trip. If you have more people in your group and/or if the total number of people rises, the cost per person goes down. These prices are NOT based on a person or complete group bringing in a set amount of people on a tour. As more people book a spot on a tour the lower price is spread among all the participants. Thus we encourage you to include friends and family to join you so everyone gets a lower price.
– ITINERARY –
Typically, flights to Bolivia depart late in the evening from Miami and arrive in La Paz the next morning. Depending on your airline, you would arrive at different times on day 1 in La Paz. Please let us know your flight info so we can coordinate pick-ups and other services. International airfare is NOT included in this itinerary.
For airline tickets, please contact our ticketing agent GEO Travel 1-800-938-7285.
Day 1: Arrival in La Paz, Bolivia – City Tour
Arrive in La Paz early in the AM. The altitude at El Alto International Airport is 13,200 ft and is on the Altiplano, so it’s common to feel symptoms of light-headedness, shortness of breath and slight nausea upon arrival. After doing immigration and customs you’ll be met by us at the general passenger meeting point where you will board our private vehicle and head down into La Paz, loosing altitude quickly, and likely feeling much better. We suggest you have a basic photo kit easily accessible so you can take photos along the way. The hotel is located in the Valley of the Moon sector at the lowest level of La Paz (approximately around 10,200’) where you will check in and rest, relax or sleep for the rest of the morning. Lunch at the hotel. At 2 PM we begin a 3-hour city tour of this fascinating city deep in the heart of the Andes; visiting the busy downtown, the open air markets, and the colonial neighborhoods with great views of the city. Dinner together to talk about the upcoming days. We recommend a light dinner, avoid alcohol and caffeine tonight and drink plenty of water and mate de coca during the day. Overnight at Hotel Oberland (3*). (L, D)
Day 2: La Paz – Tiwanaku & Lake Titicaca – La Paz
To continue the acclimatization process and still see amazing things we head to Tiwanaku and Lake Titicaca on a day trip today. We depart to Tiwanaku after breakfast for an in-depth tour of this pre-Inca port city with a professional bi-lingual guide who will explain the history of Tiwanaku, the Incas and the ties with modern Bolivian society. Lunch in Tiwanaku. A short drive puts us on the shores of Lake Titicaca to see it’s beautiful blue waters, the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,500 ft asl. We begin our journey back to La Paz in the afternoon crossing the Andes once again and be back at the hotel in the late afternoon. Dinner on your own tonight. Overnight at Hotel Oberland (3*). (B,L)
Day 3: La Paz – Salinas de Garci Mendoza – Jirira
After climbing out of the canyon of La Paz we head south on the paved road towards Oruro (a mining city and famous Carnaval venue) in order to gas up and have lunch. We continue south (in between Lake Poopo to the west and the Andes mountains to the east) along the Altiplano with ever-changing scrubb-grass vistas until the paved road ends. From here a few more hours on challenging dirt roads will get us to Salinas de Garci Mendoza, for a break and gas. We continue along the rugged flanks of Mt. Thunupa to Jirira, a small agricultural village that lives by growing quinoa and potatoes in a wind-blown patch of sandy dirt on the south-east side of Mt. Thunupa, a colorful, dormant volcano that dominates the skyline. After a refresh and rest we have dinner in Dona Lupe’s Posada. Overnight at Dona Lupe’s Posada (2*) (B,L,D)
Day 4: Jirira – Coquesa – Tahua
We have many options today for making photos so we can stay on the mainland or dabble at the edges of the salt flat. It is always a great idea to get up before sunrise and walk to the edge as the location here produces amazing photos looking towards the sunrise or to the west. Anywhere you point your lens should provide great images. Depending on water levels, we enter the salt flats via the villages of Jirira, Coquesa or Tahua, all of which sit below Thunupa Volcano so we can experience a little of what the flooded salar is like. Lunch in Jirira. We want to get up high on the volcano for one of the most spectacular views in the region for sunset so we drive up about a thousand feet onto the flanks of Mt. Thunupa. Our parking spot also happens to be a few minutes walk from mummies that are kept in a cave for people to come and visit them. It’s quite a day. We finish the day in the village of Tahua where we will check into Hotel Tayka de Sal (a hotel made of salt!) and have time to freshen-up before dinner. Overnight at Hotel Tayka de Sal (3*). (B,L,D)
Day 5: Tahua – Salar de Uyuni – Uyuni
We get up before sunrise for the quick drive to the edge of the salar. A great location just needs great light so we can make beautiful pictures, let’s hope mother nature cooperates this morning. We return to our hotel for breakfast then we head into the salt flats and begin our crossing. Our destination is the town of Uyuni today. Re-entering the salar from the north, we drive over the flat, hard-packed salt that is now flooded, driving slowly south to the center and Incahuasi Island where we will have time for a walk to the top of the island before having lunch. From the island we can see northwards towards Thunupa Volcano – the looming matriarch rising above everything else in the area to the north, massive volcanoes to the west and south and flickers of land to the east. The scenery is quite spectacular and you can get a 360 degree view of this other world about two hundred feet higher than the salt flat. After lunch we head east, arriving at the edge near the town of Colchani where the salt miners toil all day scraping, shoveling and making salt pyramids to drain them of water before processing it. It’s a fascinating sight and sunset here can yield amazing photographs. We depart after sunset and drive the 30-40 minutes to Uyuni, our destination for tonight. Time for a quick refresh before dinner. Overnight at Hotel La Magia de Uyuni (3*). (B,L,D)
Day 6: Uyuni – Cayara (near Potosi)
We visit the train graveyard after breakfast for a look at dozens of rusting hulks of steel that were once used to run the mining economy of Bolivia when steam engines and mineral barons were kings. Now they just lie here, rusting away in the salty bitter winds of the lonesome Altiplano. They do provide a great variety of photo ops so we will indulge our creative minds for a bit here. Our direction today is northeast towards Potosi – the sky-high imperial colonial city that made the Spanish rich. We will actually spend the night at Hostal Cayara (below Potosi) – a colonial-era hacienda that is a jewel and is sure to be remembered by all who visit her. The drive is about 3 hours on a new paved road and very impressive. The terrain and scenery along the way encompasses river canyons, rugged mountains and mining centers, still active after centuries of exploitation. The red earth and weeping willows are a beautiful contrast to the desert-like Altiplano we just left. We should arrive in time for a late lunch in Potosi, the world’s highest major city, that sits at 3,960m/12,989′ asl. After a brief visit we head down to a nicer climate and Cayara. After checkng in and a personal tour of this living museum we’ll have dinner. Overnight at Hostal Cayara (3*). (B,L,D)
Day 7: Cayara – Oruro – La Paz
The drive to La Paz will take a good part of the day but is pretty spectacular because it stays high in the mountains for the first half of the trip and it’s on a paved road all the way to La Paz so, it’s fast and comfortable. Along the way you will see multi-colored valleys, high peaks, green puna with llamas and alpacas grazing. The closer we get to La Paz you will see the glacier-covered peaks of the Cordillera Real rising above the Altiplano. The scenery is truly amazing and should provide plenty of visual appeal along the entire route. We should arrive in La Paz in the early evening. Group dinner at a local restaurant to celebrate a wonderful and adventurous journey of the Bolivian highland region. Overnight at Hotel Oberland (3*). (B,L,D)
-End of our services-
Day 8: La Paz – Home
We provide a complimentary shuttle service to the airport for those departing the next day. Please let us know your schedule ahead of time so we can coordinate your airport transfer schedule.
Below is a regional map with the route (subject to change). This will give you the big picture of where the tour goes.
Feel free to contact us if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.