A guide to Uyuni

18 Jan

Uyuni, Bolivia’s signature attraction, is the largest salt-flat in the world and probably the only natural resource which Bolivia has managed to not lose to its neighbors.  Depending if your source is the Bolivia government or international experts, the salt flats also hold 33% or 50% of the world’s lithium supply, which is under plans to be extracted soon without the help of North Korea, China, or any foreign companies or experts.

Much like what I felt when I saw Rome, I felt a bit underwhelmed when I finally made the trip, after 10 months of being in Bolivia.  People idealize the place.  The photos idealize the place. Its beauty really depends when you see it.  Although there is a risk of your car getting stuck, the rainy season is the best, though horribly cold.  Compare this gorgeous rainy-season photo which I stole from a friend to when I went:

Me running with troll hair and tummy showing...v.Sports Illustrated-like!

The Journey From Cochabamba:  Trip Details

  1. The Lonely Planet Guide from 2010 is spot on, except for the lecture about the dangers of being cheap.  All the tours are really the same.
  2. I took the 10:30 a.m. bus from Cocha to Oruro on Friday, arriving in Oruro at 3:00 p.m. (always allow a hour more than what the bus operators tell you the arrival time will be) and caught the 3:30 Expreso del Sur train to Uyuni just in time.  The ride was quite comfortable, not cold at all!  Btw, it is possible to turn your chairs around to face the direction that the train is going.  There’s a dining cabin on the train, though pricey, average meal ~Bs.30.  Bus ticket to Oruro: Bs.25.; Second-class ticket train ticket: Bs. 56.
  3. The train arrived in Uyuni at 11:00 p.m.  and I holed up in Hotel Avenida for the night, which was excellently clean (no electricity sockets though) and a block away from the train station.  I’m usually afraid of entering towns at night, but there’s a ton of people surrounding you from the train and tour agencies accosting you at night, so safety in numbers.  There is cell-phone reception on the train, so I made a reservation for Hotel Avenida ahead of time, though there were a few vacancies still left this time of the year.  One night at Hotel Avenida with a shared bathroom but single room: Bs.30.  Shampoo: Bs.2; Note: you can buy only showers at Hotel Avenida which is useful coming back from the trip in between the hours before taking a night-bus to the next destination.  Bs. 10.
  4. Trying to decide between tour agencies:  This may be tough to do because everyone will tell you small lies and they will also tell you that the other agency is lying.  The best way is to find some people who have just gotten back from the trip and ask them how it was.  Usually trips come back around 3-5 p.m.
  5. There are rarely any 4-day trips to Tupiza.
  6. Tour Agency:  Oasis was excellent.  Ask for Omar, the driver.  It is a bit pricier than other agencies (Bs.700 vs. Bs. 560) and the difference is the food, though they will tell you that they go on a different route than other people (this is not particularly true.)  Also, the credit card machine does not really work; bring cash. You can ask to see a copy of the menú.  I remember we were eating chicken milanese while others were eating canned tuna.  And Omar does not get drunk or isn’t late, which is what happened to a few other agencies along our trip.  But you may want to bring a USB of your music, as Omar is a fan of the Backstreet Boys.  Omar does not speak English.
  7. The Cold:  Not too bad!  At least in December, in the summer.  The first night was perfectly warm inside a salt hotel, which had a shower that cost Bs.10.  The second night was a bit chillier (I woke up time to time from the cold and might have gone into a fetal position), but bearable inside a more shack-like hotel without a shower.  I didn’t use a sleeping bag.  Recommend to bring:  a windbreaker (lots of wind, that will give you hair whiplash as well), and sunscreen (I got a bit sunburnt).  And the hot springs is absolutely lovely and warming.
  8. You can be dropped off at the border of Chile around 8:30 am. on the third day and won’t miss a thing of the tour, b/c the rest is a loong drive back.  The only stop, San Cristóbal, is a mining town where you only see the store.
  9. If you’re in a hurry, don’t eat at the Italian Pizza Restaurant filled with gringos and country flags.  It takes about 1 hr and half to get a pizza.
  10. To get back to Cocha:  I took the 8:00 p.m. bus, which is supposed to arrive in Oruro around 3:30 a.m. and then you can immediately catch another bus to Cocha.  This didn’t happen to me, because I accidentally bought a ticket from the wrong company (16 de Julio [Bs.40] instead of TransOmar [Bs.70]…there were right next to each other! And of course, I fell for the guy yelling Oruro!).  On the way, two of our tires fell flat and the spare tire was also bad.  Luckily, there were two buses behind us and we borrowed a tire from each and a team of 8 confused people screwed the tires on over the course of an hour and some debates.  We arrived in Oruro at 5:30 a.m. and luckily, there was one TransAzul bus to Cocha departing at 5:40 (the next one is at 7:40).   The bus-ride was a little chilly but not as horrendous as the Lonely Planet makes it out to be.   I arrived in Cocha at 10:30 a.m. and took an hour bath.

One Response to “A guide to Uyuni”

  1. Los Fogg February 9, 2011 at 8:46 pm #

    The best thing is that Omar really thought that you liked the Backstreet Boys:

    “I don’t care who you are
    Where you’re from
    What you did
    As long as you love me
    Who you are
    Where you’re from
    Don’t care what you did
    As long as you love me”

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