We spent several weeks in Andes mountains. We did a few hikes (including one to Machu Picchu) and explored many of the most popular attractions in the south. After leaving Peru and crossing into Bolivia, we raced across the Altiplano on our way south. We rode mountain bikes down the world’s most dangerous road, took pictures of flamingos in colourful lakes and spent a few days exploring San Pedro de Atacama, one of the driest places on earth.
South America is full of adventures, and the Andes is where you will find more than enough exhilaration to keep you happy for days, weeks and months. The changing scenery delighted our senses. Our time on the continent was short, we were on a strict timeline and never struggled to fill our days with adventure. The road had been long. We haven’t been below 2000 meters (6500 feet) in about 3 weeks now, since we had arrived in Arequipa. Sine we only had 6 weeks on the continent, we continued on our mission and pushed ourselves forward.
In La Paz, we took a trip down the world’s most dangerous road before heading south towards the Salar de Uyuni. We have a whole story about Bolivia’s “Death Road”, which we are saving for a rainy day…
The Salar de Uyuni is one of the most famous desolate landscapes in the world. It was blisteringly hot during the day and shockingly cold at night. The different colours of the shine brightly in the sunshine – the whites of the salt flats, the pink of the Flamingos, and the orange, red and yellow of the sandy desert. It was absolutely beautiful and highly recomended to those who want to visit another planet without having to leave Earth.
Salar de Uyuni
One of the most surreal places on the planet is the Salar de Uyuni. It is the worlds largest salt flat and is surrounded by volcanoes, dry desert climates and ancient lagoons. It is also home to Flamingos. The definition of surreal.
The best way to experience this place is to take a 3 or 4-day tour, which covers the Uyuni as well as the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve. There are many lagoons and other smaller or lesser known Salt Flats located in this protected area of Bolivia. All at a stunning altitude above 4000-meters (13,000-feet) above sea level. It takes your breath away.
Our journey began our tour early in the morning in Uyuni after an overnight bus from La Paz. Luckily, we quickly found a group that was leaving in less than 2 hours and off we went. We spent 2-nights in the ultracold high altitude deserts, driving around these amazing landscapes in a Land Rover. It is definitely one of the highlights of our visit to Bolivia. It is also very convenient for most backpackers, as this acts as your transportation to San Pedro de Atacama. Otherwise, it’s possible to end up back in Uyuni.
2 day / 3 night tour from Uyuni to the border.
The tour begins in Uyuni, with the first stop being the Train Graveyard (a bunch of trains that sit rusting in the harsh climate) which is especially cool because you get to climb around on broken trains. It was like an adult playground. We stopped for lunch at an old salt hotel, which is also an important stopover point for the Dakar Rally. After lunch we went into the salt flats.
The salt flats are famous for being an amazing place to take perspective photography. We finished the day with a beautiful sunset over the vast expanse of the Salt Flats as our backdrop.
The second day we crossed into the Salar de Chinguana and across the desert plains. We made several stopovers at some of the massive Lagoons (such as Coloradas and Canapas). There are several towering volcanoes that dominate the landscape. Many of these massive lagoons are home to three different types of Flamingos. We entered the southern national park – the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve – and finished the day with a visit to some of the exposed Geysers that sputtered gasses and steam into the cold desert. We spent the night in a beautiful hotel overlooking a water. It was very relaxing as we sat in the nearby hot springs and watched the sunset over the lagoon.
Day threes is short for those of us heading to Chile (and skipping the 7-hour drive back to Uyuni). The final morning we passed through the aptly named Salvador Dali desert. Our last stop at Laguna Blanca, where we said goodbye to our new friends and crossed the border into Chile.
San Pedro de Atacama
The Atacama desert is one of the driest places on earth. There are only a few places to seek refuge from the sun-baked landscape. During the day the heat can be unbearable and at night the temperatures can drop below zero very quickly. While there isn’t much life that survives in this climate, there are several oasis’ located throughout the desert. We chose to spend a few days in San Pedro, a bustling tourist town. This destination has become a jumping off point for exploring this region.
We had just traveled across southern Bolivia, exploring the Salar de Uyuni and surrounding landscapes. We quickly left the mountains and entered the flat expanse of the Atacama Desert. It was dry and hot and much different than the climates we had just experienced. After 3 days of roughing it a little bit and a lot of driving, it was nice to find a place to settle for a bit and recharge (and most importantly, catch up on laundry!). San Pedro is a cool little oases’ town that has transformed into a backpackers hub, and there are many great places to eat and drink in the town.
We only had 2 and a half days to explore San Pedro and it’s surroundings, so we wanted to find a few unique destinations to visit, and experience as much as we could.
There were many adventures and day-trips for us to choose between; there were several places in the desert that we could explore, from salt flats with flamingos to towering sand dunes. Since we had just come from Bolivia (and spent several weeks in the mountains) and had just explored the Salar de Uyuni, we decided to go for something a little bit different.
Valle Luna and Valle Jere
The first day we went to explore the Valle de Luna – the valley of the moon – which gets its name from the out of this world landscape. It really did feel like we were on a different planet. It was a surreal world, surrounded by sand dunes, ancient salt deposits from long forgotten oceans, and standing rock formations. Watching the sunset over the valley was definitely one of the highlights of our trip to the desert.
On our second day, we explored a little off the beaten track spot located 40-minutes out of town. This was known as the Valle Jere. This was unlike any other spot in the surrounding areas. This small canyon was green, filled with lush trees and bushes. It was a great place to go for a short hike. It was cool and protected from the extreme mid-day heat. The best part was we didn’t have to bump into many other tourists.
We would love to go back and explore more of this unusual place. 3 days in Chile was not long enough to really explore. Before we a chance to say hello, we were back on the road to Argentina. We hope you enjoy the video of our exploration.
Bolivia’s Death Road:
We decided to do something crazy while visiting La Paz, and decided to ride mountain bikes down the “World’s Most Dangerous Road”. The North Yungas Road – sometimes known as the Death Road – connects La Paz to the jungle of the North East. From the summit at La Cumbre (4600-meters) along a treacherous mountain road that travels 60-km to Coroico (1200-meters), this road is famous for all the wrong reasons.
Despite a new route which makes the old road more or less obsolete, we witnessed how dangerous it could be when we saw a car off the road within 10-minutes of our ride. At least 18 mountain bikers have died on this road since 1998. We lived to tell the story, and are excited to share it with you.
Bonus Video: Telefrico ride from La Paz to El Alto
La Paz has invested into a unique mass transit system to try and eliminate some of their traffic problems. La Paz is built into a narrow valley, which makes it a challenge. A large portion live on the high plains above, in the city of El Alto. This is where the Telefrico comes in, a series of Gondolas that get people from point A to point B. We took a ride from the bottom of the valley to the top at El Alto during sunset and got to see one of the best views of the city, and made a short video for the world to see.
Driving Across the Salar de Uyuni:
The 3-day Salar de Uyuni tour is the best way to see one of the most surreal places on the planet. Located in the south of Bolivia, it is home to the worlds largest salt flat, as well as desert plains, beautifully coloured lagoons, flamingos, and Volcanoes. All sitting well over 4000-meters above sea level. It was blisteringly hot during the day and shockingly cold at night, but it was a highlight of our 6-week trip to South America. It was a magical experience.
Bonus: Giants of the Salar de Uyuni:
Here is a little bonus video that relates to the Salar de Uyuni. While exploring the vast expanse of the Salt Flats – the Famous Salar de Uyuni in southern Bolivia – we encountered one of the very rare Uyuni Giants that call this strange environment home.
Exploring San Pedro de Atacama:
We spent two and a half days in the Atacama desert, in Northern Chile, finding a world unlike any other existing in the dry desert climate. We made the decision to visit two valleys in the surrounding areas, two vastly different landscapes in this surreal world.
The first was Valle Luna, which looks like another world; the valley is dry and full of salt deposits from a long-lost sea. The second valley was much different, green and lush, surrounded by dry desert about 40 minutes out of town, and it was nice to go for a hike in the cool fresh air.