We arrived in Uyuni and because the town is nothing spectacular we hurried up in finding a hotel and went to look for an agency which could offer us a tour to the salt flats and the lagoons. If you google for deadly accidents in the Salt Flats you find a frightening amount of results. This is either because the Bolivians just like to drink alcohol (drivers included) or because of the bad condition of the 4WD cars that are used for the tours. If you think I’m exaggerating, read this… between 2008-2009 16 people died in the flats, including 13 tourists because of drunk drivers who were speeding. So I thought it’s worth spending a few hours google-ing for a tour agency which offers safe tours to probably one of the world’s most spectacular sceneries. There are more than 30 tour agencies which offer the typical 3 day tour which we were looking for. Only one, and I mean really only one did not have reviews with….you guessed…. drunk/speeding drivers and cars in a bad condition. I contacted them and they were fully booked for the next 10 days though their prices were 5 times higher than the ones of the competitors. So, in the end I had a list of other 4 – 5 tour agencies which had the least complains on tripadvisor and went to look for a tour. On my question if the drivers are allowed to drink alcohol most of the tour agents started laughing as if I was asking this question in Germany… but only two said they can guarantee that the drivers are not allowed to drive under the influence of alcohol and if they do they’re going to be fired…
In every tourist guide it is written that the driver and the group with which you are together decide if it’s going to be a great trip or one that you want to forget as soon as possible. Our guide, Beimar, first looked not to care about us at all, but after we started some conversations about the places, he told us more and more information about the nature and the history of Bolivia. In the end it was one of the greatest tours we have been to but we heard that others were not so lucky and at one of the stops in the salt flats we even saw a driver changing the brake pads of the car in the middle of the tour. I guess that in Bolivia there’s nothing like “preventive maintenance” in their vocabulary.
But like I said, our tour was a great one. First we went to a train cemetery outside of the town of Uyuni where we took some funny pictures. Then we went to Salar de Uyuni which is the world’s largest salt flat with over 10.000 square kilometers. To give you an impression on how much that is, think it’s around one quarter of the surface of Switzerland. Here we also saw the process of preparing the salt for selling. Because the desert is a very flat area you can take a lot of funny pictures which look like they were photoshopped. On the first night we slept in a hotel which is built mainly out of salt and which was an experience to remember. On the second day we went to a lot of lagoons with thousands of flamingos and spectacular views and on the third day we went to 5300m to see some other nice lagoons before heading for the border to Chile. Here, we had to pay another illegal tax (call it bribe or black money) for exiting Bolivia. It looks like there is a good reason why Bolivia is on the 118th place on the list of corruption perceptions index in the world because every customs or police officer will invent his own tax for which, of course, you will not get any receipt.
Santiago de Chile