I have been trying to decide how to answer the question about how to choose a Salar de Uyuni tour company (there are many). Although it is important to have good equipment and facilities, actually I think the key is who you are with. They like to put 6 passengers in a Land Cruiser. There will also be a driver/guide and there may be a cook. You will be sharing a car and sleeping rooms with the other passengers for 3-4 days. Hopefully you and the other passengers will be compatible. Also, don't expect fancy infrastructure or fine cuisine. If someone complains too much, the driver may get annoyed and not give good service or will be in a hurry to get back.
I have been on two tours out of Uyuni. I went with Colque Tours in 2003 and had a good experience. There were only 4 passengers, so we had more room. The food was good and ample enough. Their quarters in Chuvica were new and nice (6 twin beds and a bathroom in each room, running water and nice dining room). The food was tasty and the entertainment after dinner from the local orphange was excellent. Their facilities at Laguna Colorado were barely adequate (small rooms with 3 bunk beds each and shared, bad restroom facilities); however, they may have a new facility there now. This southern loop is 3-4 days and has some of the most amazing sights you will ever see.
I went to the northern Salar de Uyuni with Thunupa Tours in 2006. This time it was 4 passengers with a driver and cook. The service and food were excellent; however, the running water system in their Coquesa quarters broke down during the night and the bathrooms got pretty bad. Otherwise, their facilities in Coquesa are quite good. They have a covered central dining area and individual rooms with beds made of salt blocks. This location also has the advantage of being near the mummy caves at the base of a snow-capped volcano on the edge of the Salar.
In Jun 08 I happened to chat with my friend, Mario Nina (Zig-Zag Eco Tours and Treks in La Paz). He was then recommending Cordillera Tours in Uyuni. He said that they even have their own small salt hotel near San Juan.
Favorite thing: As for when to go, I have been in October and April. Both were good. The rainy season is November to March. If the water layer is thin, then its good for photography and no problem getting around. However, if it gets too deep, the surface could morph into an impassable quagmire. An alternative is to include the northern Salar in your tour, where the water runs off Mount Thunupa and onto the Salar (at least in April it was doing so). You can take your reflective photos there and travel on dry salt otherwise.
En Uyuni contratamos el tour para recorrer el Salar y terminar en San Pedro de Atacama (Chile )
Después de contactar a varias agencias , que básicamente ofrecían cosas muy parecidas , pues la verdad es que no hay opción ya que no hay infraestructuras en la zona , decidimos ir con Adriana Tours ( 70$ )
El tour consiste básicamente en : 3 días y 2 noches ; viaje en 4x4 ; conductor y cocinera ; todas las comidas ; alojamiento la primera noche en habitación doble con baño y la segunda en habitación comunitaria (6 personas y sólo hay luz de 6 a 8 ); saco de dormir ; el agua no está incluida ;autobús desde la frontera
Boliviana hasta San Pedro de Atacama
El viaje es duro , el "Soroche" ataca , pero quedamos muy contentos con el conductor y la cocinera y sobre todo con la experiencia de El Salar que es inolvidable
Fondest memory: In Uyuni we contracted the tour to visit the Salar and to finish in San Pedro de Atacama(Chile)
After speaking with several agencies , that basically offered very similar things , because they really do not have many options as there are not infrastructures in the area , we decided to go with Adriana Tours (70$)
The Tour basically is : 3 days and 2 nights ; travel in 4x4 ; driver and cook ; all meals ; lodging the first night in double room with "bath" and the second in common room (6 persons and there is light only from 6 to 8) ;sleeping bag ; water is not included ; bus from the Bolivian border to San Pedro de Atacama
The travel is hard , the Soroche "attacks" , but we were very happy with the driver and the cook and specially with the Salar experience that is unforgettable
Some 80 kms west of Colchani, the Inca Huasi Island or 'Isla de los Pescadores' is located in the middle of the Salari. The island is full of cacti and surrounded by a flat sea of salt.
Fondest memory: There are no words to describe this place.
The view of Laguna Colorado from a small hill offers a better idea of the color of this plankton-filled lake dotted with feeding flamingos.
Fondest memory: I'm not sure if it was the elevation, the exposure to the cold, or a general buildup of nerves from group travel where you often must subjugate your feelings to make things work, but I snapped. I said that either they would get up and let us pass or I would just go under the table. Before giving them any chance to respond, I veered up and plowed through as if a bull in a china closet. I had misjudged the narrowness of the space between the table legs, but as I made my rampage, I pulled the table along enough to spill their plates all over them. They stood up then, to wipe the remnants of food that had soiled their clothing. I raged off into my nearby room, cursing their indignity, and also to avoid further confrontation that would have inevitably come about had I stood at the end of their sullied table. Poor Doreen stood her ground yelling at them in German as the rest of our group came into the room to see if I was okay. My adrenaline was reeling but I managed to sit at the table and half-heartedly eat the hot food that was my goal all along. We joked about the whole ordeal to make light of the situation but there was a tension between the tables that was undeniable, and everyone in the hostel seemed to have seen the whole thing. The San Franciscans arrived shortly after and due to our efforts, had a much easier time getting the wankers to let them pass! But the funniest thing was after we had finished our meal, an old man approached our table and asked if we could let him pass. Before we could answer, he good naturedly started to crouch down, and teetered back and forth as if to make a run for it, and said, "or do I have to go under the table?"
It's tough to pick one thing about this amazing area what with the orange flamingo-clad Laguna Colorado and the vast salt plain of Salar de Uyuni but for me, looking out from Isla de Pescado was the highlight. This island seems to protrude through the "sheet" of salt that would seem like ice if it weren't for the heat! The six meter cacti that are abundant on the island only add to its allure and with a view of the Salar and a volcano, you can't ask for much more.
Fondest memory: The weather on the Bolivian altiplano though unpredictable does have one general rule. When the sun goes down, no matter how warm it has been, it will get cold. I learned this the hard way one afternoon. After being cooped up in the jeep for the better part of a day, I relished the idea of a post lunch wander and set off with Doreen and a couple from San Francisco that we had met on the Inca Trail a week earlier. They always had state of the art equipment and their clothing for the walk, though seemingly extravagant, was typical of them. Lunch had been late and I hadn’t paid attention to the hour when we set off, wearing just a fleece jacket with no wind/rain gear or even a hat. The sun still shone madly and it was warm despite a staunch wind. We stopped for a few photos of flamingos but we wanted to gain some elevation so as to get better shots of the plankton-filled orange lake that lay in the foreground of the perfectly conical shaped volcano that dominated the horizon. There was a ridge in the distance that would serve that purpose but with our late start, it would turn out to be a place to watch the sunset over the most surreal terrain I have ever come across. Pink flamingos dotted the sun infused orange lake and the green cone loomed in the distance, but as the sun went down, our lack of clothing became more apparent. Our friends looked cozy in their attire that turned out to be anything but extravagant. They stayed to get some close ups of the rare birds and we left happy with what we had captured on film. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
The mirror reflection of salt extraction workers in Colchani is another highlight.
Fondest memory: The walk back seemed further with no stops and with a bitter cold head wind that pierced the near useless fleece we both wore. I seethed about my forgetting the one essential, a hat. We were near frozen by the time we got back to the hostel where our group was staying that night. It seemed that every other group in the National Park was staying there as well and though relieved to be out of the wind, we found ourselves “trapped” in the narrow hallway that each group had unwittingly set their dinner tables in. A group was busy eating their meal so we tried another entrance but an even bigger group blocked it. We went back to the first one and patiently waited for the group to finish eating, half hoping that our obvious predicament would entice them to let us through. It was no use, they kept chewing and seemed oblivious to our existence. Finally, when they were done their meal, we asked if we could pass by and were told rather rudely that we would have to use another entrance or wait till they were done desert. I explained that the other ways in were blocked too and that our meal was done and waiting for us, just ten feet on the other side of their table, at which they scoffed it was tough. (read the conclusion below in Fondest Memory)
There are two things to see near to Uyuni. First of all there´s the Salar de Uyuni, the salt lake. You can do a day trip to the border of the lake to visit the hotel made of salt and production of salt as well or you do the 2 - 4 day trip to the laguna verde y laguna colorada, you can return or as well go straight to Chile this way.
Second beautiful and interesting place you have to visit in Uyuni is the cementary of trains near to the city ( Uyuni is a small village). It´s amazing to see all these old trains and waggons, oxidizing in the cold and dry air. Have a look!
Fondest memory: The hotel of salt in the salt lake is really amazing. Everything is build by salt-blocs.
Another fond memory is the cold wind in Uyuni that never stop. Other cities in the altiplano are cold as well, but in the sun it´s quite warm, but in Uyuni there´s such a intense wind all the time....that´s really cold!
The 4 days tour around Uyuni is one of the best memories of Bolivia, however please check carefully when choosing your tour agency.
Some of the agencies are recommended in various travel guides and the standards are good, but you can get the same or a better tour for cheaper by shopping around. One of the major problems is that often the jeep driver is also responsible for doing the guided tour, the cooking etc. Try to choose a tour where they have a separate driver & cook. not only will you eat better but your tour guide will be more relaxed & friendly!
finally I was there. my dream was true.
A 3700 mètres d'altitude, le Salar de Uyuni, forme un immense désert de sel (le plus grand du monde).
Fondest memory: It´s a great adventure going by Jeep into the salar....not so funny when after 5 km they have to change a wheel of the car....
Fondest memory: The view through the neverending salar, the reflexions of the sun in the thin water film over the salt...amazing!