Big surprise – there was yet another strike in South America, blocking a road and preventing people from where they want to go. Luckily for us the strike blocking Uyuni and stopping people and/or causing delays from getting in or out of the Salt Flats didn’t affect us. John and I along with Alison and Shelby (who we met working at Loki Cusco) were determined to get there even if we had to take a road less travelled. Luckily for us, we found out some insider information from a wonderfully helpful man names Joel working at a tour agency in La Paz. He couldn’t get us on his tour since no buses were heading that way, so he did the next best thing and told us where to go.
We left La Paz around 10 a.m. on a bus to Oruro (20 Bolivianos, less than $3). A few hours later we arrived at the bus station. Joel let us know that we could take a bus from Oruro to a small town, located near the north of the Salt Flats, called Salinas de Garci Mendoza. We wandered the bus station asking everyone if they sold tickets to this town. Some had no clue what we were talking about and others told us we wouldn’t find a bus that heads that way in the actual bus station. Shelby asked the woman at the information booth and she gave us the name of the street where we could catch the local bus to Salinas de Garci Mendoza. Sweet. Let’s go!
We hoped in a cab that took us seven or eight blocks away to a very small bus “terminal” (if you could call it that, it looked more like a little office). We purchased our tickets (28bs – around $4), grabbed some lunch, and a couple hours later we were off. A few hours and one hell of a bumpy bus ride later, we arrived in Salinas de Garci Mendoza (around 11 p.m.). The bus dropped us off in the Plaza and as our buddy Joel suggested, we showed up to Camana Inn Hotel, which was located just around the corner from the square. We checked into the rooms and we were pretty sure there was no one else staying in this hotel. We were right. We asked the owner as we were checking in if we could do a tour of the Salt Flats the next day and he was very relaxed about it and said he would meet us downstairs at 9 a.m. I slept like a baby that night and woke up ready to go.
We ate breakfast and headed out to the square before making our way to the Salt Flats. This is when we realized how desolate this town really is. There were absolutely NO tourists and absolutely nothing except for what was in this tiny square, which wasn’t a whole lot. The people would look at us probably wondering what the heck we were doing there, the kids would yell “Gringos!” but overall everyone was really pleasant. Talk about sticking out like a sore thumb!
It only took about an hour to drive into the main part of the Salt Flats – the largest in the world! The Salar de Uyuni was formed from a dried up, prehistoric lake which left behind a thick salty crust. This place is beyond breathtaking and the perfect place to explore, snap some silly photos, and take in the unreal views of endless white ground that makes you feel as though you’re on another planet.
For this beautiful experience, one night at the hotel, and breakfast, we each paid 300 Bolivianos, which is around $44. Add the $7 for the buses there and $4 for the bus out of Salinas, we’re talking about $55 USD total for everything. Yes, we missed out on the chance to sleep there and stay in a salt hotel but mind you, that usually people can pay up to or even well over $100 for just the tour of the flats and because of the strike, drivers were charging much, much more and ripping people off to get them “around” it all. We were happy with getting in and out quickly and easily. Plus we got some beautiful shots together! We felt like we beat the tourist trap and we were feeling prettyyyy good about ourselves considering all that we saved.
Whether you’re coming from the south end of Bolivia and heading up to the Salt Flats or making your way from La Paz, it can totally be done. It never hurts to ask around and try to get the local inside scoop. Even though this can cause some uncertainty along the way, it could be a chance to save yourself a hell of a lot of money and make forever memories along a road less travelled. It’s always more fun that way and you’ll be proud of yourself for taking the risk!