3P-Info Part: Salar de Uyuni

The Salar de Uyuni is one of the most amazing places I have ever visited.

Crossing it on a motorbike is priceless. Don’t miss it.

Get there:

To get to Uyuni from LaPaz there are basically two options:

1. direct road from Challapata to Uyuni

2. continue in Challapata on the Ruta 1 to Potosi and then go west to Uyuni.

The first option is a really bad road. Lots of cur rogations, sandy parts, lots of construction. They are building a new road, so in a few months this might be a good option. But certainly till middle of 2015 this is a very bad road for 160km. But it is very beautiful and there a nice spots to pitch your tent on the way (eg. rock formations few km before Rio Mulatos).

The second option is all paved and in good conditions. Potosi seems to be a nice city with a silver mine. So this is by far the easier route.

It case in rains:

In case it had rained, it is strongly recommended (by a lot of people, including local guides and international motorbike guides) to not enter on your own motorbike. That is especially the case for modern motorbikes with a lot of electronic equipment. The water splashes everywhere and may cause serious problems. After a day, or a week or a month…

When the lake is whet (in ourcaseonly the first few hundret meters) the salt really gets everywhere.

Some people had to leave their motorbike there as the electrics got so badly torn up, that it was not repairable. Of course you can also go with your own bike if it is wet, if you are lucky you won’t have any problems.

You can rent motorbikes though (small Honda 400ccm which are big fun or more powerful DR650).

You can rent them at MTB: http://www.motorcycletoursuyuni.com

They only rent including guide at 200$ per day. Thats quite pricy, but totally worth it. The alternative would be to take one of the many 4×4 organised tours. That is a lot cheaper, but you miss the feeling of riding a motorbike on the salar, which is fantastic.

If the Salar is dry it is safe to go on your own bike

Ride into the void:

There are only few places where you can enter the Salar.

Don’t enter anywhere else and only use the tracks from the 4×4. Off the tracks the surface can be very soft so that you may sink your bike and need a 4×4 to pull it out.

The eastern entrance is in Colchani at the road from Chalapata to Uyuni at approx. 20km north of Uyuni (S20° 17.876′ W66° 56.130′). You can’t miss it. There are 2 salt hotels at the entrance. We haven’t stayed there, but people we met said it was interesting (plus you can see the sunset over the salar there).

Once you are on the Salar you can go wherever you want.

Once in the while little holes (up to 50cm diameter) offer a view into the world of salt crystals underneath (the locals call them “Ojos”). They are no danger and you can go and have a look.

There is an island where all the 4×4 organized tours go to (S20° 14.498′ W67° 37.671′): Isla Incahuasi (formerly Isla Pescado). It has a little hill and offers a fantastic view. Only enter the island from the northeastern end (where you will see some huts and during the day dozens of 4×4, as the rest of the surroundings of the islands may have a thin salt crust).

It is great fun to ride the bike on the Salar. It is not slippery at all.

After the visit make sure to clean your bike at one of the many washing places in town.

Salt

It is unreal! I can feel the wind. I can feel the engine working hard underneath me. I feel the vibrations of the wheels spinning at 80km/h. I know I am riding a motorbike and I have it all cranked up. I go as fast as this 400ccm Honda dirt bike runs.

And still: I don’t seem to move.

I see the hexagonal shaped salt structures fly by and I know I am moving.

But the vast, completely flat, white and endless surface of the Salar doesn’t give my brain the usual information that we usually combine with moving. Everything that I can see except the ground seems to stand still. This place really plays tricks on your mind.

I am on the Salar de Uyuni.

It is the largest salt lake in the world and it is a magic place.

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Originally we wanted to ride our bikes to one of the islands there and camp overnight. But we were unlucky with the weather. The evening before we wanted to go heavy rain softened the surface of the Salar. That is not a problem in terms of riding. But the salty water would get everywhere on the bike, causing problems everywhere, especially on the electronics.

We decided instead to rent some small 400ccm dirt bikes.

So the day after we rode our bike to MTB where Juan, our guide, was already waiting for us.

They have a really nice workshop there and a couple of different bikes.

We chose 400ccm Hondas and took off. We made a nice little loop on sandy roads to the eastern entrance of the salt lake.

Other than one would expect, you cannot enter the salt lake everywhere. There are only few entrances to the salt lake. Close to the land the salt surface gets very soft. Only few parts are solid. It is actually quite dangerous in some areas and a lot of people had to leave their bikes out there.

As we entered the Salar, we could see that large areas were covered in water. The salty water splashed over the bike, leaving a very thick rust of salt. You had to know the way very well. Once I got maybe 5m off the track and sank into the salt surface. I got out of the situation luckily by opening the throttle all the way.

On one of the little islands we had lunch. There are dozens of 4×4 standing around pouring hundreds of tourist on the little island. But that doesn’t reduce the magic of the place in any way.

In all directions it is white and flat. In the far distance you can see volcanoes that circle the salt lake.

The volcanoes are also one of the reasons why this is an important place for bolivian industry: the salt of the lake contains 70% of the worldwide lithium resources.

The surface is not entirely flat. When the salt had dried out some 20.000 years ago, it grew in hexagonal crystals which grew until the edges met each other. Water from underneath the salt lake moves up through these border lines, leaving salt crystals on the surface as the water vaporizes in the sun. The crystals stand out as high as 10cm, showing a pattern of hexagonal little walls as far as the eye can see.

Riding on the salt lake is like on tarmac. Not slippery as one could imagine. And it is great fun.

But we are happy we didn’t bring our own bikes. The small Hondas were covered in a thick salt layer.

We return to our little hotel after dark.

It was a perfect day and we need some time to allow the brain to accept that this place is real.

A dusty road and up the mountains

A little road leads all the way from Arequipa through the Salinas national park to Ouno at the Titicaca lake. It would be a pretty long way though and so we thought of instead take a daytrip with no luggage to a laguna in the Salinas NP. It turned out to be a great idea. First because the lake was really nice, and more importantly, we didn’t have any luggage with us: the road was a killer for being on the bikes.

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In endless curves it ran up a mountain. The road was one of the dustiest roads I have ever been on. In the curves the dust was 20cm deep with loose rocks underneath. So if you didn’t have enough speed your front wheel would slide and bounce from one side to the other. The only safe way beside speed was foot peddling through (Christies “powerwalk”).

We were covered in dust. But it was also a road of fantastic views.

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The next day we packed our bikes and took the main road to Puno. It was a great ride: good tarmac, a lot of Vacunas, Lamas and Alpacas, a wonderful landscape.

 

We enjoyed it a lot. It was very relaxing.