If you are planning on visiting Bolivia, then the chances are you have heard of the 4×4 tour that takes three days to get into Chile (or Chile into Bolivia) via Salar de Uyuni. I would 100% recommend this trip, it was one (if not the best) trip in my life. Three days in the desert with no phone reception or wi-fi, only the landscape and your adventurous carpoolers.
I have heard a few horror stories about these trips with dodge reps. Like your driver turning up drunk. Or facing several breakdowns. From my experience I had none of these troubles, I must have been lucky. There were even two Chileans on my ride who were able to translate everything the driver was saying! (Did I forget to mention the drivers don’t speak english?)
Me and my three friends set off from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, so I can only talk of my experience driving into Bolivia. We paid $90,000 CLP for this trip. Which considering is three days long and includes you bed for two nights and food, is an absolute bargain. This excluded buying $200 Bs for park entrances and toilets and also $1000 CLP of coca leaves (coca leaves are genuinely the plants for producing cocaine but they also help with altitude sickness. DO NOT do this trip without them).
*Don’t forget to bring sandles/waterproof shoes and a spare change of clothes. You WILL get wet at the salt flats*
Set off at 7:30am. The start to the day is long and tedious due to the border crossing into Bolivia. Getting your stamps is like waiting an eternity when you are so eager to get on the road. You stop at two checkpoints either side of the border which does take around two hours. You get your breakfast on the Bolivian side, which is usually always avocado related.
Once you are finally en route day one mainly consists of stopping at lagoons and driving into the unknown desert. At the end of the trip you will stop at Hostal Marcelo (unless you paid for the luxury package). This hostel has a generator that provides electric from 7pm to 9pm. Your dinner will also be cooked here which was some Alpaca/Llama for us (I’m unsure of vegetarian options). There is no shower at this hostel so have a ‘wash’ at the hot spring during the ride.
Before bed time, we were faced with the dilemma of choosing our route for day two. Our driver recommended the right route (the other option was ‘left’ duh?), so we decided to go with that. He assured us that the left route was only more lagoons where as the right route had valleys and rock climbing. Also the left route would finish at 3pm and the right route would finish at 8pm. Both routes end at the same hostel. No brainer right?
8:00am set off today, and were we glad of choosing the ‘right’ side route. Today is all about, lagoons (more of them yes), rock climbing, the train graveyard and Alpacas. Oh and flamingos. You will be burned out physically from sightseeing and climbing by the time you get back to your hostel at 8pm.
You will also be glad you bought those coca leaves too. My friends suffered extremely bad headaches from the altitude on this trip. I didn’t for some reason. Luck of the draw I guess. Remember you are usually always above 4000 metres for the three days, and when you are driving you climb the altitude fast. It will hit you…hard.
Upon arrival at Hostal Salt for your second nights sleep, you do have the option of a shower here and power points to charge electronics! Woohoo. Wi-fi is still unavailable and reception varies. Get a good night sleep here as you have an early start tomorrow for Salar de Uyuni, the worlds largest salt flat.
4:30am start today. To watch the night sky in Salar de Uyuni. Watching the sun rise here is an incredible experience and also a huge tick off my bucket list. You will spend the entire morning and afternoon here, and our drivers made sure we got the most from this. Even choreographing our poses recreating those famous ones from the salt flat.
After you’re exhausted from the slat flat (trust me you will be), you get dropped off in the town of Uyuni at 2pm. We then got a sleeper coach to La Paz at 8pm, arriving at 5am.
All in all I can conclude that this trip was an absolutely incredible/unique time of my life that could possibly go unrivalled for the rest of my life (too much?). Disregard the Tripadvisor reviews and take the chance. Just inquire about the drivers and the 4×4’s, these seem to cause the most upsets.