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With only three weeks to spend in Bolivia, we decided to concentrate our visit to only some part of the country. Cities such as Sucre and Potosi were rather easy to organise, however visiting the Sur Lipez, Parque Eduardo Avaroa and Uyuni with its salar requires some more research and time.
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A bridge in Uyuni Salar at sunset during our road trip in Bolivia
The reality is, there are hundreds of agencies offering tours of Uyuni and Sur Lipez and many look the same: 3 days tour starting and ending in Uyuni with different companies following the same exact itinerary. Lots of driving (6 to 8 hours a day mostly on gravel road), no hiking, and only a short time spent at each destination.
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We also considered the self driving option but the price of the rental car and insurance for only 6 days scared us away. In any case, if money is not an issue for you, then you should read this post from this couple.
After endless online research and many visits to agencies in Sucre, we finally found a great compromise offered by the agency Green Trekkers: a 5 days tour starting from Tupiza and ending in Uyuni including a 6000m volcano hike. Only after we paid, we realized the tour was run by another company based in Tupiza (La Torre Tours).
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However, we did not mind that Green Trekkers kept some commission as they included our bus ticket from Sucre to Tupiza in the price and, most importantly, they seem to actually care for eco-tourism. They organize cleaning events to pick up garbage along local treks in Sucre region. Everyone is welcome to volunteer and join in the events. Check their profile here: Green Trekkers
SO why starting your tour from Tupiza and finish in Uyuni is better in our opinion?
Grazing the day away in Sur Lipez, Bolivia
1. VISIT THE SUR LIPEZ REGION
This part of the country has been one of the highlights of our five days tour. All three days tours from Uyuni that we checked do not adventure in this area. Although visiting this part of the country requires some extra hours of driving, the ever-changing landscapes and amazing rock formations of Sur Lipez region is totally making up for the effort. The fact that we were the only group at times to visit some attractions was worth the driving.
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TIP – To find our way around the city we have used Maps.me, an offline map which gives you both driving and walking directions
Amazing canyons in Tupiza region!
2. HIKE A 6,000M+ VOLCANO
After various research for a tour which included as much hiking as possible, this five days tour with La Torre was a good compromise for us as it included a whole morning hike up a magnificent 6,008 m high volcano, the Uturuncu, in the company of fumaroles and snow. What an experience!
Our hard work up the top of Uturuncu was definitely rewarded by 360degree views of the region and the satisfaction of our first 6,000m+ hike!
Don’t be scared by the altitude though. We started hiking from 5.500m and the total time spent hiking to the top was less than three hours. It’s a tough hike and you have to take it seriously with many stops but we recommend it to anyone that loves the mountains and has done a few summits already. No need to be a pro, just confident with the uphill.
A dip in very hot natural pools under a starry sky later in the evening was the cherry on top of the cake.
FIND OUR OUR TIPS TO FIGHT ALTITUDE SICKNESS IN OUR HYMALAYAS BLOG POST HERE
Slowly hiking up to 6,000mt of elevation amongst fumaroles and snow - Uturuncu Volcano in Bolivia
We really enjoyed the flexibility of our tour from Tupiza. The driver/guide was available to change the itinerary for us to experience some famous spots with no other groups around.
We still got some crowds in very popular places such as the Sol de la Manana Geyser and Uyuni Salar. However, Laguna Colorada and many other lagoons were almost deserted when we visited, which made us appreciate these places much more.
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Swinging on a handbag at Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
4. AVOID DRIVING PART OF THE SAME ROUTE
Another big advantage of a tour from Tupiza is that you avoid driving part of the same route because of different start and end points.
The classic three days tour from/to Uyuni will pass along the same route twice (one going south and the other time heading north) between Laguna Negra and Uyuni.
Starting your tour from Tupiza, you will avoid this double driving. The only possible downsize is that you will have to choose which way to follow when heading north to Uyuni: the left side road passing along beautiful lagoons and the volcano Ollague or taking the right side one, which features amazing rock formations.
We choose the road to the right and we were extremely satisfied with our choice as we got most of the attractions just for ourselves and we even had a try at rock climbing with the assistance of our tour mate from Germany who was a rock climbing teacher.
Last but not least, we felt we got an overall good service and a longer tour for a relatively cheap price in comparison to the rushed three day round trip from Uyuni.
FIND OUT MORE TIPS ON HOW TO STAY ACTIVE DURING A LONG TRIP HERE
Getting excited at rock climbing in the Sur Lipez in Bolivia
Here are the HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR TOUR which we truly enjoyed.
SALAR DE UYUNI
Whether it’s a geometrical composition of salty crust in dry season or a perfect reflecting mirror during rainy season, it’s almost impossible not to be in awe in front of such natural beauty.
LOOKING TO STAY LONGER IN SOUTH AMERICA? WHY NOT HIKING THE AUSANGATE CIRCUIT IN PERU'!
We visited the Salar both at sunrise and at sunset in wet season, when the Salar is covered by a cold mirror of water. The colouring effects of the sun setting and rising over this vast expanse of water is amazing.
Just-before-sunset pose in the middle of the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
We stayed in a salt hotel (made of salt bricks) which is quite a particular experience – some of us actually licked the wall to confirm it was salt.
Like sleeping in the middle of the ocean - Salt Hotel in Cholcani at the doorstep of Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Unfortunately the Salar has become very popular in recent years and it is very crowded, especially in high season (dry season between April and November). On the positive side, there is plenty of space for everyone because of its huge size (NASA uses the Salar to calibrate its satellites!).
TIP – Do not base yourself in Uyuni, it is a good 30 minute drive from the main entrance to the Salar and it is not a particular good sight. There are lots of accommodations in Colchani which is close by the main entrance and it caters to tourists. In Colchani you can visit one of the salt factories to learn more about salt production and the tourist market in the main street – it is quite a tourists’ trap, however, that’s how many local people make a living.
Dried salt at a salt factory in Colchani close to Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
The south-west region of Bolivia is amazingly dry, yet it hosts some of the most stunning lagoons we’ve ever seen during our world trip.
Not to miss, Laguna Colorada takes its bright red colours from mineral particles which come from the surrounding mountains. As a result the numerous population of flamingos which live here, get their bright pink colour as they feed in these waters.
We were lucky to have missed all the crowds of tourists visiting the Laguna, so it was all for us with its magic colours and reflections.
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Five beautiful flamingoes posing for Fabio at Laguna Colorada, Bolivia
Another amazing spot of this circuit, Laguna Negra amazed us with its black colour from its black algae and magnificent reflection.
Again we were the only one here to make the most of this fabulous place. To reach it, we parked a fair distance from the laguna which is not visible from the road. Then you have to walk along this magic green narrow canyon surrounded by llamas and viscachas (very cute rock bunnies native of South America).
Half way through the canyon you have to do a short climb up the rocks until you get sight of a beautiful peaceful lagoon. We visited this laguna in the morning, just after Sol de la Mañana Geyser, heading north.
Soaking up the peaceful atmosphere at Laguna Negra in Bolivia
SOL DE LA MAÑANA
Put all your layers on and prepare to wait in freezing temperatures before sunrise. It is totally worth it!
Enjoy the round bright ball of the sun rising behind the high dense fumaroles and geysers coming from deep down the earth.
As most tours visit this spot for sunrise, it is usually packed and some drivers park their vehicles in front of the fumaroles, which spoils the sunrise pictures. However, the atmosphere in general is quite magic.
Stay overnight at Aguas Calientes and enjoy a hot dip in the community pools under a starry sky (be prepared for the usual drunk groups of tourists spoiling the calm of the place)
Magic sunrise at Sol de la Manana in Bolivia
Towering sand pillars guard this “enchanted city” in the middle of the Sur Lipez district. Walking around this huge complex takes four hours but a walk in and out these majestic sculptures is enough to give you the feeling of being on another planet.
Walking on the Moon? Almost! Exploring Ciudad Encantada in Bolivia in the Sur Lipez
We are absolutely stoked to have included a hike up the 6,008m high summit of Uturuncu Volcano in our tour in the Sur Lipez and Uyuni.
Mostly, because we’ve never been this high and it was quite an experience – lack of oxygen and a little headache when going up and down again to 4,200m. That’s lot to take in but we forgot all the pain and efforts once we were on the summit with a 360degree view of the surrounding region. Everyone fit enough and acclimatized enough should squeeze in this fantastic hike in their tour!
Breathless (and speechless) at the top of beautiful Uturuncu Volcano in Bolivia