Sur Lipez & Uyuni, Bolivia. From August 14th to 20th, 2018.
This will be a long one, hang tight!
I heard a lot about the tours of “Uyuni” that go down to Sur Lipez and after exploring the options I decided that a tour wouldn’t be for me, I wanted to rent a truck and self drive it.
A lot of people told me to take a tour, that it’s hard to drive in Sur Lipez and I shouldn’t do it. I also read up online about it and there’s people that do the self drive and it’s very doable!
After doing some more research for a good rental company, I decided to contact Biz Rent a car in Sucre , after discussing with Alejandra on Whatsapp, I thought it would be the right company for me, and it was, I highly recommend renting with them if you want to do this tour. They are professional, their cars are well maintained and properly equipped to drive through Sur Lipez and the Uyuni, and they also allow you to drive on the Salar which is rare, because well, it’s salt and not very good for the trucks.
You need to do some planning for this trip before you go, after the city of Tupiza (Or Uyuni if you are doing it the other way around) there’s isn’t many places to buy much of anything until Uyuni (or Tupiza…), so before you get into Lipez you have to buy water and food. Also there’s no official gas station until San Cristobal make sure to keep that in mind, if you want to wander around you better ask for gas every occasion you have.
As far as hostal go, (dorms in very basic buildings) I was able to find a bed everywhere I went but if you go in high season you might want to keep in mind that tours take most of the beds in advance, make sure to get to the villages early to reserve a bed.
With that in mind I decided to do this drive (sorry for the horrible drawing but Google Maps doesn’t see the routes in these parts of the world), after doing it this way I would recommended doing it the other way around. If you do it the other way around you can relax a night in Tupiza before going back to Sucre which I think is better then sleeping the first night in Tupiza. This was a 7 days road trip, about 2100km the way I did it.
The first day I picked up the car at Biz Rent a Car. A Suzuki Jimny with 2 spare tires, a shovel and 60 extra liters of gas, gas is hard to find after you drive away from Tupiza, it was about 11:30AM when I left the city of Sucre, direction Tupiza.
About one hour into the trip you already start to get nice landscapes, here’s the Jimny before getting dirty:
You have to go pass Potosi before getting to Tupiza, both cities offer services such as supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, gas and internet is still accessible, I pretty much drove straight to Tupiza and got there right as the sun was setting. I slept in a random hotel and had a meal in town.
The next day I woke up at 5:30, ready to drive to San Pablo de Lipez, I had to put in some gas, the gas stations open at 6am! Oups, I had to wait 30 minutes and then left.
The drive to San Pablo de Lipez from Tupiza is beautiful but that’s where things start to get real, it’s dirty roads, rock roads, not very well maintained, mostly going up and in high altitude, be careful and drive slowly.
Here’s some pictures of the landscapes you see along the way:
Many Llamas along the road:
Such a vast place, you really feel small in such a landscape:
That’s San Pablo de Lipez on the bottom right, it’s a very small town, I was able to eat with the locals for lunch, which is a good thing because I had a limited amount of food, if you get there around lunch time, ask around, people are very nice:
I then decided to go on to Quetena Chico, the plan was to sleep there, either in the truck or a hostal, here’s more pictures along the way:
I got to Quetena Chico, found a bed in a hostal, I was also able to use the kitchen to heat some rice and kitchen I bought in Potosi a day earlier.
After talking with some tour guides I knew I wouldn’t have enough gasoline for everything I wanted to do, I asked the hostal staff and he told me he knew someone who had gas for sale, we drove to a house and bought 25 liters for 6 bolivianos a liter, which usually cost 4 bolivianos in the city, I didn’t mind, I was happy to have the security of the extra gasoline.
The next day, I wanted to drive to Laguna Amarilla and Laguna Celeste, it’s fairly close to Quetena Chico, about 50-60km but the drive is horrid after the first 20km, very big rocks making hard to go faster than 15km/h it took me about 2h30 to get there with some photo stops:
Laguna Amarilla on the bottom right and Laguna Celeste on the top left:
And then, Laguna Celeste, amazing colors:
The red edges are very beautiful up close:
Another part of the Laguna Celeste:
I drove of back to Quetena and then south to exit near the Termas de Polques, I am not sure the names of the following lagunas, there is so many of them and I had to keep driving to get to my next destination for the night, Laguna Colorada.
Some pictures along the way:
You can see the road I had to go through behind the truck:
The color gradients are impressive :
I was told they decorate female Llamas to recognize them easily:
Again the colors…:
This one is Laguna Hedionda if I remember correctly:
These guys are called Vicunas, they are in the Llama family but they are not domesticated:
This is Laguna Chalviri where you cross the main road that goes up to Laguna Colorada and down to Laguna Verde, the most visited Lagunas in the area:
You can see the Salvador Dali desert in the back, where some sculpture where made in honor of Dali’s work of arts:
I continued driving to Laguna Colorada where I arrived as the sun was setting so the colors of the Laguna where all gone. I went to the village nearby, found a bed for 5$US and went out a little later to shoot the truck under the stars:
Next morning slept in a little and went to Laguna Colorada, here’s a drone shot of it:
Depending on the angle the colors do change from orange to pink, another very impressive landscape in the area:
Next, Sol de Mañana, the road to get there was very harsh and there was a lot of snow, I did get stuck when trying to cross from a secondary road to the main one, I had to shovel for about 1h to get out of it, fun times, finally got to the Sol de Mañana but it was a little late to see the geyser pop, still a very surreal location:
Continue the drive down to Laguna Verde with a stop at Laguna Chalviri, this time a little further down the laguna:
This mountain was probably my favorite of the trip, I think it’s called Mount Nelly, crazy colors :
With my model :
Salvador Dali’s desert a little closer:
More of Mont Nelly:
Impressive mountains close to Laguna Verde:
Laguna Blanca from afar:
Laguna blanca is Laguna Verde neighbor, they are very close:
This is Laguna Verde:
At that point I wanted to up to Uyuni, but it’s way to far so I decided to drive north as far as possible, it was late but I decided to drive in the dark, first sunset close to Mount Nelly:
The trusty Jimny enjoying the sunset:
I finally stopped in Villa Mar at 10pm to sleep, the next day I drove to the city of Uyuni, booked a hotel, took a shower, with hot water!! and then went on for a quick visit of the Salar de Uyuni before going in the next day for a full day and night.
The Salar is a very simple but impressive place, note that there’s no fee to enter the Salar, this is the “Flags of many nations” and “Monumento al Dakar” (back side), this place is about 15 minutes in the Salar when entering in Colchani:
Waited for the sunset near Ojos De Sal, there’s water under the Salar in some parts and in this area the water is bubbling to come out, I took a long exposure to give some smoothness to the water but you can see the movement:
This is a little later, the sunset was reflecting on the water at the Colchani entrance of the Salar:
The next morning I had the truck cleaned up for some better modeling in the vast Salar:
Be careful when you drive in the Salar, there’s holes like these in some areas, some big ones can create issues :
The Salar texture and Isla Incahuasi right in front, the next stop:
The Isla Incahuasi looking like it’s floating you can see the texture also changed:
The Isla Incahuasi, full of cacti and contrasting with the white and blues:
Huge cacti on the Isla Incahuasi , you will have to pay 30 bolivianos to get on Isla Incahuasi and walk around, it takes 30 minutes to walk around and see what there’s to see, there’s also a refuge, restaurant and banos on the Isla. It’s weird to get here and see so many people after wandering in the Salar alone.
Drove to Isla Pescado, that seemed a little less touristy and I didn’t see any amenities, just hung out until sunset:
Drove back to Isla Incahuasi to sleep nearby and shoot the stars but the moon was out and strong, still had a shot at it, not what I wanted but still pretty nice:
Woke up at 6am and it was time to drive back to Sucre, not before taking some sunrise pictures in the Salar, woke up to clouds, the first clouds during this 7 days road trip:
And the last picture in the Salar, the Monumento al Dakar:
Before driving back to Sucre I stopped at the train graveyard in the city of Uyuni:
This is along the way between Uyuni and Sucre, amazing roads to finish this trip:
That is it! An epic adventure, not the easiest road trip, but the experiences are worth it all. I would recommended renting a bigger truck if you can afford it to make the drive a little more pleasant! Contact Biz Rent a Car for a quote.