South America Blog Posts

Week 11 – Bikepacking Bolivia. Entering Bolivia and the Salar de Uyuni

This we left Chile and crossed the border into Bolivia. The 48th country I have visited so far. The road from Calama over the border to Uyuni, takes you through some unbelievably beautiful landscapes. The road climbs high into the mountains, passing small villages and huge, snow capped mountains. The border was easy enough to cross. But we weren’t asked for any of the documents that we thought we would need. We just filled in a customs declaration form and got our passports stamped with our new visa. We read that we should have our vaccination certificates, health insurance and an onward ticket to leave Bolivia. We weren’t asked for any of these things. So we got back on the bus and continued through to Uyuni.

Arriving in Uyuni

The driver took a strange route to Uyuni. Instead of staying on the highway, he turned onto a side road that went through the desert. I have no idea why he did this, but the views were great. When we arrived in Uyuni I cut our packing boxes open and rebuilt the bikes in the street. Uyuni is not a nice town. It’s a desert town with nothing to really see or do except go to the Salt flats. We spent a day or so getting everything ready, washing laundry, stocking up of food and water, then we were set.

Camping in the Salar de Uyuni

Uyuni is located high in the mountains of Bolivia. The salar (salt flat) is the largest in the world, over 100,000 square kilometers. During the day time, the sun shines and it is quite warm. But at night time the temperature drops below freezing. We packed our bike and headed into the salar. We cycled out of town and onto the salt flat, cycling into the emptiness until we found a spot that we thought would work well. We set up the tent and cooked some food. It was a windy day, so even the sun shining down on us didn’t do much to increase the temperature. Our main reason to camp in the salar was to see the night sky. Being in a desert and high in the mountains, the night sky is so clear that it is one of the best places in the world to see the stars. This is why there are so many observatories in this region of the world.

A night below freezing

We rested in the tent until around 9 pm. This was half way between the sunset at 6pm and the moonrise at midnight. I got out of the tent and set up my camera. The temperature was below minus 5 and the cold wind blowing across the salar made it even more uncomfortable. I had to get my sleeping bag and wrap it around myself to give a little bit of protection. But each time I took a picture, I just wanted to take another to see if I could capture the sky better than before. It was a horrible situation to be in, but with the beauty of the sky above, it wasn’t too hard to forget the cold. In the morning, all the water bottles were frozen. We made some breakfast, waited until we were warm in the sun and then cycled back into town. Uyuni is a magical place, even if the town isn’t so nice. I would definitely recommend visiting this unique place if you ever get the chance. This is the last part of the trip that Huong will join me for. Starting next week we will be heading on our different routes to experience South America. I have an adventurous route planned to take me from Bolivia to Peru. But I will explain more about that next week.

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