Bolivia

Chinese New Year at Uyuni Salt Flat, Bolivia for the Mirror Effect

We arrived La Paz at 6:27 AM and the line through immigration was a breeze because we obtained our visas prior to the trip. There was a separate line for visa on arrival and only one booth processing the application. The airport is pretty small where the international “terminal” is next to the domestic terminal so we had no issue making our transfer for our 8:40 AM flight. After we got through immigration and custom and through those sliding door out to the arrival gate, the check-in ticket counters are right there across the hall. We checked in the domestic flight, proceed to security and into the domestic terminal gates. The lounge is located in the international terminal so we couldn’t access the lounge. However, there is a cafe inside the domestic terminal (a huge room with a few gates) so we had our breakfast there. At almost 12,000 feet in altitude, surprisingly, I didn’t feel much difference when we landed La Paz. I remembered when we landed Cusco, my heart pumped quickly and almost out of breath after one flight of stairs!

The La Paz domestic terminal:

Our breakfast cost $6 per person and taste pretty okay.

My poor cousin, Judy, got ill before the flight and being in high atitude, I guess it made it worst, poor her! Peter and Jeffrey went to their doctors’ to get high altitude sickness pills for the trip so they took their first pill with their breakfast. Jason and I had been to Cusco, Peru at similar altitude so we didn’t get any pills this time. The flight to Uyuni was on time and the view during that short one hour flight:

Landing at Uyuni, most of the tourists in our flight were Asians! I thought there would be less Chinese tourists since it was Chinese New Year!

The airport is very small and basic. We walked out and saw our driver holding my name; he barely speaks English. We were dropped off at the tour office in Uyuni (like 10 minutes drive away) where we make the full payment in cash $250 USD per person. The Uyuni town reminded me when we got off in Lima, Peru:

The town itself is very small, only a block of souvenir shops and restaurants. When we were in the office, one of the staff ask us but we couldn’t understand any Spanish at all! A few minutes later, our English tour guide arrived, her name is Tina and she translated that he was asking for our shoe size as the tour company included rain boots for us to wear in the salt flats. I asked Tina what’s the chance of seeing the reflection….she said at the moment the salt flats are flooded (yay) but it has been windy (urgggg, never thought of wind plays a huge factor)! Furthermore, due to our group of 5 plus the tour guide, I was told something about weight concern in the salt flats so we need to repack our luggage to only bring the necessary stuff for the day as we’ll be heading back to Uyuni to stay overnight. Perhaps, all the salt hotels around the salt flats have been sold out due to our late booking? Who knows!

While waiting for our driver to get ready and the folks to repack, Jason and I walked to an ATM machine at the street behind the office to withdraw some Bolivianos to pay for the national park fees and small expenses. After we got the local currency, we bought a huge bottle of water for our use. Once we got back to the office, we loaded our stuff into the car and off we go to the first sight: the train cemetery. Uyuni used to be a mining town but then abandoned thus the trains left there “the cemetery”. The ride was a little bit bumpy; the roads are mostly not paved! I tried to change into my dress at the very back road of the SUV and the bumps made it a challenge LOL. Nevertheless, I succeeded!

We arrived at the train cemetery at around 11 or so. It was much bigger and a lot more abandoned trains than I expected. We had a good time taking fun photos with those trains!

The clouds were perfect, at 12,000 feet, the clouds do appear much “closer”!

The travel addict group 😀

I did not dare to climb up there especially with my dress 😛 I let the boys to pose while I set up the drone…..but the dreadful firmware update message popped up, grrrrr I updated everything just a few days ago! Once it finally got updated, my most fearful error message – compass calibration appeared! It was probably due to so many metals surrounding us 🙁 With no luck at all, Jeffrey tried with his drone – the Spark. He was able to launch it and took videos of them up on the train.

Other tour groups started to arrive and the place became packed instantly! We left and to the next stop: Colchani, the little village closest to the salt flats for their crafts market. From Uyuni town to Colchani was only a short drive away and the only time we were on a true highway, all other roads are bumpy gravels!!! In Colchani, we used the paid flushing restroom; it was acceptable.

Colchani – all their houses are built with salt bricks:

The crafts market was one street of souvenir stalls on both sides of the sandy road. They sell handmade crafts like scarves, ponchos, hats, alpaca figures, magnets, salt bottles, keychains, and so on. Things are very cheap there and you can bargain a little too so most of the stuff we got was like 5, 10, 15, 20 Bolivianos. I got a set of 4 small colored shot glasses (for decorations only) at 40 Bolivianos.

After the little souvenir shopping, we made a stop right in front of the entrance to the salt flats so we can try on our rain boots. I decided to wear my plastic “jelly” sandals as they are more comfortable than in rain boots.

The salt flats were flooded and our driver, Freddy, drove extremely slow…a good sign that he is very cautious. The drive took half an hour rolling at like 10-15 miles per hour I am guessing…very slow. Some parts were flooded that it seemed the water was like more than 3 feet high! We were getting excited as we were approaching the salt flats!

The famous Dakar statue made of salt right in front of our eyes and our car stopped. Tina said we’ll get off here to take some photos while Freddy getting our lunch ready in the restaurant. Good plan, we got out of the car and the salt was actually warm – very comfortable to walk in with my sandal!

We noticed the “bubbles or crystals” floating on top of the water and asked what are those. Tina said when fresh water (rainwater) mixed with the salt, it creates those bubbles and will last for at least a few days!!! Awwww….I thought Northern Lights required a lot of factors to align to see it, didn’t know to have the reflection required many factors too 🙁

  1. The salt flats flooded with a thin layer of water, can’t be too much nor too little water.
  2. Calm wind otherwise will be ripples.
  3. Can’t have rain in the past few days otherwise will have those bubbles.

The bubbles did obstruct the reflection but it was still amazing to experience the sky mirrored on the edgeless ground!

We figured to zoom in as much as we could (we had our 24-70 mm lens) so that the bubbles were less noticeable. The endless blue sky, the puffy white clouds, and almost perfect reflection, am I dreaming? No, we really made it to Uyuni Salt Flats! Tips – bring bright colored clothes, bright colors really pop in photos! Achieving one of my travel goals was a great start off the Chinese New Year!

We walked to the famous Dakar salt statue and it was so hard to walk on water trying not to splash salt water on my lens. After walking like a snail, we reached the Dakar statue and there were a lot of tourists taking photos there. We waited for our turn 🙂

Tina helped us to take a group photo once again!

Then, we walked to the salt restaurant and Freddy had our table set up already, lunch time! Lunch was very basic, actually every meal in Bolivia was basic probably due to their limited resources.

We had strips of beef, fresh tomatoes, avocado, sausage, cucumbers, and of course potatoes. Our lunch was edible and can’t complain much as we were in the middle of nowhere literally. The restaurant is part of a hotel…perhaps hostel, but it would be cool to stay overnight there right inside the salt flats!

There are only a handful of rooms in this hotel. After the quick lunch, we walked around this hotel to take photos.

On the back of the hotel is another famous photo spot with country flags around the world!

With half a day in the salt flats, we had plenty of time to try to launch our drone again. This time was a success! There was no dry spot for our drone to take off so we tried to take off with Jason holding on the drone and releasing it. I just flew it straight up to take some photos and they came out incredible!

You see all those bubbles but less obstructive to the reflection on a high angle. Uyuni Salt Flats are also one of the flattest lands on earth that satellites components are calibrated there!!!

See Jason?

I slowly, with the help of “tripod mode”, lowered the drone to a point that Jason was able to grab it and I slide on my phone to confirm the landing. Landed safely 🙂

We then gathered the group and drove out into the salt flats for a spot with no other tourists to take more photos and wait for the sunset. With more than 4,000 square miles, it was very easy to find a spot with no other tourists! We were prepared with props for perspective photos but since the salt flats were completely flooded, there was no dry spot for those photos 🙁 Nevertheless, we took out some props for photos…..we even brought our Chinese New Year wall decors hahahaha! Happy Chinese New Year, wishing you all a prosperous and a healthy new year!

Since the salt flats were completely flooded, there was no dirt place for us to have the fun perspective photos so we did whatever we can! Tina was very patient and helped us with some ideas, they got some perspective photos with their cellphone….it was so hard to have everything in focus with the DSLR given the distance differences even at f/22. For further out photos were okay so we did this; I bought my fan for the trip 🙂

We had more than 4 hours in the salt flats so we took all the photos we wanted and then while waiting for the sunset, a storm came!

We saw the big black clouds on one side of the flat salts and heading to our way…we even saw a rainbow by the rain over there!

The salt underneath the thin layer of water….

We took some photos with the rainbow in the background…..it was pretty far away.

Then the wind came rushing with the downpour, we ran back to the car to seek shelter until the storm passed. It moved quickly and another rainbow appeared. Too bad it was still pretty window otherwise would be super cool to have a perfect reflection of the rainbow! The colors of the rainbow were so vivid!

Unfortunately, the rain left over bubbles and the winds blew a lot to us. Once the storm completely passed, it was back to blue sky with white clouds again. We decided to launch our drone again for photos of us! The hand took-off was successful!

Cheers!

Can you tell what word we were trying to form there? LOL, we did a poor job, I know…

“L O V E” and me LOL! And then the app warned me of low battery so we ran toward the drone to land it. Safe landing again! Then, Jeffrey went to get his to continue our shots. Peter was holding it for it to take off and Jason was getting his phone to video it and in the blink of the eye, bang! Jeffrey’s Spark suddenly flew straight into the water and Peter’s quick reaction was to catch it and the propellers cut his fingers 🙁 My poor brother! Thankfully, Tina has the first aid kit on the back of the car to clean and seal his wounds.

Then, the sun was finally setting but the clouds started to roll in the horizon.

On the other side of the salt flats, you can see that another storm will be arriving and created those dramatic clouds.

On the opposite side was totally different.

The storm really happening over there!

Tina directed us for some sunset photos:

The “evolution of mankind” haha! Tina helped us and took some good photos with one of our cell phones. Our driver, Freddy, was a terrible DSLR photographer so most of the photos are too tilted or the subject shifted to one side that only a few photos can be used.

After the group photos, I took back my DSLR camera and had individual shots. The sunset colors weren’t amazing that day but because of its location, the photos were unforgettable!

My brother got lucky while I was taking his photos, a car was coming to his way for this photo:

Right after the sun has set, the storm arrived and it was worse than the one that passed. It was very windy and all the cars were heading out of the salt flats. Tina was saying that good thing we were staying in Uyuni so we were able to stay for the sunset and only took an hour to get back. While other tours had accommodations 3 hours away! On our way out of the salt flats, there were areas where the water almost reaching half the height of our car, it looked scary to drive through. Thus, visiting the salt flats require a local driver; it’s easy to get lost in the 4,000+ sq mile reflecting salt flats with no ends, GPS navigation might not work due to the amount of lithium underneath its ground, and there is no road in the salt flats so only the experienced driver knows the way in and out!

Once we got back to Uyuni, our dinner was arranged at a local “restaurant” in Uyuni town. It was very simple, only 3-4 tables with those stackable plastic chairs and a counter with drinks displayed:

The guests were only us and 2 other locals. The lady in the restaurant brought out this pot of homemade soup, it was pretty good and a plate of bread. The guys went outside to use the toilet and Jason came back and let me know if it was acceptable. He said dirty so I didn’t go.

Then, a plate of chicken wings and fried potatoes. Also, a pot of local “rice”. Those were basically our dinner, very basic and the taste was acceptable.

After the food, it was their customs for tea and coffee, although instant tea and coffee.

By the time we finished dinner, we were so sleepy; it has been a long day. Freddy and Tina dropped us off at a local salt “hotel” where we got two rooms. I think we were the only guests there too! The room was nevertheless clean and roomy.

The bathroom was urg..I don’t like the red theme!

The salt hotel has no soap, no toilet paper, no towel!!! Tina already left so we found the old lady working there and ask for toilet paper….she speaks Spanish only but Judy and Peter were able to show to her so she got us a roll of toilet paper. Luckily, we brought our own towel (for the hot spring on the 3rd day) to use. There was no heat in those salt hotels but surprisingly their blankets were super warm that I felt hot in the middle of the night. Our sleep was not good because that was when the high altitude effect kicked in where I had a light-headache at first. Once I fell asleep, I was okay. Jason, on the other hand, couldn’t sleep much due to his headache.

Our first day in Bolivia, I was really impressed by the salt flats although with the bubbles and wind that ruined the perfect reflections. I have to say that we got some pretty awesome photos!

8 thoughts on “Chinese New Year at Uyuni Salt Flat, Bolivia for the Mirror Effect

  1. What a way to start the New year (Chinese), here’s wishing you & Jason an another wonderful year filled with more travels!
    Love love love your red dress. I’m like you, co-ordinate my clothes (atleast a bit) with the surroundings but this set of pictures were simply outstanding. Every picture was breathtaking, such great memories preserved digitally.
    Would you mind telling me a bit about your drone? The make and what you like or don’t like?
    Can’t wait for your next installment of trip report!

    1. Thank you and same to you for more travels 😀 We got the DJI Mavic Pro not long ago for the Maldives trip…I like that it’s very portable for travel, can take aerial photos that I can never with my DSLR and in RAW format that I can edit. That was the reason I chose the Mavic Pro instead of the Spark (cheaper and can only take pictures in JPEG). Now they came out with the Mavic Air, the price point is between the Mavic Pro and the Spark, smaller than the Mavic Pro, and can take RAW photos, I recommend the Mavic Air. The only dislike I have is when it displays error that I have no clue on what it is and how to fix it. The most common error message is when trying to launch the drone at an area surrounded by metals, by experience I figured out the “compass calibration” error is mostly due to that. Ohhh…another time was an error message which I still haven’t figured out that when it was in mid-air in the Maldives. Instead of risking it, I had to land it, power all off, and restarted. But I think it’s all worth the hassle with the awesome aerial photos!

  2. Thank you so much for the info on the drone. Was wanting info on drone for the trip we booked in Feb 2019 to New Zealand only to realize most of the interesting areas and all DOC are no drones zone or require complicated permit process.
    I have read and re-read your NZ trip reports to help me plan our trip, so thank you again!

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