Have you ever wondered if there was a heaven on earth?
Well I think I found it, or the closest thing to it.
It was an early morning for us all. We packed up our things and were out of the door by 4:00 AM, little did we know what that morning would hold. Simply we found nature showing off in its best form, in which I’ll try to portray through this post.
Here is a recap of my personal journey to what I believe is … Heaven on Earth.
Editor’s Note: This is the first post in a two-part series from Kara’s trip to the Bolivian Salt Flats.
Fly into Calama: Choose reliable and clean transportation company, Lincanabur, from inside the Calama Airport (important side note: Do not use TransVip during your travels in Chile, yo gur still hasn’t gotten her money back from their mess up).
Starting in San Pedro De Atacama: The day before embarking on our trip was frustrating for me as an American citizen. I asked 5 different tour operators how much the exact amount of USD (or Bolivianos) I needed in order to cross the border… but no one gave me the same answer, it was all so misleading, I felt betrayed since our own tour operator didn’t give me valid information. I ended up having to take both USD and Bolivianos out of the ATM the day, just to be safe.
The next morning was an early one, we chose the tour operator, Desert Adventures, based out of San Pedro de Atacama (Side note: No need to book in advance. Most of the tour operators in San Ped prefer you to book when you arrive. Seriously though, you just go and pop in a shop and give your money when you get in town).
The vague information given by our tour operator was a disappointment to me (especially since I worked in their same field in Santiago at the time, I was really harsh on the guy and went off on him for a good bit, unlike me but necessary). GOOD NEWS: They redeemed themselves during one of my favorite trips to this day. The first morning we were picked up from our hostal before dawn and taken to our first of three custom stops. I listened out for two other American voices in the large crowd while waiting in line, but they too we’re simply winging it. Outrageous. This first immigration building was right in San Pedro city limits and all they did was look at my passport, take my Chilean tourist visa and give me a long green slip, no money was given here.
Then we were off. We took a big van decorated in Dakar stickers, I was confused at first but then later figured out what this was all about.
In the hour it took us to reach the Bolivian border at Hito Cajon (4,480m), we’d gradually gained 2,000 meters in elevation. We got dropped off in the middle of no where. We were told to take our passports to the small building sporting the red, yellow and green Bolivian flag. It seemed out-of-place in the middle of such a barren landscape. I paid $60.00 USD. In return I got a Bolivian sticker on my passport, my prettiest one yet! The man ripped off the green sheet in half and gave me the bottom, I had to keep that one, OR ELSE! Here’s this location… it was unreal… my initial reaction “woooah we’re on mars”
After everyone went through the process we had some breakfast, met our 1st guide, our traveling companions, and strapped our bag on a Lexus and were off.
Info below is compiled by memory and my hilarious journal (journal info is italicized).
Day One: “Here we only travel by 4×4” – Tour Guide, Eavan, with the quote! WHAT what!
We drove bit more until we reached another building where Pia and I paid a small price to use the bathroom.
We were situated in the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, here you must pay 150 Bolivianos ($22) park fee. On this day, I saw a volcano (Licancabur Volcano) for the first time, we also visited the White Lagoon and Green Lagoon (below). Photos don’t do justice (actually photos from this whole post don’t do justice, you guys really needa see this place before you die).
We passed by Desert de Salvador Dali, which was named after the Spanish surrealist painter whose work is reminiscent of such scenery…this place had acres and acres of wind blown rock formations.
After, we headed toward the Termas de Polques Hot Springs, I didn’t get in but instead took some sun on a bench, and chatted with a few people. It was a lovely location with marshes and vitacura in the distance. My best friend Becca contributed the photo above during her trip to the hot springs.
After we drove to the Morning Sun Geyser situated at 4,850m. I remember it was extremely windy and cloudy when we reached the geyser. I had to cover my nose and mouth to breathe because the stench of sulfur was so strong. These boiling holes in the ground were so loud I was about to go grab my ear plugs (and yes you should carry ear plugs at all times too). Our trip was cut short because believe it or not it started snowing… snowing. Not hail. Not rain. Snow. Today I was shocked by the weather changes, one minute I would be sweating, the next I would have to grab my scarf and rain jacket, and then snow at the end of day?! Bolivia you cray cray.
Next stop was Laguna Colorado (this was around 4 pm ish same day, same day! insane)! My favorite lagoon of the 3 we visited! The lagoon was covered in flocks of flamingos, and on the outskirts of the sulfuric acidic lake were llamas with brightly decorated hooves and ears. I took a few selfie with the lamaas. And posed like a flamingo with some James Flamingos in the background.
That night I stayed in one of the most interesting hostals of my life. I wouldn’t even call it a hostal it was just a cement building with a 6 block cement walled rooms with 8 beds in each (the beds were cement too lol with a thin mattress). There was no wifi, for electrical there was only one generator operating the place, which was used for cooking and communal lights. We made the best of the situation.
Side note: Dude yall I’m just now realizing while researching all this that the elevation was at 4,280m (14,042 feet). No wonder I ate so much. You should probs bring AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) meds, could save yo life.
We were situated in the middle of this desert together, none of us knew the coordinates or really where we were headed, we just trusted in our driver to take us on our next adventure. That night in the shack I taught my German, French and Denmark friends how to play spoons, they were easily amused by it so we played for two hours. At sunset Pia, Sabrina and I went outside because we were extremely hyper, one of the cooks snapped this photo of us. I remember going to bed that night and thinking there was no other place I would have rather been, than in the middle of nowhere… Bolivia.
DAY TWO: Stone Tree/ Arboles de Peridas/ Ollague Volcano
“Today I took the coolest road trip of my life, although we are all from different parts of the world we sang out songs, had the windows down, music blaring, just cruising through the desert. We left nothing in our trail but dirt blown dust.“