Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, Salta mind-blowing landscapes, high altitude deserts in Atacama, salt flats & geysers plus close contact with local people, their customs and cuisine. The “middle of nowhere” feeling on the Salar de Uyuni salt flats is a really refreshing one and there is a range of visits and activities to suit everyone.
This multi-day, multi-country adventure is filled with spectacular sights and authentic experiences in Argentina, Chile and Bolivia. The route is a triangle with the centerpoint of the Salar de Uyuni but can be started and ended at any point.
- Salta, the interesting & historic capital of the region.
- Visit Cafayate with their high altitude vineyards, with tastings in various places of course.
- Enjoy some local dance and age-old traditions in the evening, at a Peña or a Tango show.
- Culinary adventures, local dishes in remote places, have some unusual cooking classes.
- Visit the famous, active El Tatio Geysers, spouting early morning steam.
- Spectacular salt flats, high altitude expanses of brilliant white.
- The stunning Valley of the Moon and its otherworldly landscapes, weird rock formations
- Buoyant salt lakes for relaxing between visits. Beautiful lagoons with flamingos.
- Remote adobe-built villages, ancient ruins and local churches.
- San Pedro is the perfect place for star-gazing, take advantage of your evening.
- The famous Salar de Uyuni salt flats, one of the most spectacular places in the world.
- The train graveyard of Uyuni, photographers paradise!
- Follow the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid trail in the Bolivian desert.
- Trekking or mountain biking around Tupiza region and on the Salar de Uyuni.
We assume starting and ending in Salta, but remember you can start and end at any point.
Day 1 – Arrive Salta, Salta City Tour
When you arrive in Salta we will pick you up and take you to your hotel in the center of the city. If you have time we can fit in a city tour where you will see the Cabildo and city Cathedral in the lovely main square of the city and spend some time wandering. You will also see the San Francisco church, the San Bernardo convent and various other notable and historic buildings. At the end of the tour you will ascend the San Bernardo Hill for a superb panoramic view of the city. If you get hungry while walking around your guide can help you to try the iconic Empanadas as some snack fuel to power on.
The Museum of High Mountain Archeology is an interesting visit, and is located in the main square, so very accessible if you have a couple of hours spare, especially if arriving early in the day. There are a number of very interesting displays and exhibits but the main draw are the Inca mummies found on one of the nearby volcanoes. In the evening you will enjoy a traditional Peña or Tango show while having dinner, giving you a chance to experience local music, dance, food and of course, wine!
If you arrive late in the day you will could stay 2 nights, or more, in Salta at the start of the tour and have time for all the visits within the city before touring the Cafayate wine region. Remember – everything is made to measure, we tailor the trip to suit you.
Day 2 – Wine Tour in Cafayate
Around 170 km to the south of Salta, and nestling in the foothills of the Andes at 1683 meters above sea level, is the region wine capital of Cafayate. This small, laid-back town is now an important focus for tourism, both for wine and also for exploring the Calchaquíes valleys.
You will be picked up from your hotel and during the day be driven through the stunning, rugged landscapes of the Rio de las Conchas and Calchaqui valleys. Several stops will be made at strategic points for viewing the many strange and wonderful rock formations. The Amphitheater (Amfiteatro) and the Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo) are two of the most famous. The journey from Salta to Cafayate is really a great part of the whole day out.
Once you arrive in the wine region you will spend the afternoon enjoying some wine tours and tasting sessions. Bodegas Etchart is one of the oldest and largest and will be on the agenda. Bodega Nanni is a small, organic winery which is based in the center of town. There are many others you could see depending on time open to you. Enjoy touring and tasting the wine produced by such vineyards as El Transito, El Porvenir, El Esteco, Las Nubes and San Pedro de Yacochuya for example. If you have a particular vineyard you wish to visit just let us know, or let us decide for you, you can’t really go wrong in Cafayate.
If you have the time you could extend your trip and stay overnight in Cafayate therefore having more time for extra vineyard visits the next day. Whether you stay over or not, after Cafayate its back to Salta to prepare for the next stage.
Day 3 – Train to the Clouds (determined by train schedule).
This day could be switched with a previous day, or done when you come back to Salta at the end of your trip. As the train only runs on certain days the schedule may have to be adjusted, the days will be switched to ensure all the visits and excursions can be enjoyed.
Today you will travel from Salta through the rugged canyons and desert countryside to the windswept, high altitude town of San Antonio de los Cobres. Depending on train times and other visits of interest we will either visit the 15th century pre-Inca ruins of Santa Rosa de Tastil on the way there or way back. Arriving at the boarding point for the train just before midday you will enjoy a ride on one the highest railways in the world. The Polvorilla Viaduct is the focal point of the time on board, and for 2016 the 22km closest to this viaduct is the only part of the track used. You will cross this iconic bridge twice and have a chance to take some great photos. After a couple of hours with the train it´s back to your vehicle and grab some lunch nearby.
When we are done with visits for the day it will be back to Salta to enjoy some more local wine and cuisine. Then a stroll round the main square would help your dinner go down and is always a pleasure for people watching.
Day 4 – Purmamarca and Humahuaca
Northern Argentina is much more influenced by Andean culture than the rest of the huge country, and is one of the main reasons you should visit. Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Patagonia are literally a world away culturally and geographically.
The Humahuaca Canyon, a UNESCO world heritage site, is located in the Province of Jujuy which is not far from Salta. The area is full of narrow mountain valleys, multi-coloured rock formations and starkly beautiful natural landscapes. This is Argentina’s northern frontier edging towards the border with Bolivia.
The first visit is to Purmamarca which is a very laid back village, similar in character to the famous San Pedro de Atacama in Chile but less developed. The main draw of this dusty little place is the beautiful Cerro de Siete Colores or “Hill of Seven Colors”, which forms a superb backdrop. We will spend some time in the village and walk to a viewpoint and around the immediate surrounding desert to take some great photos. The main plaza is also an interesting place to wander and window (or actually) shop.
After time in Purmamarca we continue deeper into the Quebrada de Humahuaca. You will see the “painters palette” rock formations in Maimara, then Tilcara, where you can walk amongst the Pre-Inca ruins and visit small village and the archaeological museum of Uquía, and the ancient church. In Humahuaca, the end point for today, you will visit the craft market and the independence monument. You will spend the night in this village or a nearby one.
Today is an excellent overview and taste of rural village life and Northern Argentine culture heavily influenced by ancient peoples from Bolivia and Peru and their heritage.
Day 5 – Cross the Bolivian Border, travel to the Salar de Uyuni by train (depending on the day)
Border crossings in most parts of Central and South America are very interesting. They would probably be quite stressful and chaotic if you were not taken care of by us, but we co-ordinate and direct you so you can enjoy the experience and add it to your list of travel stories.
Leaving Humahuaca after breakfast we continue to climb steadily till we get to the Argentine border town of La Quiaca. Your Argentine guide will leave you once you have gone through immigration to exit Argentina and then your Bolivian guide will pick you up on the other side, just a short distance away, at the customs post for Bolivia, Villazon.
You will be taken to the train station and board the service which runs to the Salar de Uyuni during the evening. Depending on the day you choose and the varying train schedule, this train may be replaced fully or in part by a bus transfer. You will arrive late into the town of Uyuni and fall into bed at your hotel, tomorrow will be another exciting day out. If you arrive early due to re-scheduling of the route then there will be time to visit the train graveyard and maybe even a short trip out onto the Salar de Uyuni.
Day 6 – Experience the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats
The Salar de Uyuni salt flats are world-famous and your circuit over and around them will be something you will never forget. This huge expanse of white stretches out to the horizon and once in the middle it is a very strange feeling, so many crazy and quirky photos can be taken so make sure you have plenty of photo memory and battery life.
You will start crossing the Salar de Uyuni from the village of Colchani where a stop will be made to visit the salt factory and be briefed on the salt-based economy of this settlement. After this visit we will start driving on the Salar proper and stop for some great photo opportunities at the iconic salt mounts. After time spent posing with the mounds we will continue driving to the Thunupa Volcano and drive up a short way to get to a viewpoint. You will have an impressive vista over the huge salt flats from here and then descend to Tahua where we will have lunch at the Tayka Salt Hotel.
In the afternoon we will take a side trip from the hotel to Chantani where we will visit an interesting museum displaying ancient pottery and mummies found in the local area. You will spend the night in the Tayka Salt Hotel, each room has a private bathroom, hot water and heating, hence certain creature comfort in this bleak environment.
Day 7 – Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats and Coloured Lagoons
Today you will visit the picture perfect Incahuasi Island, formed from an extinct volcano in the middle of the Salar de Uyuni, and upon arrival we will be able to walk to the top of the island for an amazing 360 º view of the huge salt plain. We will drive on to the small village of San Pedro de Quemes where we will stop for some lunch at the Tayka Stone Hotel.
After something to eat we will continue towards the chain of lakes named Cañapa, Hedionda, Chiarkota, Honda and Ramaditas. With luck we will see three kinds of flamingos and some other kinds of birds as the Andean Gulls and Ducks. These birds live near the lakes which are surrounded by imposing volcanoes with snowcaps.
After seeing the last lake in the chain we will start across a huge desert with no roads, just rough tracks. The desert vistas and rock formations offer many different colors from browns to reds, oranges, copper and beige which make for some fantastic photos. Later in the afternoon we will arrive at the Tayka Desert Hotel where you will spend the night.
Day 8 – Ojo de Perdiz – San Pedro de Atacama
This is a fascinating day out literally in the middle of nowhere and saying goodbye to the white expanses of the Salar de Uyuni. Today time will be spent in the area of the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve and the first visit of note is to the “Stone Tree” which as can be imagined is a huge rock eroded into the shape of a tree. The Red Colored Lagoon or “Laguna Colorada” is next on the list of Salar de Uyuni visits. This photogenic lake is the main nesting site of the three kinds of flamingos that are found in this area. The lovely reddish color of the water is produced by the presence of certain algae activated by the strong sunlight.
We will then visit the geysers Sol de Mañana and at this time we will be at the highest point of the whole trip at around 5000 meters above sea level. The cold will be intense here and we will walk among the noisy vapour spouts, hot springs and hot mud pools.
The desert and Salar of Chalviri offer unforgettable landscapes with many colors and contrasts and then in Polques you will take a swim in the hot springs and right after that we will enjoy an open air meal to keep your strength up at these altitudes.
The Valley of the Ladies Desert is next, a geological wonder created by the erosive forces of the high winds on the plain. After taking some great photos of this valley we will continue driving towards other main attraction of this immediate area, the Green Lagoon, located at the base of the Licancabur Volcano. We will arrive here around lunch time which is a great time to see how the waters of the lake change colour gradually from light green to deeper and deeper green.
After a good break here it is time to bid farewell to Bolivia and move towards the Chilean border. After we have undertaken the border formalities we will change to a Chilean vehicle and continue driving to the hotel in San Pedro de Atacama, around 2 hours away.
Day 9 – San Pedro de Atacama – Higland Lakes and the Valley of the Moon
You will be busy all day on visits in the area surrounding San Pedro. In the morning you will be accompanied by your guide high into the nearby mountains to more than 4200 meters above sea level to visit a series of lakes of different colors. This area is part of the Los Flamencos National Reserve and is managed by the indigenous community of Socaire, a Pre-Hispanic town where you will have lunch and meet local artisans. Later on, you will see the huge Atacama Salt Flat before continuing towards the Valley of the Moon.
The barren and spectacular Valle de la Luna (the Valley of the Moon in English) is a great excursion. The ravines and rock formations are very photogenic and the crowning moment is experienced at the top of a large sand dune, watching the sunset and witnessing the surrounding area changing into an eerie moonscape under the play of light and shadow.
Then it´s back to your hotel for a shower to get the dust off and you will be free to indulge yourself in the towns restaurants and bars.
Day 10 – San Pedro de Atacama – Tatio and Machuca Geysers
It’s a very early start today for the trip to the El Tatio Geysers, found at an altitude of 4200 meters above sea level. It is a one and a half to 2 hour drive to the geyser field and leaving really early means you coincide with the rising sun. This gives the geysers their most spectacular appearance. In this early morning cold, and at this altitude, each geyser is topped with a white column of steam that will disappear as the air temperature gets higher.
You will have around two hours to walk around the geysers, marveling at the geothermal eruptions and taking great photos. Then you can enjoy a light breakfast that typically will include a ham and cheese sandwich, biscuits, fruit, juice, tea and coffee. Then feel free to take a soak in one of the natural hot springs! While the outdoor temperatures being quite chilly, at around 40°F (5°C) due to the high-altitude and irrespective of the bright sunlight, the waters in the geothermal pools are a lovely 95°F (35°C).
You can change into your bathing suit or swimming shorts at the on site changing rooms, and then relax in the pool for around 45 minutes. After around three hours in total spent at the El Tatio site you will head back down towards San Pedro de Atacama, stopping in the village of Machuca en-route. You will have about an hour here to explore the very small village (with only about 10 residents) at your leisure, visit its wooden church, a handful of adobe houses with thatch roofs, and of course a handicrafts shop. Try a Llama empanada to keep your energy up and then we will board our transport for the drive back to San Pedro de Atacama, where your tour ends with hotel drop-off around midday.
As you got up so early you may wish to just take it easy in the afternoon but another excursion is easily added should you wish. To be fair there is plenty to keep you occupied while wander the dusty streets of San Pedro.
Day 11 – Optional return to Salta via Susques
We can complete the triangle with this leg of the journey. We cross the border back into Argentina at the high altitude Jama pass and continue to the very isolated village of Susques.
Susques offers the chance to do some unusual and interesting activities while we are based at a B and B in this tiny town. You will have the chance to spend time with real life Gauchos and see what they do day-to-day, spending time outdoors with livestock and also enjoy some local cooking lessons to see how you stack up in the kitchen with local recipes. This isolated location is also a chance to clear your head, relax and reflect on your experiences before going back to your home life, which is sure to be a lot more hectic than it is in Northern Argentina.
After our time in the middle of nowhere we will head down a few hours down the winding road to “civilization” in Salta again.