A Visual Tour of Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni

Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is easily the country’s most popular attraction. Tourists come from all over to see the otherworldly landscapes: from immense salt flats to colorful mountains and lakes to Dali-reminiscent deserts. When I was in Cochabamba for my Master’s internship I knew I had to make the trip there. My journey there was an adventure in and of itself, I had gone first to Sucre but the road from there to Uyuni was blocked by protestors so I made a really roundabout trip that lasted about 24 hours which involved some harrowing driving, chickens and construction materials as carry-ons, a driver that didn’t know where he was going on the overnight bus trip and bathroom breaks without bathrooms.

Once I finally got to Uyuni and picked the company for the tour I was put together with five other explorers who became my constant companions and friends for the next few days. Our driver was grumpy and our car was not in the best of shape but the scenery was unparalleled.

There is already so much information about this destination online so I’ve decided to just share my favorite photos from this trip to let them do the talking. Enjoy!

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Isla del Sol: Where the Sun was Born

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about la Isla del Sol as it seems that many friends are planning trips to Peru and Machu Picchu and I’ve been telling them something I’ll tell you now: I liked Isla del Sol better than Machu Picchu. Nothing against Machu Picchu, it was amazing and beautiful and I loved it, but the energy and experience of Isla del Sol topped it in my book. Isla del Sol is an island on Lake Titicaca, an enormously large and profoundly deep lake on the border of Peru and Bolivia. The two popular islands are la Isla de la Luna and la Isla del Sol on the Bolivian side where the Incan god of the sun was born. One of the reasons I love Isla del Sol so much is because of this feeling of spiritual energy I had when I was there, the ruins are not as impressive as other sites (like Machu Picchu) but I felt something really profound when I was there and left feeling cleansed in a way. Another reason I loved this place so much is that there is a fraction of the amount of tourists as other Inca ruins (like Machu Picchu) and the people that live on the island still make their living from farming or herding cattle. I don’t love feeling like a tourist when I travel so I loved coming to a place where you share the road with donkeys and sheep.

My Isla del Sol experience started in Copacabana, a larger town on the shores of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. I stayed the night there because I had arrived around mid-day and thought it’d be better to wait till morning to head out to give me a chance to see the town. Looking back, I think I maybe would have enjoyed more going straight to Isla del Sol because Copacabana doesn’t have too much to do as a solo traveler although I was able to climb up to a good viewpoint of the lake where lots of Bolivians were making offerings to Pachamama, mother earth, and see the sunset.

So first thing in the morning I got a boat to Yumani, on the southern side of Isla del Sol. Once you arrive you are greeted with a long and steep climb up some rocky stairs and winding paths before you reach the top. Along the way and at the top are small hostels where you can get a room for the night. I made a reservation at one that was almost to the top and ditched the things I wouldn’t need for the day since I planned to walk all around the island. There are paths that lead from Yumani to Ch’allapampa on the northern side and pass by the majority of the ruins on the way. You have to pay for an entrance ticket which gives you access to the route and goes to the indigenous community there who maintains the area. I took the upper trail on the map below in the morning and saw most of the ruins along the way.

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I had met up with some fellow female solo travelers on the trail so we walked along checking out the sites and taking pictures. I hadn’t done prior research on the meaning of the sites so I was left to mostly guess what they were supposed to be though my guide book did give short descriptions – there’s one stone reminiscent of Chronicles of Narnia supposedly used for human sacrifice. There are small booths along the way run by the community where they sell snacks and water but I didn’t eat too much along the way until I got to Ch’allapampa. You hike down to get into the community which is right on the open beach with little hostels and restaurants all around. The boat from Copacabana also stops by Ch’allapampa and many people make the trek one way along the island and stay in the north for the night to get the boat back in the morning. I had decided to make the full loop however so when I finished lunch I left my companions for the day behind and started walking at a quicker pace to make it back to Yumani before nightfall. There are not really any ruins on this other trail but the landscape is beautiful, occasionally dipping into wooded areas before coming out to open expanses where you can look out over the lake the the mountains beyond. I really loved walking along this section by myself and it’s where I really felt something powerful. I made it back to Yumani just in time to watch the sunset as I ate dinner outside.

My hostel was very basic and the night was quite chilly but I woke up in the morning to the sight of the sun rising over the mountains beyond Lake Titicaca. That view and that moment really encapsulated my experience at Isla del Sol: clean crisp air, incredibly blue water and sky and a feeling of being born again with the sun.