Post 11 of a series detailing our trip around South America. View the series so far here.
The last day of our Bolivian salt flat tour packed yet more amazing experiences into just one morning. We dived through steam vents, bathed in hot springs, and reached the highest altitude of our entire trip!
We met our Andes Salt Expeditions tour group for a very early, very chilly breakfast at 5.30am, then bundled into the 4×4 to drive through the gradually lifting darkness. The car stopped by a steam vent, called a fumarole, which was furiously and noisily shooting a column of hot vapour several meters into the freezing air.
It was an awesome and intimidating sight, so imagine our surprise when our guide Juan went and jumped right into it! Of course, then we all wanted a go. It was hot enough to scald if you stayed in it for more than a few seconds, which meant diving through it felt just a little dangerous, as well as a lot of fun!
Afterwards we drove just a few minutes up the road to an area filled with geysers, which we walked around with caution. Being completely natural and untouched, the ground had no safety barriers or paths but Juan told us where we could walk and where we couldn’t.
The undulating ground was a bizarre painting of swirling colours, bubbling mud pools, cracks and craters, rough frost and smooth ice. The freezing ground and chill in the air made the intense heat emanating from the fumaroles and from certain patches of ground feel all the more amazing. To top it all off, the sun was just beginning to peek over the mountain tops, giving the surrounding hills a bright orange glow that contrasted strongly with the billowing clouds of blue steam. It was one of the weirdest areas I’ve ever been, and I couldn’t stop snapping photos.
Frozen hot springs
We continued driving until we reached some natural hot springs, complete with basic, hut-like changing rooms. The air outside was so cold that most of our group opted to stay wrapped up, but Steve and I didn’t want to risk missing out! After paying a small entry fee and (quickly, shiveringly) changing into our swimwear, we spent around 10 blissful minutes bathing in the warm, steaming pool surrounded by frosted-over rocks. It was a unique experience and 100% worth the few painful minutes of cold. And much to our amusement, Juan joined us too!
Once we were dried and back in our many thermal layers we returned to the car for a long drive towards the Chilean border. Fortunately, the stunning mountainous scenery was entertainment in itself. We climbed higher and higher into the mountains, driving up narrow roads hugging the sides of volcanoes, until we reached a large plateau.
Here we were let out to view a collection of oddly shaped rocks on a distant hillside, which Juan informed us were known as the Dali Rocks for their resemblance to Salvador Dali’s surreal landscapes. Juan told us we were now at 5,000 metres, or 16,000 feet – the highest altitude we’d reach over the course of our entire South America trip. And we were so accustomed to it by now that we didn’t feel a thing.
We had already been warned by Juan that Laguna Verde – green lake – would not look green today as the conditions were not right for it. However, no-one minded stopping to see one more lake before we all went our separate ways. Parking on top of a hill overlooking the wide, currently blue-coloured lake, we took the opportunity to take some excellent ‘jumping’ group photos (the man third from the right was our driver, Vladimir)!
The Chilean border crossing
There was just one more thing to do: to cross over the border into Chile. Only Steve and I were doing this; the rest of our group were heading back to Uyuni. We hugged everyone goodbye while Juan went and got our passports stamped, then we got into the bus that would take us out of Bolivia and into San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
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All text and photos (c) Juliet Langton, 2018. All rights reserved.