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Join the Cloud Appreciation Society on an unforgettable adventure to the world’s largest salt flats in southwest Bolivia.
The Salar de Uyuni, covering an area of 10,582 square kilometres (4,086 sq mi) at the edge of the Atacama Desert, is the largest region of salt flats in the world. Situated on a high plateau, it is at an elevation of 3655 metres, which means the air is incredibly clear. This, along with the complete lack of light pollution, mean this extraordinary wilderness is considered to be one of the top ten stargazing locations in the world.
At certain times of year, the daytime skies of the Salar de Uyuni can be just as amazing. We will be visiting around the end of the wet season of January and February, which is when a shallow layer of rainwater can lie over huge regions of the salt flats. If we are lucky with our timing, the water will be present on the surface but will also be shallow enough to travel on and not to develop any waves, thereby acting as an enormous mirror on the sky. This is when any cloudscapes can be doubled up, with the sky above reflected in the glassy water below.
Staying on the shores of Lake Titicaca, we will travel by boat to the Isla de la Luna and the Isla del Sol where we will explore the ruins of an Incan palace, and see the traditional Andean system of terraced agricultural – all against a majestic backdrop of the Andes mountain range. We will also visit the Pre-Columbian archaeological site of Tiwanaku. Likely founded in around 110AD, this grew to a thriving city close to Lake Titicaca by 800AD, long before the Incan empire took hold. In keeping with our sky theme, we will see Tiwanaku’s Gate of the Sun and Gate of the Moon.
The Salar de Uyuni is at an altitude of 3655 metres and is so remote that it has negligible light pollution. With crystal clear air and extremely dark nights, the salt flats are a world-class destination for stargazing. While we are staying in our salt hotel on the edge of the Salar, we will be joined by an expert astronomer who will give us an illustrated talk about the night sky and will take us out for guided stargazing with telescopes in the incredible dark of the salt flats. We are timing the trip around a new moon to ensure that the stars of any clear nights will appear at their very brightest.
We meet in La Paz and acclimatise to the altitude
The highest capital city in the world at an altitude of 3,600m, La Paz is also one of the most spectacular. Clinging to steep canyon walls and dominated by the magnificent snow-covered peaks of Mount Illimani, the city is both dramatic and breathtaking.
Incredible too is the juxtaposition of old and new, of intriguing traditions and modern-day living. Bowler hat clad women bustle outside the colonial cathedral, while tourists crowd into the captivating witches market. Dramatic and fascinating, La Paz is truly a city to be explored.
It takes time for the body to adjust to the altitudes of this region of Bolivia, and so our first day is best considered one of rest in the lovely and modern Atix Hotel. For anyone already acclimatised because they came in advance, there will be an optional half-day tour of the city. This will include a visit to the Indian Market and the Witch Doctor’s Market, the Colonial church of San Francisco, Murillo square, the Government Palace and more.
Overnight: Atix Hotel, La Paz.
Included: Transfer from airport to hotel.
We head to Tiwanaku and Lake Titicaca
After breakfast in our hotel, our coach will take us to the ancient ruins of Tiwanaku (1.5 hr journey) where we will explore this fascinating World Heritage Site which dates back to 100AD. After lunch, we will head to Copacabana, a small town on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca. The town has a lovely market to wander around and a large cathedral on the main square that is a place of pilgrimage for local people.
After settling in and taking a rest in our hotel, we will take a very short drive up the hill to the old town of Sampaya. With a fantastic view out across the lake this will be our location to watch the sunset for which this sacred Lake Titicaca is famous.
Overnight: Hotel Rosario Lago Titicaca, Copacabana.
Included: Breakfast, lunch, dinner and accommodation. Entry to Tiwanaku and all transfers.
We explore Inca ruins and then travel to the salt flats
In our hotel after breakfast, we will enjoy an illustrated talk about our atmosphere by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, Cloud Appreciation Society founder and Member 001.
Feeling stimulated and enlightened, we will head out onto Lake Titicaca by boat, taking in stunning views of the Andes as we travel to Isla del Sol, or Sun Island (45 minute trip). There we will visit Pilko Kaina, a two-level Inca Palace dramatically located on the shore of Lake Titicaca. We will explore the Inca Gardens, Fountain of Eternal Youth and see the traditional Andean agricultural system of terraces still in use today.
Lunch on the island, served by a local family, will be a traditional ‘Apthapi’ Andean buffet, including local potatoes, cheese, eggs, trout, lamb and vegetables. We will then sail back to Copacabana stopping off en route at the smaller Isla de la Luna (Moon Island).
Our coach will transfer us back to La Paz airport (three-hour journey), from where we will take the short flight to the town of Uyuni on the edge of the Salar and then the short transfer to our hotel, where a delicious dinner will be awaiting us. The Luna Salada Hotel looks out across the huge expanse of Salar de Uyuni, and it is constructed entirely of salt.
Overnight: Luna Salada Hotel, Salar de Uyuni.
Included: Breakfast, lunch, dinner and accommodation. Boat trip on Lake Titicaca, flight to Uyuni and all transfers.
Our day out on the Salar de Uyuni
Those of us who like an early start can head out onto the salt flats in our 4×4 vehicles to watch the oranges and reds of sunrise over the stunning, endless expanse of the Salar de Uyuni, before returning to our hotel for breakfast with those who prefer a more relaxed start. We will then all head to the nearby village of Colchani, where locals process salt by hand, before heading out onto the salt flats. The vast scale of this unique desert of salt is an experience unlike any other. We will travel across it to Incahuasi, one of the small rocky islands rising from the salt, which is home to giant cactuses and small rabbit-like vizcacha. Those who choose to make the 20-minute walk to the top of the island are rewarded with breathtaking views across the desert of salt.
After a delicious buffet lunch of local produce out on the salt flats we will try to take in a part where the right amount of surface water provides the reflections that dramatically double the sky and clouds. Today is a photographers paradise.
After a reset in the late afternoon, we will be joined by our expert astronomer, who will give us an illustrated talk about the night sky. That evening we will head out to watch the blues and purples of the sunset on the salt flats and enjoy a guided stargazing session with telescopes. The temperatures are cold at night, so we’ll want to be well wrapped up, but in this region of no light pollution and crystal clear air the stars are among the best in the world.
Overnight: Luna Salada Hotel, Salar de Uyuni.
Included: Breakfast, lunch, dinner and accommodation. National park entry fee to the Salar de Uyuni. All 4×4 transport across the salt flats. Expert talk and guided stargazing.
A volcano, sculptures and mummies and a train cemetery
After breakfast, we will head to the north of the salt flats. Here, we can walk up Tunupa Volcano, from where the views down onto the salt flats are extraordinary. Named after the god of thunder, supreme creator of nature and master of order in the world, this extinct volcano is considered sacred by locals, was revered in the Aymara culture and is one of the most important pre-Hispanic sanctuaries. We can be flexible with fitness levels, but climbing the Tunupa Volcano is not difficult and won’t be hard if you’re in a reasonable shape.
Back in the small village of Coquesa at the foot of the volcano, we will visit the Chantani Museum to learn out about the Quechua communities indigenous to the Salar de Uyuni and see in the nearby caves the Coquesa mummies who had been scarified on the volcano. The small village also has an outdoor sculpture museum.
After lunch on the Salar de Uyuni, we will stop in at the ‘Cemeterio de Trenes’, or train cemetery. Hundreds of abandoned trains lie rusting in the salty winds. They are a testament to mining history of this region and the Bolivian government’s abandoned ambitions for Uyuni to be a transport hub for this region of South America. Some stories have it that US outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their end down the tracks from here.
After an early dinner back at the hotel, we will be taken to Uyuni for our evening flight back to La Paz.
Overnight: Atix Hotel, La Paz.
Included: Breakfast, lunch, dinner and accommodation. Entry to the Salar de Uyuni and all museums and sites. 4×4 transport across the salt flats. Transfers and flight to La Paz.
On our last day, we will experience the history and culture of this fascinating region.
Transfer to La Paz airport for onward journeys home
After breakfast, we will be transferred to La Paz airport for our flights home.
Included: Breakfast and coach transfer to La Paz airport.
La Paz, Lake Titicaca and the Salar de Uyuni are at elevations of 3640m, 3810m, and 3655m respectively. This is a high-altitude trip. These altitudes can affect people in different ways, with some finding that they are short of breath and more easily tired. We will take the opportunity on our day of arrival to rest and naturally acclimatise, but it is important to bear in mind that some people find the environment more challenging than others. The exact itinerary and the particular locations we visit on the Salar de Uyuni will depend on the water conditions on the salt flats. Good reflections need shallow water, while too much water can limit where we can drive and so might necessitate changes to the itinerary.
Guide price of £2,475 GBP / €2,900 EUR / $4,600 AUD, depending on the exchange rate at time of purchase.
Single supplement: There will be a $650 USD supplement per person for single occupancy hotel rooms. Let us know at time of booking if you would be interested to share a twin room with another guest of the same gender to avoid a single supplement.
Deposit: A deposit of 20% is required to reserve your place on this unique Sky Holiday.
Price includes everything listed in the ‘What’s Included’ section. This group trip is dependent on a minimum number of clients booking.
Steppes Travel, our tour-operator partners for this trip, will be happy to help with booking flights to ensure you are in the right place at the right time. Bolivia is not the easiest place to get to, which is one reason it is such a special place to visit. There are limited international flights into La Paz. The main gateway to Bolivia is Santa Cruz, to where there are daily flights from the US (from Miami) and Europe (from Madrid). From Santa Cruz, there is a one-hour connecting flight on to La Paz.
Email Steppes Travel to enquire about this trip and possible flights or call them on +44 1285 885333 or US toll-free: 1 855 2037885
If you would like to consider options for adding a pre- or post-extension to the trip – perhaps to visit Peru or the Amazon – Steppes Travel would be happy to help with this.
All transfers from our meeting at La Paz airport to our departure at La Paz airport.
Flights from La Paz to Uyuni and back.
All food and accommodation.
4×4 vehicle transport onto the Salar de Uyuni. (We will be travelling with three guests per vehicle).
Illustrated talk about our atmosphere by Cloud Appreciation Society founder Gavin Pretor-Pinney.
Expert astronomy guide with use of telescopes.
Boat transport on Lake Titicaca.
Entry fees to all museums, archeological sites and national parks.
Cloud Appreciation Society welcome bag with special embroidered patch to commemorate the trip.
Flights between your home city and La Paz (but our partners at Steppes Travel can help arrange flights for you when you make contact about your booking)
Any travel visas.
Optional gratuities for guides.
Warm clothing, which will be essential as we will be at high altitudes where temperatures can get very cold.