Travel Before Kids: the Incredible Beauty of the Bolivian Salt Flats
I started my travels long before kids, although somehow we have managed to actually travel more since having kids though. A few years back from friend Bronwen and her husband knew they wanted to start a family and move back home. They sold everything and took an incredible trip around South America before settling into life in Seattle and having their gorgeous baby girl, who is now 2 years old. Bronwen was nice enough to share a little of her adventures before her daughter came along. But have no fear, there adventures have certainly continued even after having kids.
In September of 2008, my husband and I quit our jobs, put our belongings in storage, and set out on an eight-month journey through South and Central America.
It was entirely his idea, and in a rare moment of throwing caution to the wind, I agreed to go along with it. Thus began the biggest adventure of my life (before parenthood, that is). Between September and May we hit 14 countries on 2 continents, connected by a truly harrowing sailboat journey between Colombia and Panama. There are many, many tales to tell, but the question people always ask is this: If you had to recommend just one spot out of every place you visited, what would it be? Both my husband and I agree that the experience that stands out most vividly in our minds is the 4 day jeep tour we took through southern Bolivia, ending on the Salar de Uyuni – the Bolivian salt flats.
Dozens of tour companies run jeep trips across the Salar and the surrounding area. We joined a group of 8 other travelers (including an intrepid Australian couple traveling with their 2 year old daughter) with La Torre Tours out of Tupiza, which meant we would spend three days seeing the sights before ending up on the salt flat. At $160 per person the tour included lodging and transportation (5 people per jeep) with a driver and a cook who constantly amazed us with the culinary delights she whipped up on a camper stove in the back of the jeep!
There are few words to describe the beauty and strangeness of this part of the world. In 4 days we saw great red mountains rising out of dry river beds; ghost towns made of stone left behind by silver miners; volcanoes towering over red and turquoise mineral lakes filled with thousands of pink flamingos; natural sulphur springs with bubbling, boiling mud; enormous rock and petrified wood formations rising out of the desert; hotels made entirely of salt; a train graveyard of twisted metal and rusted locomotives; and of course, the Salar de Uyuni.
After days of traveling from one astonishing sight to another, we will never forget the awe we felt that final morning, watching dawn break over the seemingly endless ocean of salt. The Salar measures over 4000 square miles wide and is roughly 12 miles deep. There is a giant corral reef island covered in cacti rising out of it’s surface. In places you can stick your arm into the icy cold holes in the crust and pull out salt crystals, perfectly square and as big as your fist. Standing in the Salar’s center looking across the vast white plane is an epic experience, and one that we recommend to anyone looking for an adventure in an extraordinary part of the world.