Salar de Uyuni
Let's start with how difficult it was to actually find a reputable bus company (many companies are known for their reckless drivers, lack of heat, uncomfortable seats, etc.). And how it was even more difficult to actually book tickets with the company once we found one. It was a pain in the ass, but it's how they roll so you really don't have a choice aside from paying a premium to have your hotel (or a travel company) book everything for you.
We lucked out and snagged the last two tickets on the night bus - from La Paz to Uyuni - with Todo Tourismo. They served dinner and I downed half of it (despite the fact it wasn't that great) because sometimes the bus ride can take up to 12 hours (it did wind up taking 12 hours), and I didn't want to have to get into my snacks a day early. I went to sleep and woke up the next morning, finally in Uyuni, feeling like I could have projectile vomited across the bus. My stomach was in knots and was gurgling like mad and I knew, for certain, that I had food poisoning. I laughed because that would happen to me when we were about to squeeze into a 4x4 with complete strangers (and have limited access to the restroom), but I also went to the bathroom and cried because BUT WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME???
To make matters worse - since we were just kind of planning the trip as we went - we didn't even have a return ticket from Uyuni. Or a spot on a Salar tour. Thankfully Thom booked us a return ticket while I was cryvomming (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?) in the bathroom and then we got our stuff together and set out on what felt like the impossible journey of searching for a tour company. I had heard good things about Quechua Connection and we were thisclose to going with them - like, we were sitting in their office about to pay for tickets - until I realized there was only one other couple booked and I took that as a sign to GTFO. So we went and searched for the Red Planet office because Thom was pressing me hard about going with the company that stays near the hot springs. When we arrived at the office, there were about 20 other people already booked but they were able to squeeze us in because they've got a pretty large fleet. And not long after, we crammed into the cruiser with five other strangers (we're currently staying with two of our favorites in London) (!!!!!) and we were on our way.
I was sick with food poisoning from the moment we arrived in Uyuni until the moment we got back from the tour (my first "meal" was a basket of French fries at the local pub) (and those fries were what started my fry obsession). But, funny enough, the exceptional company and jaw-dropping scenery made me forget about how awful I felt, and the trip wound up being one of the most memorable and incredible travel experiences I've ever had. Which I think speaks volumes about the Salar de Uyuni; that I was the sickest I've ever been yet it somehow went down as one of my top three travel adventures. I could go on, but I think the photos speak for themselves.
Once your trip wraps up and you arrive back in Uyuni, you'll likely have a few hours before your bus departs for La Paz (or wherever you're headed). Go kill some time at the Extreme Fun Pub and follow up with dinner at Minuteman Revolutionary Pizza (the build-your-own salad is KILLER) (the pizza is, too).
- If you call a bus company and try to purchase tickets, they will likely tell you they're sold out when they're not. You need to go in and wait, in person - which will likely eat up a few hours of your day, but I promise it's worth it.
- We took the overnight bus via Todo Tourismo and then booked our Salar de Uyuni tour with Red Planet (about an hour before the trip departed). We went with the three day tour but there's a one day option available, too (which we'll do when we go back for the wet season).
- Lower your expectations and be prepared to rough it. There is no electricity, access to Western toilets is limited, and it gets cold (Thom says cold is an understatement) at night. So cold that I had to sleep with my phone, camera, and batteries.
- Only bring what you need; layers, more layers, a swimming suit (HOT SPRINGS), sunscreen (the elevation will get ya), sunglasses, and snacks.
- If you get altitude sickness, make sure you have medication (or coca leaves) on hand.
- Carry cash. Small bills. And tip your driver! Our entire jeep (six people) wound up tipping Bs 350.
- Although I was sick the entire trip and rarely ate anything, the food was simple, hearty, and certainly better quality than what I expected (Red Planet offers vegan options, just give them a heads up).
- We went with Red Planet because they're the only tour company that actually stays at the hot springs. Well, that and because they're known for their English-speaking guides and the fact that their 4x4s rarely break down (it happens more often than you'd think). Although a night at the hot springs may not seem worth it considering every other tour company visits during the day, I promise it is. Because our group got to take a post-dinner soak - under a clear sky and blanket of stars - until midnight. And then we got up early the next morning and did it again during sunrise.