2016 was another year full of adventures. I quit my job at the end of 2015 to travel. But this time I wanted it to be open-end without any commitments. The only thing I knew was that I would be flying to Rio de Janeiro on January 2nd 2016 and travel for 3 weeks with my sister. I didn’t know if I would return back home after that or continue traveling by myself.
Of course I didn’t go home after three weeks and what followed was the time of my life: I visited Brazil, Peru and Bolivia in South America and returned to Central America for the 3rd time to travel in Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
It was such a liberating experience to not have any obligations and just live day by day. I spent most of my time at different beaches all over Latin America learning how to surf. When I was bored with beach life and needed a change I went to the mountains to hike or did a tour in breathtaking nature. Although I don’t particularly like cities I visited some of the major ones too if they were on my way.
Sometimes I stayed for a day and sometimes for two months.
Sometimes I was looking for adventure and sometimes for everyday life.
The only thing I was concerned about was the moment and my guts told me if I should stay longer or if it was time to move on.
And after 10 months I had enough. I never imagined that my desire to travel would end before I run out of money but that was the case. I reached Nicaragua and knew that I had seen enough. The signs were clear: I didn’t enjoy moving around anymore, couldn’t stand another night in a dorm, and preferred to drink sunset-beers by myself on the terrace while a party was going on downstairs. It was time to go home. And then I booked a flight and returned to Switzerland.
Many people have asked me what my favorite experience was or which place I liked the most during my journey. It is hard to choose from such a huge rage of different experiences but I did my best to narrow it down for you.
Here is the countdown of my three favorite destinations of 2016:
- 1st place of my favorite destinations in 2016 (coming soon)
- 3rd place of my favorite destinations in 2016
2nd Place: Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
The only thing I was certain about concerning my travel plans was that I wouldn’t be going to Bolivia.
I had heard good things about Bolivia but I just felt that it wasn’t for me. The place is too cold, only mountains and it’s landlocked. Besides, why would I want to visit Salar de Uyuni, a place I had already seen hundreds of perspective pictures from? It is freezing, dangerous and at high altitude. Nothing for me.
I held on to this conviction for months and even when I was in Peru I was sure that I wouldn’t go any further South. But then I ended up in Cusco and Bolivia was all of a sudden pretty close. Everyone I met was either coming from there or going there. And then I heard the convincing piece of information that made me change my mind: A girl told me that if I did the three day Salar de Uyuni tour, I wouldn’t only see the salt flats but also lagoons and pink flamingos. Yes PINK flamingos.
And all of a sudden it sounded like the greatest plan in the world and I couldn’t wait.
A lot has been written and said about the Salar the Uyuni tours. It basically comes down to this: It will either be the worst or the best experience of your trip, depending on the company you go with. My friends and I did a lot of research trying to find the ideal one for us and it was impossible. There is no company that has very good ratings and there are devastating comments written about all of them. Further I learned that not only the company was important but also the driver who is at the same time the guide. Terrible and unfriendly drivers caused most horrible experiences I read about. We realized that we just needed to make a choice. Luckily we made the right one.
We ended up going with Sol de Mañana and the drivers name was Jaimen. Unfortunately who you end up with is more of a coincidence than something you can plan. The groups get combined if there are not enough people. My advice would be to do the research and book with a company that looks professional and takes their customers seriously. What happens from there is unfortunately hard to control.
The Salar de Uyuni tour
This tour doesn’t require any special preparation except for in two areas: The temperature and the altitude. We did the Salar de Uyuni tour in the beginning of September, just at the end of the coldest season. I had some warmer clothes with me but I knew that it wouldn’t be enough and bought gloves and a sweater made out of alpaca in La Paz. I stayed at around 3000 meters for several weeks before going on the tour and felt well adjusted by that time.
We took a night bus from La Paz to Uyuni and began with the tour the next morning. It took two nights and three days and it started and ended in Uyuni.
Day 1 of the Salar de Uyuni tour:
The first day is all about the salt flats. You reach them after around an hour drive from Uyuni and there are two main stops. The first one is for lunch at a restaurant made out of salt. The second one is at the Isla del Pescado. The salt flats are like nothing I had ever seen before. The white salt perfectly contrasts with the blue sky and that’s all you see over long distances. No matter where you look you want to take a picture and it feels like being in an unreal environment. The drivers know that and they give you plenty of time for photographs. They even have advice on how to get the perfect perspective picture. We spent the night at a cosy guesthouse, which even had a heater in the main dining area. It was definitely a lot nicer and warmer than I expected.
Day 2 of the Salar de Uyuni tour:
This is the day when we saw the lagoons and the pink flamingos. The nature and the landscape are completely different from the first day and it is as if these two environments don’t belong together. The tour takes you past hills and plains and all of a sudden a lagoon with crystal clear blue water and pink flamingos appears. I could have stayed there for hours, not knowing that this was only the beginning. We continued and had lunch at the next lagoon, which had even more flamingos and was just as stunning as the first one. In the afternoon we visited the Arbol de Piedra a stone, which has the shape of a tree with a thin stem. This special shape is due to strong winds carrying sand and eroding the soft sandstone. The day ended with the Laguna Colorado, a red lagoon.
The second night was the colder one and I was prepared. I wore eight pieces of clothing, had a sleeping bag and two woolen blankets. Maybe that was too much. I woke up in the middle of the night sweating like crazy and couldn’t go back to sleep after that.
Day 3 of the Salar de Uyuni tour:
We started very early in the morning and reached the geysers and bubbling sulfur pools just after sunrise. The whole area is open and visitors are free to walk around the steamy hot ponds. The interplay of light and steam creates a mystic atmosphere, while the people walking around it keep disappearing and then appearing again. After half an hour we continued and went to the Laguna Verde, a green lagoon. Unfortunately it wasn’t the right season and the green color wasn’t as strong as it could have been.
The tour ended with the hot springs, the moment we had all been waiting for after three days without a shower. Later on we stopped in a small town for lunch and then returned to Uyuni.
Salar the Uyuni is very different from the other places that made the list of my three favorite destinations in 2016. It is not a place where I would have wanted to stay longer or go back to. I even didn’t mind when the tour was over. But those three days were perfect. What nature has to offer there is absolutely overwhelming and unique. Salt flats, lagoons, flamingos, geysers, hot springs and weirdly shaped stones all within such a small area. I couldn’t help it but be amazed over and over again at what I saw. We had the perfect driver and guide and couldn’t imagine how anyone could even describe this tour as dangerous or horrible.
What I saw during my Salar de Uyuni tour was a once in a lifetime experience and stands out from the other destinations in 2016. That’s why it comes in 2nd place of my 3 favorite destinations in 2016.