150km of Blinding White: Cycling The Salar de Uyuni

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When I visited Bolivia’s largest salt flat (which is also the largest in the world) four years ago by jeep I had no idea that I would someday return to cycle across it. In fact, I didn’t even know that was possible. For the first seventy kilometers we had to share the Salar with tourist jeeps which would speed by, and then flicker out of existence in a weird optical illusion sort of way. It was funny to watch all of the tourists, who looked like tiny cartoon stick figures, taking pictures on the horizon, though we were happy to have our bikes and independence in order to explore at our own speed. We arrived to an island 100km from Uyuni where there were dozens of jeeps, and since this marked the end of the road for them, it was where the fun began for us as we crossed the rest of the Salar completely alone. It took us two full days to cross the Salar, 150km of salt and about 190km of pedaling from one town to the next.

The cycling was easy but it got a bit boring after a while. Our entertainment included zooming towards every not white speck we saw on the ground within eyesight which usually ended up being a piece of trash or a dead bird.

Kevin cycling in the distance.

Kevin cycling in the distance.

My four dollar Chilean cowboy hat has been a savior out here! The sun reflected off the salt and burned any exposed skin.

My four dollar Chilean cowboy hat has been a savior out here! The sun reflected off the salt and burned any exposed skin.

Kevin and I outside of the "salt hotel" which is ten km into the salt flat.

Kevin and I outside of the “salt hotel” which is ten km into the salt flat.

Kevin far off in the distance. The Salar de Uyuni (though not the smaller one I'll talk about next time) has this hexagon shaped natural marks all over the whole thing.

Kevin far off in the distance. The Salar de Uyuni (though not the smaller one I’ll talk about next time) has this hexagon shaped natural marks all over the whole thing.

Kevin on the "road," marked by worn out patches of salt.

Kevin on the “road,” marked by worn out patches of salt.

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No hands!

No hands!

We met an awesome Swiss duo (father and son) going the other way. We were surprised they were the only cyclists we met since we know its a popular route.

We met an awesome Swiss duo (father and son) going the other way. We were surprised they were the only cyclists we met since we know its a popular route.

The hexagons of salt were so defined, we assume it has something to do with how the water evaporates because every rainy season the salt flats turn into a lake.

The hexagons of salt were so defined, we assume it has something to do with how the water evaporates because every rainy season the salt flats turn into a lake.

Just keep pedalin'!

Just keep pedalin’!

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The jeeps didn’t all take the same road – road meaning path where the hexagons of salt are more worn out – so we mostly only saw them zooming by from far away.

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The island which charges five dollars (that’s a lot for Bolivia, the equivalent of a room for the night, or three good market meals) just to step on. It’s a tourist trap which works as the jeeps all stop here. Instead, we went another twenty kilometers further to the next, even larger island which is exactly the same except it’s free and without people.

Island number one with a few tourist building (bathrooms, restaurant).

Island number one with a few tourist building (bathrooms, restaurant).

Island number two, which was all ours!

Island number two, which was all ours!

The island was covered with cacti.

The island was covered with cacti.

We ate lunch on the island on our second day.

We ate lunch on the island on our second day.

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Camping was by far the best part about the Salar. It was such a unique and isolated place to camp, where it’s just you, your tent, and a whole lot of stars! And salt. Of course, we can’t forget the salt.

Some of the best camping ever!

Some of the best camping ever!

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Us, our bikes, and our home!

Us, our bikes, and our home!

Beautiful sunset in solitude.

Beautiful sunset in solitude.

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Typically when we stop cycling for the day I start cooking as Kevin sets up the tent.

Typically when we stop cycling for the day I start cooking as Kevin sets up the tent.

After two days across the first Salar we ended up at a wonderful village which represented everything we love about Bolivia. It was a small clean village which had seen tourists before (other cyclists) and therefore wasn’t shocked by us, yet it wasn’t reliant upon tourism for its economy so the people were still friendly and honest, unlike in the tourist hot spots. We were able to get a local meal – soup, followed by a plate of chicken and noodles plus tea – at a “restaurant” (a lady with a small room with a few tables and chairs) where a toothless grinning man enthusiastically welcomed us to the village and told us about how tons of tourists go to this one island in the Salar (the one I mentioned above which charges) which he thought was so funny and interesting.

We spent the night in the village before heading off across 40km of sandy hell before reaching the next Salar. Check back in a few days for a post about it!

Finally a cycling photo of both of us!

Finally a cycling photo of both of us!

Dance party on the Salar!

Dance party on the Salar!

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Pikes on Bikes technical details for this route: This route took place along the yellow line, through the first of two salars. We used our Garmin trekking GPS along with the Pikes GPS coordinates in order to find our way across.

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For a photo of the day and other updates follow me on facebook here, and for some awkwardly cropped photos from our journey, follow us on Instagram @awanderingphoto!

112 thoughts on “150km of Blinding White: Cycling The Salar de Uyuni

  1. shirin i wish i will have a girl like u 🙂 kevin is soo lucky by the way why always u writing but kevin never write anythink 🙂

  2. How do you both manage to take photos when both of you are pedaling on your bikes? Does one of you get off the bike, set up the camera on a tripod & then run to get on the bike? How do you manage that, especially images like Dance party on the Salar where both of you are at quite a distance from the camera?

  3. Such lively pictures! Is it easier to lose yourself in solitude? Or is it completely food/mind dependent?

  4. Such fun pics 🙂
    I’m planning to go to Bolivia for a couple months, hopefully next year. I want to go to the Salt Flats while I’m there, of course. It seems to be a must-do if you’re in Bolivia and many people rave about it, but I’ve also read some mixed reviews — sometimes not so great if you go during the wrong time of the year and/or you get a bad driver/tour guide. Of course you eliminated the latter potential problem!

  5. Great blog post! I had the most incredible time at the salt flats. Werent you not absolutely freezing in a tent?! I struggled with a sleeping bag and two layers of thermals in a salt hostel!

  6. Fascinating! I really found your journey intriguing and I like the map which places the reader right into this location. 150 km = 90 miles. Did the wind blow at all? Any birds fly by en route and camping? Reminds me of Sevier dry lake bed in Utah and Bonneville. I miss cycling. Thanks.

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