My first impression of Bolivia was mainly seen from the inside of my tent as I recovered from my sickness. I had heard that South-West Bolivia is a baron and remote place with very few towns and lots of grand open spaces with towering mountains above you but it was not until I was fully recovered that I could really grasp the scale of the this beautiful country. Fully recovered my aim was to cycle to the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat on earth so with re-newed energy and belly empty of any fluid I pedaled north east looking for the salt flats. Unfortunately there is not much of a road system in this part of Bolivia so the path I was followed was actually leading me in the wrong direction and over one of the large mountains! It seemed that I should have taken a left half an hour ago, and headed across a large and empty salt flat! You really need to check your compass/gps all the time to ensure you do not go the wrong way.
Two days later I reached the salt flats with a huge smile on my face. The Salar De Uyuni is completely flat, spans a massive 10,000Km square and was once a massive salt lake which has since dried under the oppressive Bolivian sun. The resulting salt flat creates a beautiful moonlike surface with the salt dried into hexagonal shapes everywhere you look. The only things you can see are small islands which dot the horizon and you simply aim your bike in the direction of the island you wish to visit and cycle. You can simply go in any direction you like as there are no roads. My direction saw me headed north to Isle Incahuasi and then east to the town of Uyuni over two days.
I loved cycling the Salar, openness of the landscape and the lack of people meant for two things. Lots of singing and naked cycling!! Naked cycling on the salar is a cyclist tradition shows just how remote the landscape is. I would never contemplate doing this anywhere else but was great fun and I cycled for about half an hour before putting my clothes back on as I didn’t want to burn anywhere which was not used to sun exposure!
I took two days off in Uyuni to relax and to clean the bike. The town of Uyuni is very small and really just centers as a tourist spot for tours of the salar and other regions of South-West Bolivia. It is important to clean the bike after the salar as the salt can corrode the steel frame so I stayed at Hotel Avenida for two days which offers a single room for just $5 with good wifi and hot showers the perfect place to relax.
From Uyuni my next stop was to ride to Potosi and then to Sucre. I did not know much about this road and found very little written about it but to my most welcome surprise it was the most beautiful road in Bolivia. The road goes up across the most beautiful mountains with massive high passes of over 4300m before dropping back down to 3500m where you are greeted by sweeping valleys with cactus plants waving at you as you pass. I highly recommend this route rather than the more boring northern highway which takes you straight to Oruro. Leaving Uyuni you start climbing straight away to 4000m and it is a slow and steady climb with views of the town and the salt flats if you look behind you. Then you cycle up and down past the old mining town of Pulacayo towards TicaTica and Potosi. There are plenty of wild camping places along this route especially in the valley of the cactus and food and water are found in each small town so you do not have to take too many supplies with you. Potosi is located at 4100m and is famous for the silver mine here which was set up by the Spanish and is still in use.
I only stayed in Potosi for one night but you can do tours of the mine including buying dynamite in the local market if you wish! The next stop for me was Sucre; located at 2500m this meant warmer temperatures and a big downhill from Potosi. Yea Baby! I cruised down towards Sucre with a massive smile and it was the first time in a long time I could just sit and cruise for such a long stretch. Cycling past small villages and waving at sheep farmers as I left the altiplano it was great to see trees and vegetation again along with being able to ride in my shorts for the first time in a very long time I was very very happy. This is what cycling is all about!
In Sucre I took ten days off the bike in the beautiful Celtic Cross hostel where they offer stay 4 nights and pay for 3! Sucre is a beautiful city with beautiful white Spanish architecture and did I mention sunshine!! I remember talking to a Dutch cyclist who told me that when she cycled the road from Uyuni to Sucre she cried at how beautiful it was. This hidden gem of a road needs to be cycled and I would even go as far to say I think I enjoyed this route more than my time in the much more famous salar. Bolivia is beautiful and there is more to come…..Happy times!
Buy me a beer!! Thank you
This blog follows my cycle ride from Reading, Berkshire to Reading, Pennsylvania.