Salar de Uyuni tour, Bolivia

Touring the Salt Flats with Cordillera Traveller: A Review

When picking a company to take you through Uyuni’s Salt Flats, there’s a lot to consider.  If planning, or about to set off on a tour, you will have heard through the grapvine that since 2008, 16 people have been killed in car accidents in the flats.   Safety is obviously paramount.  For this reason, and on advice from many others, Cordillera Traveller was the company I went with.  Their major selling point was their completely clean safety record…and the fact that they are apparently the only company operating out of both San Pedro de Atacama and Uyuni to be able to claim this.

But there are other things to consider too:  Food, accommodation…and an invisible little ingredient for which I’ll use the lovely Spanish term “buena onda.”  Good vibes.

The sum of all these things amount to a great experience.

Here’s how Cordillera Traveller added up.

FOOD

We ate very well with the company.  I was never hungry…and anyone who knows me will testify as to what an impressive amount of food I can put away.

Breakfast

The breakfast before setting off included fresh bread, ham, cheese, margarine, jam, juice, coffee and Milo.  We were not at all hungry that morning.  On Days Two and Three, it got a little spare, but was still fine:  White bread, jam, margarine, coffee or mate.

Lunches

Healthy and varied.  Cucumber, tomato and avocado salad with sausages and (fake) mashed potato (Day One) and a huge cold spread including tuna, corn, rice, and fresh salad (Day Two).  Roasted chicken, pasta and cold cooked veggies (Day Three).

Dinners

Again, very filling.  Soup followed by spaghetti with a vegetarian-friendly sauce (Day One) and soup followed by fried chops with rice and chips (Day Two).  A bottle of wine was chucked in that day too.

Eggs and egg varieties (omelette) were provided for veggies…if anything, the lack of a more interesting alternative was the only downfall.

Overall Score:  10/10

ACCOMMODATION

We were expecting the ugliest, most terrifying worst – having heard many a horror story (mostly from guide books, to be fair…not always the best source of information).

Accommodation Day One Salar Tour
Our bedroom on Day One – communal but very big. Slightly larger singles seem to be the norm here, so lots of room to spread out.

But our digs, while simple, were perfect especially considering where we were in the world.  Cordillera Traveller gets an extra couple of points for having a private building located slightly away from the much more over-crowded building shared by at least 10 other tour groups.  On our first night, we were the only tour group going through with the company…but as they wouldn’t have room for more than 6 cars worth of people, you would never feel overcrowded.

Building, Day One Accommodation
Cordillera Travellers have specific access to this building, located away from where loads of other tour agencies are. An added bonus.

Day Two’s salt hotel was a bit of a laugh:  A loose salt floor, salt bricks, salt table and chairs.  While it couldn’t be described as warm, with a few extra layers on, nor did we freeze.  And for an added bonus, hot showers were available that night.

Salt Bedroom
Salt Bedroom

Overall Score:  9/10

BUENA ONDA

In my opinion, this is where Cordillera Traveller fell hard.  Our driver seemed to want to be almost any place other than in a car with us.  Easy to understand at times, as we were certainly chatty and excited…but he made it all too abundantly clear when we didn’t please him by having clean enough shoes, or when we asked to stop to take a photo of a landmark which had been advertised, or when we asked him, well, anything at all.

It was the first time in a long time that I was made to feel like a child, and that unfortunately put a dampener on the whole trip.  It was so difficult to find a way in with him (as he seemed to bat off any questions I asked) that in the end, I gave up.

To his credit, he was an excellent driver.  Very careful and always watched out for the much less experienced driver leading the second car in our convoy.  Of course, safety is more important than good vibes…but when you’re stuck in a 4×4 with someone who doesn’t seem to want you to be there, it’s very difficult.

It’s a real shame, as the rest of the services provided by the company were excellent.

Overall Score:  0/10

Grand Total for Cordillera Travellers:  6/10

The company was a good choice for food, accommodation and safety.  To that end, it was a very good choice as we were safe and well-fed.  You cannot always hope for buena onda…our moods depend very much on so many factors.  And, of course, we are responsible for our reactions to how people treat us.  Thankfully, the travellers in our 4×4 were lovely and for that, I thank them.  For the food and safety record, I thank the agency.

GETTING THERE

  • Research, research, reasearch.  Read but most importantly, speak to as many people as possible.  Other travellers are your best resource, as they have either just come off the route you’re about to embark upon, or they are in the same boat and are researching too.  Use them to help make your decision.
  • My tour with Cordillera Traveller cost $72,000 Chilean Pesos, about US$160.  A little bit on the pricey side, you pay extra for the safety record.
  • For those not in, or not wanting to go to Chile, tours also leave from (and return to) Uyuni and Tupiza.  While I can’t confirm this personally, other travellers have told me that companies from Tupiza are famous for sending out energizer-bunny tour guides, who take an active interest in helping their clients enjoy their trip (including helping you take great pics on the Salar itself…a task which is not as easy as it looks!)
  • If you finish your tour in Uyuni, buses leave for Sucre via Potosí (around 60Bs) as well as La Paz (150Bs).
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