Bolivia

by Bicycle

Sajama to Uyuni

Cycling from Sajama to Uyuni was our fourth chapter of the trip through Bolivia. The mighty Sajama Mountain was our background for a few days. We crossed two salt flats in this route. They were the closest experience of what it was like to ride bicycles on a planet other than planet earth.. The mighty Sajama Mountain was our background for a few days. From here, we crossed two salt flats. They were the closest experience of what it was like to ride bicycles on a planet other than planet earth.

ROUTE DONE IN December 2018

Distance

386 km

days

10

Difficulty (1-10)

7.5

See you, Sajama!

Our fourth chapter in this altiplano country was cycling to salt flats, Bolivia. It took us 11 days with one day off in Julo due to my monthly special. This route only had three small sections of tarred road: outside of the National Park, Sabaya village, and from Cholcani to Uyuni town. The majority was sandy and rippled with corrugated surface across the altiplano – it’s perfectly suited to fat bikes, but not ours. And the rest was salt ground. With these roads, the challenge started!

On the first day, we left Sajama National Park. No one checked on our ticket entrance that we never pay. Once we were out, the road changed into a perfect tarred road. We pumped our low-pressure tires with the mighty Sajama mountain standing proud as our background.

Once our tires were ready, we pedaled our bicycle towards the Chilean border. We heard there is a panoramic-route called Ruta de las vicunasAlthough we knew that once we get out of Bolivia – as an Indonesian passport holder, I would need to apply for a another visa to Bolivia, and it will take more cost and time to do it. Since the border isn’t far from the junction to Casa Blanca, we tried our luck, anyway. And, of course, we knew the answer. So, we choose to stay and keep exploring Bolivia for now.

At the end of the day, we had a pinky sky with the iconic peak of Sajama mountain as our camp background.

Sandy roads

For days we pedal from Sajama National Park to salt flat, Bolivia, we found very few villages. Most seem only sparsely populated or even partly abandoned. It was more llamas wandering the dusty, dull streets than humans. Or perhaps it is because of the roads?

Although we put our tires in the low pressure, we still had to push our bicycles at times. Sometimes, Luís would go back to help me to push mine on this powdered ground.

When we pedaling our bicycle on the usual sandy roads toward Tunapa, we met a French cyclist, Clément Rattier. Since we had the same direction, he became our company for a few days. That night, we were invited to stay in the village meeting hall in the main plaza of Tunapa.

Pedal Uyuni Salt Flat

The excitement of riding our bicycles on the salt ground was speechless. It was the closest experience of what it was like to pedal on a planet other than planet earth.

Coipasa Salt Flat was smaller, yet wetter than Uyuni Salt Flat. We got a suggestion to ride on the left side of the salar to reduce the salt spurting out on our bicycle.

However, these wide-open spaces make us more vulnerable to harsh weather. For instance, when we were in Coipasa Salt Flat, we got chased by a storm and had to camp in the middle of it. Somehow, instead of getting anxious staying in the rage, I was fascinated by it.

On the 8th day, we finally rode into Uyuni Salt Flat section. This place is one of the driest places on earth – stark landscape sees a vibrant blue skyline frame the sparkling white earth below, which is made entirely of salt. Even when Luís tried to sketch Incahuasi island and another one that you can see here – the watercolor dried before he want it.

The sight of this place is absolutely mesmerising and it’s one of the best highlights of our trip in this country. Especially in this particular route, cycling Sajama to Uyuni, Bolivia. Yet, the surreal landscape that Bolivia offers didn’t ends here. Check our journey in Sur Lipez – Southernmost region of Bolivia.

cycling sajama to uyuni, bolivia

Sketchbook

click on the image to see the sketches of this journey
  • Sajama National Park: Even though we left the National Park, Sajama Mountain was our background for a few days.
  • Chullpas: an ancient Aymara funerary tower that still had bones and skulls inside.
  • Wild life: Llamas and Alpacas
  • Salt flats: in this route we crossed two salt flats – Salar de Coipasa and Salar de Uyuni

Since it was summer, not many people were staying in the villages. It means the food stock also less. People sell fresh vegetables on towns but it only comes once a week. There are no establish restaurants. We asked in shops or people around if someone could cook something and in most of the cases we got rice and eggs fried. Also we learn that salt flats around make the water tap salty, so we had to buy a lot of bottled water. We managed to bring 10 liters of water each for 2-3 days and sometimes wasn’t enough. we suggest to bring as much drinkable water you can because it’s pretty dry, most of the terrain is loose sandy roads and will make you completely low energy.

  • Although people said that there is entrance fee for Sajama National Park, no one asked us to pay.
  • Be prepared to carry many food stock and cash because there is no big town in this route.
  • Most of the local people around this region don’t like cameras.
  • Before entering the salt flat, keep a good rock for later to hammer your tent stakes.
  • Camping in salt flat you don’t need to hammer the stakes too deep, or you may broke your stakes.
  • The salt ground reflects the sun quite harsh on you. We protected our faces and neck with sunscreen and a buff.
  • There are three small section of tarred roads in this route: once get out of the Sajama National Park until before enter Casa Blanca, around Sabaya village, and Colchani until Uyuni town. The rest are either loose sand or salt ground.
  • Note that the atmosphere in this region is so dry that our tent fabric shrink and it became difficult to get our tent poles in.
  • Wild camping is pretty much endless, but leave no trace!
  • Variety of lodging is available in village we passed. Usually there is no sign, just ask the local people.
  • In Tunapa, we stayed inside a village meeting hall in the center of the village. Ask the local people where you could stay.
  • Be ready for the strong wind in the salt flats.
  • When we did this route, we couldn’t find fresh food. The only place we found canned tuna was in Sabaya. The rest we had to be satisfied with fried eggs and unwell cooked rice – maybe due to the high altitude? We don’t know.
  • The tap water from Sabaya until Uyuni was salty. We had to buy bottled water to drink and carried 6-10 litters each every day.

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