Tag Archives: tour

Is this the most bizarre tourist attraction in the world?


It sounded like the most boring place to visit. When another traveller had told me a few weeks back that they really hoped to visit the train graveyard in Uyuni, I looked at them as though they were crazy.

“Really?” I asked, “You’re not joking?” They weren’t joking. What strange times we live in.

So why the enthusiasm? Didn’t they have better things to do, places to see? And what the hell was a train graveyard in any case?

The tour I’d booked the day before through Andes Salt Expeditions started with a morning trip out to Cementerio de Trenes, the train cemetery or train graveyard.

I stepped out of the jeep after a 2km drive and gathered around with my new tour buddies. It was quiet, a little awkward; people were in ‘I’ve-just-met-you-friendly’ mode, polite but a little standoffish. I stuck with my friend Carl.

It was fresh and clear. Little fluffy clouds dotted a sunny blue sky and a slight, chilly breeze whispered to me: Keep an open your mind! Go and enjoy this strange place!


The Train Graveyard, Nr. Uyuni, Bolivia

Our guide, Gonzalo, gave a brief overview and history of the place. While Uyuni had been a central hub in transporting goods between South American countries from the 1880s onwards, things started to slow down – a result of the closure of a number of mines? – and the railway was decommissioned. Everything just stopped. Like that.

Now the trains stand there gradually decomposing. Why not, then, make the place into a spectacle?! As one report suggests, this is ‘a trainspotter’s sick dream’. I’d have probably chosen a different word in there, but you get the gist.

Post-history lesson we went and played. If nothing else, the Cementerio de Trenes was a big playground with swings and seesaws and things to climb on and not a hint of health and safety in place to spoil the fun.

We jumped and ran about. Creativity and big kid syndrome kicked in. Oh happy, carefree day.


Schwiiiiiiiiiiiiiing….! Playtime at the Train Graveyard

What can I do next?!

What can I do next?! Carl on a mission


Erm… improvisation


See-saw fun


Chill out time


What is everyone else doing?

Some other guys playing train-top chase

Within an hour we were back in the car, had picked up our bags from the agency and were headed for the salt flats themselves. Some of the others had partied at the rave a few days earlier so were less enthusiastic about seeing the place, but me, well, this was the whole point of being here, right?

I was excited.

And then the chaos started to unleash as the boys each cracked open a can of beer and switched Gonzalo’s music for their own, cranking up the volume.

Did I get lucky or unlucky, bunched in with five guys, Gonzalo and the driver? The other car drove along in silence: four well-mannered girls, one guy and the driver.


Party boys. Party car.

Back in our jeep, Gonzalo nodded along to the tunes and we all threw in a few restricted dance moves and adopted alter egos. While the Social Club Co-Ordinator set to work, the Rock Star put on a pair of shades, and some collaborative whoops were thrown into the music mix.

The party reputation of our car started to build. I would either grow to love or hate these boys, I realised.


Filed under activity & sport, bolivia, culture, south america

Uyuni is kinda okay, really

Salar de Uyuni map (image from www.2wonders.com)

I’VE HEARD DEPRESSING ACCOUNTS OF Uyuni from a fair few travellers, things that could easily put you off ever visiting the place. ‘Get there and book a tour straight away’, one girl told me, ‘don’t stop. There’s nothing to do, it’s dusty and cold and boring’. Harsh.

I did, however, want to visit the town for the same reason most backpackers head there: to access the unusual landscape of the salt flats, the Salar de Uyuni, something so intriguing and alien to a small town British girl like me.

Nine hours after leaving Sucre I arrived into Uyuni having passed through Potosi, the highest city in the world. Altitude was being kind to me on this day. After wandering through the town for a few minutes, I bumped into a friend from Sucre at a juice stall. He was trying to rejuvenate after the rave on the salt flats. ‘Our hostel is great, but full’, he said.

Plan B. I hunted down another friend and checked into a big, empty hostel on the outskirts of the town before heading out to book a tour of the salar and the surrounding lagunas, mountains and rock trees, an overall experience that Lonely Planet states as ‘must-do’ (LP haters, don’t let their endorsement put you off).

With so many tour operators in town, who to book with? Red Alert had been suggested to me, but they were expensive, nearly double that of others. ‘Worth it, though’, a backpacker had told me in Sucre, ‘great food, attention to detail and they really look after you.’ I couldn’t justify the cost.

It turned out that, having left things until late in the day, we didn’t have as broad a choice in any case. Out of those remaining open, Andes Salt Expeditions came highly recommended.

We checked the list of people already booked on to the tour. Similar ages, a predominantly English speaking mix. We got a run-down of the itinerary and costs. We would have a guide (one that spoke English), a well-maintained vehicle and a sober driver. I paid up my 700Bs. (£62.99/$101.30) for the three day, two night tour that would set off the following morning. A quick, easy arrangement.

Following the example of the person who’d written Rock Star as their profession on the details sheet, I went for Explorer, my friend chose Social Club Co-ordinator. I hope that the Rock Star wasn’t really a rock star. It could otherwise all get a bit embarrassing.

We were just about set. Time to repack bags, stock up on snacks and get a good night’s sleep.


Included with Andes Salt Expeditions packages is daily jeep transport, an English speaking tour guide, three meals per day (not breakfast on first day or supper on last), basic accommodation and optional drop-off to cross the border over to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Although you do make a stop at a small village near the salar where you can stock up with warm woollens at pretty standard prices, for the rest of the trip it’s difficult to buy what you want, crave or need. I’d suggest bringing: warm clothes (including hat and gloves, and if like me you’re cold hearted or blooded, fat woolly socks); 150Bs. (£/US$) for National Park entry; snacks (and smokes, if you need); water; coca leaves and coca catalyst. The other guys also brought beer and wine for evenings sat around chatting in isolated hostels (I was on antibiotics, none of that for me). Hot showers cost an additional 10Bs. (£0.90/US$1.45).

I also hired a sleeping bag from the tour operator for 40Bs. (£3.60/US$5.80), which was the best decision I made. The hostels are BASIC and COLD, particularly on the second night at over 4,000m in elevation.

And the problem of drunk drivers needs to be taken seriously, something that has been highlighted by many doing the tour out of Uyuni. The best advice is to talk to other travellers before you book, and get their recommendations for a tour operator.


Filed under bolivia, natural wonders, nature, south america

Choosing a tour in Cusco

With an estimated 400 plus tour agencies in Cusco, it can really be confusing to figure out who to go with, who to trust, and who will take your money and run. Most of these agencies, however, feed into one of five or so actual tour operators, so often it´s not the tour itself that needs careful combing over, it´s the cost.

Touts scour the streets with their tour books, agencies with double or triple names occupy many of the shops along the likes of Plateros, and signs suggest that there are trips leaving for all treks the following day (they don´t).

Whilst Cusco is a good base for multi-day rafting trips, it is much more famous for The Inca Trail and treks to Machu Picchu. There are also a couple of other popular options (and I´ve not included the activities at Action Valley or chocolate making workshops or Peruvian cooking classes), the main choices being:

  • The Inca Trail
    Expensive at around $500 for the four-day trek with the need to book months in advance. One girl I met managed to get a shorter waiting period of about six weeks, paid upfront (as you do) only to discover the day before that she had been duped. No Inca Trail for her. She was able to switch over to the Inca Jungle Trek, but was understandably pissed off. The Inca Trail is a tough walk up and down and along narrow ridges at high altitudes (Warmiwañuska or Dead Woman’s Pass is the highest point at over 4,200m). Not an easy option, but undoubtedly a necessary pilgrimage for some.
  • The Inca Jungle Trek
    Offered by every tout in town, this trek does actually seem to leave on a daily basis with tour groups of around ten to fifteen people. It´s a four-day, three night trek that starts with mountain biking from the highest point of 4,350m and includes options for ziplining and visiting hot springs. Some of the walk takes you through the jungle and onto the actual Inca Trail, finished by a wander along the rail lines and towards Machu Picchu itself. Transport, food, accommodation and entry to Machu Picchu included. For the majority of the trek you carry your own bags, so pack light. Treks should cost around the $180 mark, and not the $300 that one agency tried to charge me. With ziplining and entry to Huayna Picchu, the total cost to me was $220. Worth it. I went through EcoTours based inside Eco Packers Hostel, although from the street they are known as Andean Odyssey. Don´t ask.)
  • The Ausungate Trek
    So this  ´trek´ sounded ideal, being considerably cheaper than the others (S/.240 Note: Peruvian Nuevo Sol, not US dollars this time) and predominantly on horseback. What a way to enjoy the mountainscape and lagoons. But wait! This trek does require some walking each day, and the big sticking point for many is the altitude which is predominantly over 4,000m, the highest pass being 5,200m. Sore bums are not unknown and one guy I met who did the trek said he chose to walk alongside his horse because just being on horseback at a pottering pace was ´a bit boring´.

All in, shop around and consider your fitness level and how you deal with the altitude. I did the Inca Jungle Trek and expected it to be a bit of a soft option (I still stand by that hypothesis) but for some group members the climbs up through the jungle and onto the Inca Trail were really quite challenging.

Also think about when you decide to go: Peru´s rainy season kicks off late October and when I was there in late November, many tours were already not running because of rainfall that had caused problems accessing some of the pathways and passes. I took a gamble (how can you go to Peru and not trek to Machu Picchu?) with the jungle trek which did start off as a bit of a torrential, soggy mess, but that, dear reader, is for another blog post.

Leave a comment

Filed under activity & sport, hikes, peru, south america