Our Worst Trip Ever - Salar de Uyuni

Please read carefully if you are considering a trip to Salar De Uyuni.

We started our trip on Salar De Uyuni on Sunday 13th July 2008, a 3 day tour on the salt plains and made it about halfway across the first day when a jeep passed us going a little faster carrying 1 driver and 6 tourists in the back with ruck sacks, gas cylinder, food and stove on top of roof rack just like our jeep. Their jeep lost control and started skidding about 30mtrs away from us and as it was top heavy started flipping over and over.

Bags, food, roof rack and HUMAN BODIES were flying everywhere. We watched it in slow motion. We were the first jeep on the scene and when we got out of our jeep, we saw a man climbing out of the back of the overturned jeep, with a gash on the back of his head. He walked with a limp but seemed alright. Then we turned around and there were bodies everywhere, people wailing everywhere. So my partner and I went to the nearest person who seemed critical. Turned out to be the driver who at that time had a weak pulse, my
partner gave him breath of life while I did the compressions on his chest. He had a large open wound on his head and was dying. We continued with CPR but couldn't keep him alive, he died within a few minutes. Another 2 people were found dead at back of jeep, a Belgian man and French woman- they were cold and grey in pallor when we got to them and it appeared that they had died instantly on impact.

So there were 4 others alive but in a pretty bad way. We looked after a Belgian girl who had severe facial lacerations and
extensive injuries to her knee and hands. She's 27 and was married to the dead Belgian man.

The scene was chaotic, luckily enough other jeeps stopped and there was 2 Uruguyan doctors travelling on board who more or less started to take some kind of control of the situation. Telling us what we could do for the 4 injured survivors which was basically to try and control their bleeding, keep them warm and comfort them.

There was little or almost no assistance from the Bolivian drivers/guides who stood back and mostly observed the situation. The situation was entirely controlled and dealt with by the backpackers. None of the jeeps that stopped (ie all the tour companies collectively) had a radio transmitter/satellite phone to make contact with emergency services. Luckily a passing German tourist in his mobile home had a satellite phone which we believe was used to call for an ambulance.

Almost 3 hrs passed and no ambulance came. So the doctors on the scene made a decision that the four survivors had to get to hospital straight away. We assisted to get the 4 injured survivors into 2 separate jeeps (that came from Uyuni we think) and they were taken to hospital. Unfortunately one of the French women died en route to hospital, she had internal injuries, time most likely killed her and not receiving any pain relief within that timeframe made it a more painful death for her than it should have been.

Luckily the Japanese guy and German guy suffered minor injuries along with major shock obviously, however the Belgian girl has since been transferred to La Paz hospital, where she will most likely undergo facial surgery for her facial wounds.

Life is so cheap here,the guides gave no help and were uninterested and even wanted us to continue with the tour.We are so angry about the chain of events which led to this situation and many aspects of how it was dealt with. We feel a strong need to highlight these to you:

Firstly all jeeps had no seatbelts which was probably the biggest killer here as 6 people came out the windows of the jeep and of
them 4 died while the least injured person walked out of the jeep.

Secondly the other jeep was definitely going a bit faster than ours, and I'm told by one of the survivors that the driver ( who we believe was actually a mechanic and not a tour driver) was asked to slow down by the 2 dead French ladies, instead he did a few zig zags as if it was a joke.

Thirdly the guides had no Radio Transmitters/Satellite phones to use in the event of an emergency.

Fourthly the guides stood around and did nothing to help control the situation.

Fifthly when an ambulance had been called (German tourists passed by with a satellite phone and called for an ambulance) it never came showing a complete lack of communication.

Sixthly the guides are obviously given no training in dealing with any first aid situation in fact they didn't even have a first aid kit/emergency blankets( in fact all the equipment used was supplied by backpackers on the scene).

Basically we would not be recommending this trip to anyone and unless they (all the tour groups collectively) clean up their act there's going to be more deaths. Keeping in mind that thirteen people died in May 2008 on the same trip this leads to a death toll of 17 in 2 months. THIS CAN NOT CONTINUE. Considering the general attitude to life in Bolivia and following discussions with our tour group when we returned back to Uyuni, our impression is that nothing will change.

Tours will continue to run on ill-equipped jeeps without seat belts, without emergency radio equipment, without first aid kits-emergency blankets and with guides/drivers who have no basic
leadership skills/training to cope with emergency situations.

And people will continue to die..........

SOMETHING HAS TO BE DONE TO CHANGE THIS AND TOUR PROVIDERS/GUIDEBOOKS HAVE THE BIGGEST POWER AND INFLUENCE
OVER THIS. WE URGE YOU TO NOT TAKE THIS LIGHTLY. WE WILL NEVER FORGET THE SCENE OF CARNAGE WE WITNESSED ON SUNDAY JULY 13TH 2008. IT WILL LIVE WITH US FOREVER BUT OUR SCARS ARE NOTHING COMPARED TO THOSE WHO SURVIVED THIS ACCIDENT ALONG WITH THE FAMILIES OF THOSE WHO PASSED AWAY THAT DAY. WE ARE TELLING OUR STORY IN ORDER TO RAISE AWARENESS AMONGST TRAVELLERS OF THE SAFETY ISSUES AT STAKE HERE AND ALSO THAT IT WILL HOPEFULLY ENCOURAGE CHANGE WORKING ALONGSIDE THESE TOUR GROUP PROVIDERS, BEARING IN MIND ESPECIALLY THE POINTS WE HAVE RAISED WITH REGARDS TO LACK OF SEAT BELTS AND LACK OF EMERGENCY EQUIPMENT/ RADIOS.

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Comments for Our Worst Trip Ever - Salar de Uyuni

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Sep 07, 2016
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8 years later
by: Anonymous

A month ago a friend of mine lost her life in salar de uyuni. Her jeep crashed and she was killed together with 4 other victims. She was such a warm person and had a bright future ahead of her, I still can't believe her heart is no longer beating. She did not deserve to die like that. Up until reading the above horrifying testimony I only felt devestated but now I am angry. 8 years later nothing has changed, there are still no seatbells and there are many irresponsible drivers. How can it be that after loosing so many lives no actions have been undertaken by the local government?! There should be at least a regulations on the seatbells, my god, these kind of accidents would be so much less deadly already. I don't understand that these companies and the government take the loss of human lives so lightly because I can assure you that her absence is definite and it has caused an uncountable amount of pain, this one irresponsible driver did not only ruin the lives of those 5 victims,but also of those who are left behind. He wrecked the life of her parents, he stole our friend. And I blame the local government and the tour organisations. My anger won't bring An-Sophie back but we need to speak up. Please, let these voices be heard, we can't loose more people when it can be so easily prevented from happening.

Aug 13, 2016
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Red planet!
by: Anonymous

We did the salt flats tour a week ago with Red Planet company,which I highly recommend! It is a bit overpriced (worth paying!!!) but the only thing I didnt like was that we were 5 jeeps traveling together! (I prefer small groups). Otherwise it was safe, accomodations were very nice (even the second one for which they warned us that it is basic was quite nice!), drivers were very carefull, jeeps had seatbelts, we got a lot of food, drinks, snacks on the way... And the guide Bismark was just the most lovely (englishspeaking) guide ever! Oh and they always put just 5 people in one jeep so at the backseat are just 2.

I found out about the acccident from them and they felt very bad because of it.

No worries! If you choose a right company you should be fine! We had a great time and its really a place not to miss.

Aug 01, 2016
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Be smart, make the trip in summer
by: Anonymous

I did the 3-day Uyuni trip at the end of January 2008, with Colque Tours.
Our driver was just that, a driver - no guide.
His driving skills and skills as a car mechanic where good, his skills as a tourist guide non-existant.
I was the only one he could talk to (sparingly), as I was the only one who spoke Spanish.
If you really want to make this trip, do it in summer time (local), because then the Salar will be under tens of cms of water from the surrounding glacier melts, and no driver WILL be able to drive any faster than bicycle speed.
It took more than half an hour to cover the mere 7 km from the shore to the house built from salt bricks on the lake.
You will see the Salar differently, obviously, and not be able to reach the island covered in cacti as the water depth there precludes this, but at least your survival rate will significantly improve.
I you didn't do your homework, and make the trip when everyone from the northern hemisphere summer is going on holiday, then you will be driving on a dry Salar in local wintertime, with a potentially incompetent driver at the wheel.
Bolivia doesn't act as they can earn good on stupid tourists alive or dead.

Aug 01, 2016
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The nightmare continues
by: Stijn Van Acker

Five more tourists died on the Salar de Uyuni last Saturday 30th of July. Three Belgians, one Italian, one Peruvian. 5 promising lifes cut short by an all too avoidable accident.
Probably caused by a blow-out tyre, I cannot stop wondering what would have happened if the car had received the necessary maintenance and functioning seatbelts?
As a Belgian Bolivian it strikes a nerve that eight years later nobody was able to stop this tragedy.
The company involved was San Juan Tours on the Main Street. This year and in 2013 we had a very good experience with Brisa Tours. However, in 2013, when we asked if their car had seatbelts they answered yes, but starting the tour two hours later we found out that seatbelts were present but did not function. Luckily they drove very safely.
Naming and shaming clearly has only so much effect, it would be better if the Bolivian government started to protect its more than wellcome tourists from unsafe conditions. This seems to me the quickest way forward, together with better safety information for the price-sensitive tourist.

Feb 22, 2016
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Definitely Hidalgo Tours!
by: Mr. Peep

Want a safe, comfortable, nice and unforgettable travel travel experience, you should definitely go with Hidalgo Tours, way more expensive than the others, but way better too, so...

Feb 21, 2016
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Need advice
by: Felisa

I've heard and read all sorts of horror stories about the 3 day Uyuni tour. Don't think it's worth risking my and my families life but if we can pick a reliable and safe tour company. We are still planning to go in May.
Apart from the poorly maintained cars, bad drivers, I'm also at a loss on how to survive the chilly nights for those three days.
I'm willing to spend the money for better accommodation with heating and shower but heard the heating gets turned off at night. Can someone give recommendations about the chill?

Jan 31, 2016
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Newer go with Uyuni Tour Group
by: Claus

Uyuni Tour Group - "first and worst"
In the christmas 2015 we were 6 danish people going with Uyuni Tour group on a 3 days trip on Salar de uyuni and the national park.
Before our trip we were at the office in Uyuni and got an introduction to the tour. We were told that we had to go with a well functioning toyota land cruiser. It was not neccesary to bring with us food or water. There should be everything that we needed on the trip and wine for the dinner.
Next day we met our driver and it was strange thet he didn't have the name we were told the day before. The Landcruiser was an old outdated dirty car were we couldn't operate the windows. And the 3th seat row with not enough space for two grown up europeans.
After 5 minutes we made a stop and when the driver were out of the car we found out that our license to go to the Salar were signed with the names of 5 colombians.
The driver was only a driver. he hadn't got any instructions about the trip. Later we found out that there was not water for the trip. Only 2 litres for 7 persons the last day.
The hotels were terrible. And it was not the hotels we were told.The doors were without locks, no towels, no water, no soap.
We were told that we would get three double rooms with shower. On the last hotel we got one room for 6 persons. Here the toilets looked like something hit by a bomb.
We had heard about drivers which drived dangerous. Our driver where of this category. he drived wery aggressive against other cars. So several times we had to shout at him to drive carefully.
After the tour we have tried to get an answer fra Uyuni Tour Group to get some of our money back. But we have newer heard from them.

Jan 14, 2016
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Horrible
by: Anglo Bolivian

As a half English half Bolivian, it is with utter shame that I see stories like this. It is 2016 and the country still potters along like it always has done. Nobody, especially within the indigenous communities gives a crap about life.

Despite the people it remains one of the most naturally beautiful countries in the world. I'm sorry you had to experience that, and I can only echo your sentiments that something has to be done.

Jun 13, 2015
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Update
by: Georgie

Hi. I've just completed the same journey from the San Pedro end to Uyuni. Thankfully nothing horrible happened
What I can contribute is to let you know nothing appears to have changed (June 2015) We asked our operator if a satalight phone and oxygen was carried, we were told we'd have all this plus an English speaking guide. All completely false. the driver was not a guide but a very nice Bolivian driver who spoke no English and had altitude pills but no phone or air. Thankfully his 'momentary loss of control' on the salt flats just woke us all up, but reading your your story really makes me appreciate how very different it could have been.
My view is that for this to change there needs to be 'customer demand'' my experience is that on line prior to traveling trips can vary from $us80 p/p to $900 (us) per person. The latter including sat phone and oxygen.
Surely a happy or at the very least 'safe' medium can be found? I think presently it is all too skewed to Chilean agencies getting backpackers from Chile to Bolivia cheaply at the Bolivian drivers expense rather than providing a safe and reliable trip.
I have to say though that the drivers I encountered are amongst the most friendly, resilient and resourceful group of chaps and gals I've come across. They work so hard for so little I think it's only sensible to get the word out that this trip is one of those 'too cheep ' trips . Hopefully things will improve as once again spectators for the Dakar race will complete the trip.

Jun 11, 2015
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excellent
by: Joe Falcone

I m sorry to hear that your trip turned out to be so bad.

May 17, 2015
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they're not saying the truth
by: José becerra

They say we. HWO are you if this really happened why they have troubles to put their names????? They just only want to make a dirty competition. You didn't sow it? The sad history comes from an company that offers tour's not in Bolivia just READ CARFULLY DON'T LET THEY SEE YOU AS AN OTHER DUMB BELIBER BE SMART.

May 17, 2015
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don't let the bad tour companies scare you
by: José becerra

Hi dear friends that all the time are trying to get the best options before take a tour in foreign places like Bolivia, I feel really ungry about all the cowards that don't like to give the face,and only get hide behind the anonymous. In this particular case that in my consideration was a horrible experience, but I still wondering is it to much to ask for names? Whit that in mind I started to search for more real information, I consider myself not so stupid to believe a history whit a Doble sense end.
I'm from Bolivia and I read so carefully, after of that I was looking for more information because I realized that before this sad history, There's a link from a company that makes tour's in many places around the world and also in Bolivia, and all the time they repeat All OUR CAR'S ARE NEW,and bla,bla,bla.... please don't let this companies scare you up taking advantage of the disgrace from the bad luck, is really easy to make a great sad history with a little bit of information from Internet. And in the end, give you a FAKE ADVISE, of course pulling to their side if you know what I mean.I don't know who can trust in the honest advice of one Street seller's about the competition around him. This is how I feel when I read this sad history, no name's here said a lot of this cowards that only are bad competition here in Bolivia.
I'm going to send this sad history, to all the autoritis in Bolivia for investigation about the bad incident and I really sure that we are going to make this cowards companies say the truth, because they are talking about a national natural wonderful. Promise you we are going to find the one who wrote this lie.
Please don't let this companies scare you up please try to get the real information,searching by your self first.

Aug 16, 2014
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Don't go on group tours!
by: Ton

Group tours with 6 or 7 travelers in one car and a price way to low for three days is just asking for trouble.Bad cars, bad drivers and bad lodges (if you can call them that..) Do yourself a favor: spend money on a private trip with for example Ruta Verde or Bolivia Specialist and stay alive and enjoy your trip instead of being angry about all things that go wrong because you went cheap.

Jul 19, 2014
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Tragic and warning
by: Maja

I have to say I had a goosebumps reading this tragic story. Thank you for sharing that online. I will be doing Uyuni in a few weeks and will definitely check the safety with a tour operator.
This article is eye opening and shows how tragically holidays can end when we tourists are reckless in the foreign non developed country.

May 28, 2014
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Hidalgo Tours is a great option!
by: Mr. Peep

Hey!, very sad to read that, but, you know what, there's this tour operator on Uyuni called Hidalgo Tours (http://salardeuyuni.net/), they are way more expensive than the other but they do private services with good cars, no drunk drivers, and satellital phones, you should try them if you're going to Uyuni.
I was delighted with them, it's worth every penny.

Mar 17, 2014
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Ruta Verde
by: Alison

We found them to be completely legit, and had an excellent, and safe, journey. Happy travels! Alison

Mar 17, 2014
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Ruta Verde
by: Anonymous

Thanks Allison. I am already in contact with Ruta Verde. They look really legit and look after their customers.

Mar 16, 2014
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Safe tour operator
by: Alison

Hi Monina - see my previous comment. Just cut and paste the links into your browser. We consider Ruta Verde Tours to be safe, and according to the people at the other link I included Cordillera Traveller is a safe company. Check out reviews for both companies on Tripadvisor. Happy travels, Alison

Mar 16, 2014
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Top Uyuni tour operator
by: Monina

I am going to Uyuni in September, can anybody please let me know a top tour operator that view safety is the top priority?!

I don't mind paying a bit more as long as I will come back from that trip in one piece!

Thank you.

Monina

Mar 14, 2014
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Safe Company
by: Alison

We traveled with Ruta Verde Tours, and had a wonderful time. Being older (63 and 71) we were really concerned about safety. I would recommend this company anytime. It is not a backpacker tour, so more expensive, but worth it for the comfort and peace of mind. You can read our description of our journey here
http://alisonanddon.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/unboliviable-the-high-desert-and-altiplano-of-bolivia/
and here
http://alisonanddon.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/salt-flats-and-bowler-hats-uyuni-and-copacabana-bolivia/
The first link above has a link to Ruta Verde at the bottom of the post.
These people
:http://somewhereaboutthere.com/2014/03/14/salar-de-uynui-salt-sunrises-and-not-so-scary-afterall/
also had a good time with
http://www.cordilleratraveller.com
I don't know if it's true or not but perhaps the events of 2008 has been something of an impetus to improve things.

Feb 10, 2014
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Decent tour operator in Salar de Uyuni
by: Monina

Hi,

I'm going to Uyuni in September. Do you know any decent tour operators that has a decent 4x4 jeep with seatbelts?

I need to feel safe while there :(

Thanks.

Jun 23, 2013
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5 years later and safety is still an issue
by: Anonymous

Drivers still get drunk, tyres are often bald and jeeps are still doing this trip without working seatbelts. Sadly it seems nothing much has changed. Thank you for this informative post.

Jun 30, 2012
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Very sad
by: Anonymous

I have been to Bolivia in Apirl 2011 and almost the same story happend to me. So sad. Two girls from israel and the bolivian driver died at salar the uyuni.
we have been the third jeep which arrived and it was horrible.

pay more and go to a good agency with seatbelts if you want to do the 2 or 3 days tour!

Jun 15, 2012
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Scary!
by: Anonymous

This is very well-written and informative, thank you. I'm so sorry you endured such a tragic experience, but you are right - putting pressure on these companies is the only way to make them improve their safety standards. Please consider posting this to trip advisor as well, I know a lot of other people would be interested in reading this.

Nov 16, 2011
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my comment
by: Bertinho

we , too , did a similar trip -4days- that included the salar and our driver commented to us the jeep crash story as we passed the accident scene. at the time it seemed incredible to us why and how two cars that run in opposite directions on a perfect plain area with no restraints and full view can crash into each other. the answer of course is human stupidity and today I am not surprised that it happened. we had started our trip in Tupiza ( you can read a comment of mine in Tripadvisor ) , where very happy with Tupizatours and the driver , felt perfectly safe ,and ended up safely in Uyuni. however , as we can nearer that city we saw so many jeeps coming from there , and felt happy that we were not with them , and at the time I could not explain quite why. later , when we heard the story and saw Uyuni , and more so the type of tourist that prevails there , and could be seen in the jeeps , I stopped wondering. Main concern with most of them is FUN , and that at all cost.
safety is for old folks , not us. and guess what guidebook they read. recommended by....

Feb 12, 2011
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uyuni operators
by: juerg

Its not just an issue of travel agencies but the tourist themselves. My wife owns a travel agency and they own new Toyota Landcruisers and LR3 all with seat-belts and multiple airbags, dont take more than 4 persons, all vehicles have motorola satellite phones and first aid kits and the agency has contacts to get emergency planes to get you out in case of an accident. The worst problem of most tour operators in Uyuni is not only seat belts but tyres without profile, badly maintained extremely old vehicles and durn drivers. So far so good but torusits prefer to pay 75USD for a 3 day tour. With that you cannot finance a decent car and driver. Thus you get what you pay for and you should not put the blame that much on the tour operator... if you want you get something much better but our experience is that the tourists cherish more their wallet than their life or what equipment is used up to the moment that disaster strikes....

Oct 12, 2009
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Updates on this?
by: Anonymous

Hi,

This is a tragic event and does sound like tourism infrastructure is in need of an overhaul in Bolivia.

I will be going next month - does anyone have any more recent experiences? Do the jeeps now have seatbelts?


Thanks!

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