A popular tour offered in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile is a four-day 4×4 tour to Laguna Colorada and Salar the Uyuni. As we much prefer going on our own adventures, we did research about the possibilities of driving with our own vehicle. Everybody told us that the road is too bad to drive all the way to Uyuni, but some said that it’s possible to drive till Laguna Colorada, so we decided to give it a shot and make our way to Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve of Andean Fauna.



We started well prepared, we:

  • filled up our potable water and LPG bottles in Calama as this is not possible in San Pedro (water at Copec and LPG at Lipigas near the airport);
  • bought new hot water bottles, thermos cans and alpaca socks to cope with the cold
  • filled up our tank and bought an extra fuel tank at the ridiculously located Copec gas station in the historic centre of San Pedro
  • got our passports stamped in San Pedro to exit Chile (warning: you cannot get this stamp at the border!)
  • took some acclimatisation breaks during our 50 km long 2,000 meter climb to the Bolivian border (for both our car and ourselves)


From Ruta 27, the dirt road to Bolivia is not signposted. You would not expect this to be the official road to the border control. A few kilometres after the border we arrived at the park entrance, where they told us that a 4×4 is not necessary to go (clockwise) around Laguna Blanca. Well… driving 3 km/h through grit and deep tracks, we could only drive 6 km until it turned dark, so decided to camp between Laguna Verde and Laguna Blanca, enclosed by volcanoes. Having pointed our bonnet towards the wind, we were glad we survived the stormy night.

Surrounded by 4×4 jeeps in the morning, we first explored the road by foot. It appeared we had completed the roughest part of the loop and should be able to continue our way to the main road. We strongly recommend not taking our route, but staying on the north-eastern side of Laguna Blanca unless you drive a 4×4.


Continuing on the partly washboard (‘rippio’) main road, we arrived at the thermal pools, where all tourists were amazed that we came with our own vehicle.
Having spent an hour in the pleasantly warm water we continued to Geysers Sol de Mañana. The road to the geysers was very bad. Leonie walked in front of the car to take away stones every meter like a human bulldozer. Still, it’s a miracle the tires survived the sharp rocks.

We were watching the fumaroles by sunset accompanied by tens of little fur balls sprinting around; a type of mouse that we have never seen anywhere else in the world.



It’s a pity we still didn’t buy a thermometer. Yet, we can say it was freezing cold as an icicle was hanging from our tap and a cup of tea solidified inside our motor home!  After a hot, homemade apple crumble breakfast, we explored the nearby mud pools and had some fun in the steam.


We then continued our main mission; another 45 km to Laguna Colorada. Further onto the main road we asked a truck driver the way. Surprisingly, we had to return and take a dirt road opposite Sol de Mañana, or better, one of the many dirt tracks into the dessert, without any road signs. With hesitation we kept going on this trail with rocks, snow and ice, until the icy tracks became too narrow for our double rear wheels to fit in. Avoiding any damage to our tires, we reversed a few kilometres, managed to make a turn and made our way back to Chile.


Sad that we couldn’t make it all the way to Laguna Colorada, the ‘Aduana Monsters’ had more bad news for us; they wouldn’t let our camper exit the country! Stressing that they were adhering to the Bolivian law, they said we had to get a ‘Temporary Vehicle Import’ from Bolivia, which was some 8 km further than Sol de Mañana. Though we brought extra fuel, we did not have enough to make it 80 km back and forth to that spot. The horror-movie-like men said that without a Temporary Vehicle Import, we were only allowed to stay one day and we breached the law by staying for three days. As we already had read about corruptness at this border, we asked if could pay for the extra days, but they wouldn’t let us. They suggested that one of us could drive to the immigration and the other stay with them at the border post. No way!

After an hour of Spanish negotiations, they suddenly said ‘ok’ and the law didn’t seem to matter anymore. To us it appeared they enjoyed this game of power. Quickly, we jumped into our truck and got the hell out of there.



Glad to be back in cute San Pedro, we were extremely happy and lucky that we suffered no damage at all. Our water pipes survived the frost and the tires were perfectly fine (though needed some inflation).

It was a crazy, fantastic adventure, but we wouldn’t do it again. Instead, it was a much better idea going on an organised 4×4 tour, which we did a few months later from Uyuni, after having toured through Chile, Peru and Bolivia.



Eduardo Avaroa National
Reserve of Andean Fauna