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The most popular day trip from Sucre is the 2-hour ride to Tarabuco, home to one of the most colorful indigenous markets in Bolivia.

A Side Trip to Salar de Uyuni

Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt lake in the world, is quickly becoming one of Bolivia's star attractions, along with the eerie desert that it connects with. You can visit the Salar in a single day, but to see the entire area, you'll need at least 3 days and 2 nights, usually ending with a connection to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile (though you can also return to Uyuni). There are no paved roads in these parts, so all the agencies use Toyota Land Cruisers to transport you through the desert with all necessary food, gear, and luggage attached to the top. The trip can be rough, especially on your bottom. But the desert landscape, with its volcanoes in the background and bizarre rock formations, is truly surreal. Some of the highlights of the trip include a stop at the salt lake itself; the oddly shaped Isla del Pescado, which is covered with cacti; and the Laguna Colorado, whose blood-red mineral-soaked waters are quite a sight. You'll see large herds of vicuñas, the occasional fox, and thousands upon thousands of flamingoes. My favorite stop on the tour is the Sol de la Mañana, where you can see geysers, fumaroles, and mud boiling in the earth. It's called Sol de la Mañana because it's best seen early in the morning. At the Laguna Verde (in the farthest southwest corner of Bolivia), be sure to hold on tightly to your hat, because the wind here is vicious. The emerald green Laguna Verde sits right below the Lincancabur Volcano (5,835m/19,139 ft.) and makes for a fantastic photograph.

Most tour operators in Bolivia run a bare-bones budget trip for $125 per person with shared transportation and simple lodging, though in the past several years new semiluxurious hotels such as the three Tayka properties (www.taykahoteles.com) and tour operators such as Adventure Associates (www.adventure-associates.com) have made this trip considerably easier, though they have the price tags to go with it. Regardless of where you stay, bring tons of warm clothing because the temperature can drop below freezing, and the budget places have no heat.

The town of Uyuni is located at the lake's edge. The best of the many hotels here is Los Girasoles (tel. 0102/6933-323; www.girasoles-hotel.com). At Calle Santa Cruz 155, the hotel boasts simple, clean rooms with private bathrooms, heating, and 24-hour hot water. Doubles cost $65 to $75, including breakfast. You can also try the Hotel Cristal Samaña (tel. 0102/7644-2585; www.hotelcristalsamana.com), a coca-leaf-shaped salt hotel, right at the edge of the Salar near the village of Colchani, which is designed with feng shui principles in mind. There's a small spa on-site, as well as a game room, yoga classes, cinema, and astronomical observatory. Doubles run $100 per night and include breakfast. Another option is Hotel Luna Salada (tel. 0102/7242-9716; www.lunasaladahotel.com.bo), which has doubles from $110.

Getting There -- There are several companies, such as Todo Turismo (Bs175) and Trans Omar (Bs105), that have transportation from La Paz departing at either 7 or 9pm for the 12-hour ride, just in time to depart on the 10am tours. Buses leave Potosí daily at 11:30am, 11:45am, and 6:30pm from the small bus terminal on Avenida Universitaria at the intersection of Sevilla. (They leave Uyuni for Potosí at 10am and 7pm.) The 5-hour ride costs Bs25. Note: A small airport was in construction at press time and should be running daily flights to La Paz by late 2010.

If you want a guided tour, it's not easy to find a reputable company. I suggest contacting Mariana Tours, Olaneta 101 A, Sucre (tel. 0104/6429-329; mtours@cotes.net.bo); ask to speak to the manager, Rodrigo Garron, and he'll arrange the highest-quality trip for you. Their tours are tailor-made to fit your needs and leave from either Sucre or Potosí. Another well-known operator is Andes Salt Expeditions, 3 Alonso de Ibanez, Potosí (tel. 0102/6225-175; www.andes-salt-uyuni.com.bo).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.