Salar de Uyuni is the world's largest salt flat, which exists courtesy of a prehistoric lake that went dry. This region is one of Bolivia's most spectacular natural attractions, and is a photographer's delight. Its surreal landscape combines salt pans, wandering llamas, vast deserts and wind-eroded rock formations. Also there is a landmass covered in towering cactus called, Isla de Incahuasi or Cactus Island, which lies in the middle of the salt flats. Laguna Colorada and Laguna Verde are other isolated marvels in Salar de Uyuni. One is a fiery-red lake; the other is a deep blue/green coloured one. Some of the lakes are inhabited by flamingos and surrounded by extinct volcanoes. If that wasn't enough, the area is rich in sulphurous gases from geysers and bubbling mud-pools. Bring your bathing suits, as there is a great hot water pond as well to enjoy at 35 C when the temperatures outside can reach to -15C!
The village of Uyuni is located to the southeast of the Salar, and is the best base from which to explore the area. Travellers can arrange tours from there. 'Salt Hotels' around the periphery of the Salar are a unique form of accommodation, where everything (walls, furniture, etc.) is made from salt blocks cut from the flats. This is one of the corners of the world which will definitely keep its place in the top natural places to see in the world! It's a true adventure in some of the most remote places in our planet!
Before booking a tour, you need to decide which time of year you want to visit Uyuni and its Salt Flats. What is considered the best time to visit the Salar de Uyuni really depends on what you want to see, as each season offers different visuals. But be advised, that for certain, the scenery is breathtaking all year round. Below are some of the characteristics for each season:
It’s quite easy to get to the Salar nowadays with many travel options available. There are ways of travelling from Peru, Chile and Argentina which require several bus changes and long transport waits. However, the easiest and cheapest way to travel there is by bus from La Paz. There are numerous bus companies operating the route from La Paz to Uyuni. Most people make the trip from La Paz to Uyuni on an overnight bus, called Bus Coche Cama (with a bed). These buses arrive early in the morning, allowing you to start your tour of Salar de Uyuni that same day.Alternatively, flights from La Paz to Uyuni are a good idea if you are short of time or want to arrive there quicky. Amaszonas Airlines and Boliviana de Aviacion are the main airlines that fly between La Paz and Uyuni. Prices start around €85 one way. Although its expensive, the flight only takes one hour.There is also the train service which departs to Uyuni. However, its a bit more complicated. Trains in Bolivia are quite comfortable but are exclusive for tourists. However, they don’t depart from La Paz. You will have to go travel from La Paz to Oruro and then take a taxi to the train station in Oruro to board the train to Uyuni. The train service is only on Wednesdays and Sundays and departs from Oruro at 19.00 arriving in Uyuni at around 02.30. This makes for a short night, which is not a good idea if you are taking the tour the following day.Once in Uyuni, the only way to get to the Salt flats is by tour. You will find many tour agencies around the bus station. As well, if you intend to travel to other sites, transport is very limited. So getting tours and organised trips is the best way to travel around the area.TIP: Buying transport tickets and tours in person in Bolivia, rather than online, is much cheaper. So avoid rushing in getting tours online and wait to compare prices.
Uyuni is a small town, mostly built up nowadays for travellers wanting to join the ever popular salt flats tour. There are a few attractions in the town, including a street market, a small archaeological museum, and the nearby train cemetery. To avoid rushing on arrival, it's not a bad idea to spend a day in Uyuni before taking off for your tour if departing from there.
Salt flats tours operate as a one day or multi-day trip. The single day trips typically visit the Train Cemetery, "Dakar Bolivia" sign, salt hotel (for lunch), Salt Flats with time for pictures and finally the sun set over the flats.
Multi-day tours include this, plus travel further into the Bolivian landscapes, including highlights like Laguna Colorada, Laguna Verde, Geysers, Hot Spring baths, the Salvador Dali Desert, Rock Tree amongst more. Multi-day tours are highly recommended, as the landscapes and wildlife in this region are incredible to see. Specially coming all this way, would be a shame not to extend your trip.
Most tours operate directly out of Uyuni, though tours can be arranged from La Paz, Sucre, and Tupiza. Uyuni is the cheapest departure point for visiting the salt flats, with day tours being the least expensive option. Tour prices vary based on tour group size, duration, company reputation, vehicle quality, and accommodation standards.
Uyuni has the most variety of tours, including one day, three day, four day, up to one week trips. Day tours are abundant, including sunrise tours with breakfast, stargazing tours (highly recommended in the wet season as the stars reflect on the ground water), sunset tours with wine, bike tours, and more. Day tours start from $60 USD, 3 day tours start from $120 USD. (In bolivianos cast cost 800 Bob).
On this guide we will focus on taking the multi-day tour of 2 nights/3 days. Below you will find the itinerary, facts, interesting information about the sights, aspects to consider and the pictures taken by us of the spectacular scenery along the way:
Day 1 Itinerary: All tours begin with the pick up from your designated hotel or hostel in Uyuni around 10 am. The first stop is just outside the town of Uyuni. The "Cementerio de trenes" or train graveyard is where all old locomotives powered by coal are left to rust in the hard climate. The trains only remain with their basic metal structures, which are able to climb and see inside. You are given around 25 minutes here to take pictures and walk around.
Then you head close to the perimeter of the salt flat, where you stop for another 20 minutes at a tourist market. Here you can buy souvenirs, drinks, warm clothes, figures for the perspective pictures you will take in Uyuni and other curiosities. You can also visit a small factory where they process the salt.
TIP: this market is the last point where you can buy some drinks or snacks at local prices. Other places including the accommodation offer drinks and snacks at inflates tourist prices.
The next drive takes into the salt flat. You will stop at the famous monument made out of salt, with the words "Dakar Bolivia" on it. Whilst you are taking pictures here, the guide will prepare lunch for the group in the building you see next to a lot of flags. You are welcome to bring your own flag too and hang it here from your country. The first Salt Hotel is now just a lunch stop for the many tours which stop every day. There are only basic facilities here and toilets cost 5 Bob to use!
Lunch consists of a hot meal, with vegetarian option available upon request. Water and a soft drink is also included. Once lunch is over, you will drive around 40 minutes into the salt flats.
Each driver designates an individual spot with their group, you will be given information regarding the area and the formation of the salt here. Then the best moment begins! Get your cameras ready and bring your perspective items out!
Normally the guide will have some also, like a dinosaur toy or an empty Pringles box. They will make the group pose in all funny ways and take pictures for you. You can also have individual pics or ask someone to help you with an original pose! Normally you spend 1 hour here, but depends of the size of the group and number of pics!
The next stop is "Isla Incahuasi" or Cactus Island. It means house of the Inca. It costs 30 Bol to enter and includes free use of decent toilets. The views are great from the top as you can appreciate the magnitude of the salt flat. Also take pictures here with some of the biggest cactus species. You have around 45 minutes here.
The final stop before staying in the salt accommodation is to watch the sun set over the mountains with the salt flat in front of you. You will stay here till the sun sets (around 30 to 45 minutes). Beware the wind blows with force here and that temperatures begin to fall. So bring adequate clothing, gloves and scarfs.
You arrive then at the accommodation (hostal type) ready for dinner. You are given your rooms according to booking requests and are instructed when to prepare for the following day. Normally you stay at a Salt Hotel, with its walls all made from salt blocks. Hot water showers are available to use only until 22h for a fee of 10 Bol. Dinner consists normally of a hot broth or soup with a meat dish. Vegetarian options also available upon request. Water or soft drink also included and tea or coffee at the end. Note for the next morning, that water pipes might be frozen up during the winter months.
Attention! In the winter months it can get very cold here at night, to even -15 C! Arrange to rent sleeping bags when you book the tour, not after. Bring additional clothing, towel and toilet paper as none of this is included!
Attention! All the information provided during the tour is based on the personal experience of the author and the itinerary taken on the 3 day tour. Depending on the company you take, the driver, the weather conditions or even requests by the travellers, the itinerary may be different and involve more or less stops during your tour. However all the highlighted names are designated stops which are all included in itineraries of 3 days/2 nights.
Travel dates of the taken itinerary: 23-25 July 2019
Travelling to such a remote place in the earth requires some preparation. It's a rustic, very elaborate tour in which the less bulky and heavy items you take the more comfortable you will be. Tours are driven in 4x4 vehicles, normally they are well equipped with air-con, heater, music player, etc. However, sometimes they can suffer from additional technical complications along the way, due to the hard terrain or altitude. Times during the tour can extend easily if you encounter any of these difficulties along the way. But don't worry, tour companies are prepared for everything and they will take care of you, bring you safely back.
To be as prepared as possible and enjoy the tour, there are a few things you should take with you, especially if it's the multi-day trip itinerary. Below you will find some of the recommended items:
What not to take: If you are taking the multi-day tour and are unable to pack light with only a backpack (recommended), then the best idea is to leave your bigger luggage at the hotel or tour agency you booked with for them to store your luggage. Don't take items like laptops, tablets, or bulky electronics (except cameras) for your tour. Pack according to the season, but don't bring excessive clothes or anything fancy. As well, don't bring items like jewelry, watches, neck chains, rings etc... as the salt can make them change colour or even rust.
Once you reach the town of Uyuni, there are plenty of Hotels that cater for the tourists. Booking online before arrival to guarantee a room in the high season (June-August) is recommended. Hotels are cheap and basic, but you can find higher quality ones as well. Prices for hotels, with wifi, private bathroom and breakfast are around €15 per night. Hostels are abundant in the region, with shared rooms the most typical type of stays, for around €5-8 per night.
When doing the multi-day tours, accommodation greatly affects tour costs, with pricing varying based on whether you choose basic (dormitory style hostels) or mid-range (private room). However on the tour to the Salt flats, rooms have no private bathroom, no Wifi, no heating, limited electricity and hot water. If you want to guarantee a private room, then have to pay 150 Bob more. Normally during the tours, you will have a mix of private and shared rooms.
Visiting the Salt Flats and Uyuni can be done with a day tour, staying overnight the day before. However it's much more fun to be able to enjoy this part of the world by joining a multi-day tour and see more of the area. When you book your tickets allow always an extra day or two for additional time. Buying your tickets for the tours can be done easily for the next day. However, it depends a lot on time. Being prepared for any eventuality is essential and having extra time will allow you to relax.
Therefore it's not recommended to book flights, after the tour, in case you came back later or want to arrange a longer tour. Taking the tour of 3 days and 2 nights is the best recommended.