Guide to travel to Uyuni Salt Flats

by Ale Werner
Uyuni Salt Flats

Bolivia is a destination that is still not very visited by many, which allows us to enjoy it in quiet environments. Most of the time practically alone. This South American country has become known above all for being the home of the largest salt flat in the world: Uyuni. Kilometers and kilometers of a completely white surface where every day hundreds of tourists ride in 4×4 jeeps enjoying the immensity of the landscape. In this guide to travel to the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia we tell you everything you need to know before and during your trip to this destination. What to see in Uyuni, what to eat, where to sleep in Uyuni, how to get there, what to do in the Uyuni Salt Flats and much more.

A few kilometers from Uyuni, just a few hours away, is the Eduardo Abaroa National Reserve; home of the Laguna Colorada, the Geysers of the Sun of Tomorrow, the Green Lagoon, the Laguna Hedionda and many other wonderful destinations.

A bit about the Uyuni Salt Flats

With an area of more than 10,500 square kilometers, the Salar de Uyuni is located 3,800 meters above sea level. A trip to the Uyuni Salt Flats means visiting the largest and highest salt desert in the world. In addition to beautiful and tourist, it is very important geographically and minerálmente. It is the largest lithium reserve in the world, hoarding between 60% and 70% of the world total.

40,000 years ago this area was covered by Lake Minchin, a huge prehistoric lake that covered most of the region. When it dried up after a dry and warm period in the history of the planet, this huge salt is left so that today we can travel to it and enjoy it.

Unlike other salt flats, such as the Salar de Atacama in Chile, it currently contains more than 10 billion tons of salt in several layers. Because of this, the cars can cross it without problems and we can walk through it without restrictions.

You can access the map here.

What to see in the Uyuni Salt Flats

This immensity of salt that measures kilometers and kilometers has a couple of attractions for which the tours and jeeps that visit the salat flat every day pass. Next, we tell you which are the main ones.

The Salt Flat Eyes

They are small natural pools from which water bubbles constantly emerge and show that under this thick layer of salt there are still vestiges of what was the lake. There are many eyes around the lake, but the most popular ones to visit are near the town of Uyuni. They can have two meters in length and seem to have a rocky surface.

Salt hotel “Playa Blanca” and Island of the Flags

In a must stop on all tours and when traveling to the Uyuni Salt Flats. Nowadays the hotel is disabled due to the lack of water treatment, but it works as a museum. You can enter and see some facilities, such as the dining room, which is almost entirely made of salt.

Next to the hotel is an island formed by hundreds of flags of different countries of the world; an ideal place to take pictures and that travelers love. The truth has no historical value, it is just a very cute and photogenic place. Find your flag!

Guía para viajar al Salar de Uyuni

Monument to the Dakar.

Since 2014 the Salar de Uyuni is one of the stops on the route of the Dakar Rally; a popular motor race where hundreds of drivers in the world try their luck traveling hundreds of kilometers through different countries of South America. Right next to the salt hotel Playa Blanca is a huge sculpture (of course, made of salt) with the symbol of the rally.

Incahuasi Island

“An island in a sea of salt” … this is how you call this piece of land populated by huge cactuses in the middle of the Uyuni Salt Flats. During the rainy season, it is impossible to reach this point because it is very central to the salt flat. If you are going to travel to the Uyuni Salt Flats in the dry season you can not miss it.

It is possible to walk a path of about 500 meters up and down until you reach a high point that allows you to appreciate the true immensity of the salt. As you climb you will see around you hundreds of cactuses that are thousands of years old and measure more than 10 meters high. They survive thanks to the rains of the Bolivian winter.

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* This is not the “island of the fish” as some guides will tell you. The island of the fish is 22 kilometers northwest of Incahuasi.

The salt flat

Of course, let’s not forget about salt flat. This huge sea of white salt that measures thousands of square kilometers and that will have you hypnotized when looking through the car window.

The perspective effect

In places without water, salt forms natural hexagons among its white panics. Being of a uniform color it is also possible to obtain great photos in perspective, the favorite activity of tourists. A good guide will be thrown to the ground to help you take the pictures, but if he don’t help you, here we tell you how to do it:

  • The photos should be taken with a camera with high focal range, so that far and near objects are not blurred by focal differences.
  • You must lie on the floor, ideally on a towel or something to not stain all your clothes.
  • Put the objects or toys that you want to interact with about 50 centimeters from the camera. Make small mounds of salt so that they reach a good height and look at a level similar to people.
  • Ask those who appear in the photo to slowly move away from you until they are the size you want in the photographs. Ask them to pose … 3 … 2 … 1 … and …
  • Shoot!

Your trip to the Uyuni Salt Flats is not complete without taking away any of these photographs. Do not forget yours!

The reflect effect

To achieve this effect of “walking on the sky” or “walking on clouds” there must be some centimeters of water on the ground. Remember to put on water boots, otherwise, you will ruin your shoes completely.

In general, the best moments to appreciate the effect are during the sunrise and sunset, when the sun provokes a true show of colors in the salt. The rest of the day you can enjoy the effect especially if there are clouds in the sky. Otherwise, you will only see your own reflection in the photographs (which is not bad either).

The best moments to enjoy these reflections are at sunrise and sunset; when the sky takes impressive pink, blue and orange colors.

Other sited of interest outside the salt flat

Train cemetery

In the same town of Uyuni, we can find a train cemetery that dates back to the beginning of this century. Formerly these were used to transport salt and other minerals from Uyuni to Antofagasta, in Chile; but today this form of transport has been abandoned leaving the rusty rails and trains behind.

It’s a pretty photogenic place and if you love locomotives, you’re sure to love it.

Guía para viajar al Salar de Uyuni

San Cristobal

This small town is popular as a point of supply for the tours, but you can visit its church that has an interesting history. It is no longer possible to enter but you can see it from outside.

Formerly this town was located in a mining site and was moved stone by stone to its current location. The same happened with this church, which retains its original facade. The only thing that is not original of its former location is the interior paintings.

It’s close for tourist because some years ago someone robs some paintings… bad tourist make everything close!

Relevant information to travel to Uyuni Salt Flats

Best time to travel to Uyuni Salt Flats

There are two reasons why tourists decide to travel to the Salar de Uyuni, as well as knowing it. Some want to enjoy the impressive reflex effect that is made when it is covered with a small layer of water; others want to take fun pictures in perspective. Can you imagine riding a toy bike? Well, here you can achieve it. Depending on the time of year, what effect and what areas you can visit and enjoy.

  1. December to February: It is the Bolivian winter. A lot of rain affect the area. In this time you can see the reflections of the sky with greater intensity; but you can not go through the salt freely because it closes by the accumulated water, cars cannot pass. It is likely to rain during your stay.
  2. March and April: They are by far the best months to visit the Uyuni Salt Flats. The rains ended, but there is still accumulated water so you can enjoy the reflections. It also begins to dry, so you can go through it without having any problem and reach the central area of the salt flats.
  3. May to August: It is likely that snow, but it doesn’t accumulate in the salt and it is dry, so no biggie. There is no reflex at this time and it is very cold. If you decide to go in this season, read here our tips to get dressed on a winter trip.
  4. September to November: they are the driest months of the year. If you want to see the reflection, it’s not your time to travel to the Uyuni Salt Flats.
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How to get to Uyuni Salt Flats.

Travel to Uyuni Salt Flats by plane:

For some years Uyuni has a small national airport. Flights from La Paz arrive regularly to this airport, usually early in the morning. It is located very close to the town, so you can take any transport (well negotiated) at the airport to your accommodation. There are schedules that allow you to arrive before the tours begin, so you will not have to sleep the first night on your own in the city.

Travel to the Uyuni Salt Flats by bus:

The road to Uyuni has improved considerably so now the routes are significantly shorter and more comfortable.

The journey from La Paz to Uyuni lasts approximately 10 hours. Between Sucre and Uyuni, it lasts about 8 hours. In general, the trips are made at night, so they can be quite comfortable for travelers with low budget. On this page, you can find the values and itineraries of the tickets.

Travel to Uyuni Salt Flats by train:

It is less expensive than buses but significantly slower. The trip can take up to twice as much as by bus on old and uncomfortable trains. We do not recommend it, but if you are interested in the trip, in general, it is by bus from La Paz to Oruro; and from Oruro, you take a train to Uyuni. In Oruro, you must take a taxi or a public bus between the bus station and the train station.

Travel to Uyuni Salt Flats by tour:

Yes, we will leave this option here. It is one of the ways to get to Uyuni, and we believe that by far the most convenient. Why? Bolivia is still a very economic country in monetary terms, so hiring a driver to take you from one place to another on a tour is also very cheap.

The tours can be taken from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile (passing through Hito Cajones in the border), from La Paz or from other towns and cities of Bolivia; the Uyuni Salt Flats has taken such relevance for the country’s tourism that it will not cost you to find an agency that offers it.

Types of Tour

There are three types of tours to travel to the Salar de Uyuni, which will depend completely on your budget. Here we leave the reference prices for a tour that depart and return to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile and thinking about 3 nights accommodation to see the Uyuni Salt Flats and the Eduardo Abaroa National Reserve. If the tours are for fewer days, or from closer places, the prices go down considerably.

  1. “Backpacker” Tour: That’s what they call it, we have not named it. For about $250 per person, you have food, accommodation, and transportation for 3 nights, in very basic hostels and in very old cars. Many times the shelters do not have water, so you should be prepared for everything.
  2. Shared tour: Here you can opt for better accommodations and transportation; the food will always be very basic but rich. The price will depend on the number of people who want to take the tour on the same dates. You will have to share the car (it will always be a 4×4 jeep) with other tourists, go in groups of several cars and depend on third parties in your travels.
  3. Private tour: The price is much higher; Depending on the number of people in the jeep varies between 1600 to 700 dollars per person (thinking of 1 or 4 people in the car). This includes accommodation in 3 or 4-star hotels, transportation by private jeep and private driver, you own your time, you decide, you make and break.

 

The main activity in the Uyuni Salt Flats:

By far, this is the panacea for photographers. Go in the rainy season and marvel at the reflections; or play for hours with the perspective riding small toy cars or fighting against dinosaurs of 10 centimeters height.

 

 

Items you need in the Uyuni Salt Flats

  • Always be prepared with warm clothes. At sunrise, sunset and nights the temperatures drop considerably. If you do not know what to wear to be warm, read our tips on how to dress for a winter trip.
  • Do not forget your toys for the photos, you can not forget them. Your guide will not necessarily have some with him, it’s your responsability.
  • Change of clothes for the day. If your idea is to sit on the salt flats, lie down or touch your clothes with salt, you will end up white and with your pants as hard as stone. Do not forget that everything is salt, and this mineral with a little water or sweat melts.
  • Salt causes an impressive reflex effect that burns the skin twice as much as normal. You can not forget your sunscreen with high factor and sunglasses with UV.
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How to move around the Uyuni Salt Flats

Here there is only one alternative: Tour.

Yes, they rent cars … and yes, there are people who do the trip without tours. But the truth? Every year hundreds of tourists cars get buried in loose salt, lost, the drivers do not understand the references and really have a terrible time. Think that we are talking about a salt flat of kilometers and kilometers long. If you decided to cross it in the wrong place and run out of gas, it may be days and nobody will find you. Above all, keep in mind that the cars that you rent in Bolivia are usually old; the tours are prepared with tool boxes, gasoline, spare wheels … you will not do it.

But what tour did I take? This is going to depend on you … there is something for everyone:

  1. If you want to see only the Salar de Uyuni, you can hire a tour for the day in the same city that takes you to the main points.
  2. You can hire tours for 3 or 4 days, with 2 or 3 nights. These include accommodation, transportation, guide/driver and food. Prices range from $ 100 per person to $ 1,700 if you want to hire one completely private and in the best hotels. In addition to salar visits the Eduardo Abaroa National Reserve.

Important information for tourists

  • Take some extra pants and shoes. The salt, especially wet, makes the fabrics hard and stained. If you decided to jump or sit on the floor to take a picture, then you sure end up with the white clothes.
  • Make sure your travel agency or tour guide includes plastic boots in the rainy months.
  • Puna Sickness: It is also called altitude sickness, and occurs when the body is “destabilized” by lack of oxygen in high places. To avoid this you must keep yourself very hydrated and consume products with “coca”, a very popular herb in these places. Read more of this disease, how to avoid it and how to improve yourself here.
  • The only places where there is a bathroom available are at the Hotel de Sal (if it is open) and on the Incahuasi Island. Come to the call of nature and avoid uncomfortable situations in the middle of the white and desert salt.

Where to sleep in Uyuni

In case you take a tour you can ask before booking which hotels you will stay to check their quality on TripAdvisor, especially if you are paying for a more exclusive tour.

In Uyuni there are 3 kinds of accommodations, each with its own and very different price:

  1. Hostels: In general they offer only basic services, some don’t even have water some of the time and forget about the heating for those cold months. Shared pieces and little privacy, but for a really cheap price (up to $ 5 per person).
  2. Rooms for rent: Some locals have conditioned their homes to receive visitors. Here there is usually water, include a basic breakfast and a very simple room.
  3. Luxury hotels: If you want to live a salt experience, then this is your place. Can you imagine sleeping in a hotel made entirely of salt? In Uyuni there are some and, we tell you, even the walls are salt. The rooms have salt furniture and they are amazing. If you can pay a little more, you can not lose them. Prices range from $ 80 per night in the low season.

Gastronomy and food in Uyuni

What to eat:

In general, the typical foods of Bolivia include foods such as “Llama” and quinoa meat, which is collected and processed in the surroundings of Uyuni.

Where to eat:

If you take a tour, you will not have to worry about this point because all meals will be included. If you decide to stay in Uyuni on your own, then you can eat in some restaurants in the city. Walking away from the center of the city you can find small local restaurants with menus for about $ 2 per person (soup, main course, and dessert).

In case you decide to eat in the city, the most recommended are those in the central square and the train station.

 

Most frequent scams and dangers

The greatest precaution you should have is with your belongings in the hostels and hostels; but not for the locals, if not for the other tourists as well. Hundreds of robberies have been reported in these places.

Shopping in the Uyuni Salt Flats

In spite of being such a tourist place, there are not really many places in the Uyuni Salt Flats where you can buy souvenirs or gifts. In the milestone of “Hotel de Sal” (where the flags are) some locals sell souvenirs, but nothing of another world. Just some scarfs and home ornaments.

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