When I planned my trip to South America I figured I will be so close to Uyuni, Bolivia that I might as well include the Salar de Uyuni tour in my Chile itinerary. Sure, it required a bit of a detour and two days spent solely on traveling but the chances I will be in the area again are rather slim so I had to use the opportunity and visit Uyuni.
And I didn’t regret it for a single moment. Salar de Uyuni tour was one of my highlights in South America, the place is just outstanding and made my jaw drop.
Since my time was very limited I opted for a one-day tour to Salar de Uyuni and therefore I will focus mainly on it in that article. But there are more options to choose from and I will tell you about them too. No matter which Salar de Uyuni tour you will choose, you are in for a treat as this place is simply incredible!
What is Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni, with an area of over 10,000 square kilometers, is the largest salt flat in the world. Located in the south-west part of Bolivia, at an altitude of 3,656 meters above sea level this is one of the most mind-blowing places in the world.
This is also one of the flattest places in the world – the total elevation change in Salar de Uyuni is only 41 centimeters! Most (50-70%) of the world’s resources of lithium can be found in Salar de Uyuni.
The best time to visit Salar de Uyuni
Each season is beautiful at Salar de Uyuni so the answer really depends on what you would like to see there.
The wet season (December to April) is when the salt flats turn into a giant mirror – this can be good for reflection photos.
The dry season (May to November) is when you can see the salt being crystalized and making geometrical patterns on the ground.
How to get to Uyuni, Bolivia
If you arrive from within Bolivia the easiest way to get to Uyuni is by plane. A small local airport offers flights to/from La Paz (the capital), Sucre and Santa Cruz. If you opt for a bus from La Paz you can expect some 12-15 hours journey, sometimes with a change along the way.
I arrived in Uyuni from Chile – I took the direct bus from Calama and returned to San Pedro de Atacama. There are a few connections per day, the journey is long-ish (almost 7 hours from Calama and 10 hours to San Pedro de Atacama) but comfortable.
No matter where you go it’s best to book the tickets in advance. I used the Tickets Bolivia website and then had to go to the bus company’s office to exchange the voucher for the real ticket.
There is no bus station in Uyuni, buses depart from various locations near the companies’ offices. But the town is compact enough that it doesn’t take long to walk everywhere within the center.
Where to stay in Uyuni
The accommodation base in Uyuni isn’t too big but you will find some fine places there. Here are some of the recommended places to stay in Uyuni:
- Casa de Sal – Salt Hotel (9.4/10)
- Hotel Jardines de Uyuni (8.9/10)
- Hotel Sal Andina (8.7/10)
- and more!
How to visit Salar de Uyuni
The only option to visit Salar de Uyuni is with a tour. There are plenty of companies to choose from and most of the tours have a similar agenda so the difference is in the standard, I believe.
I’m not a driver myself but I guess going to the salt flats on your own could be a bit of a challenge as the area is really large and it’s easy to get lost there – the tour companies know it inside out and can take you in all the best spots.
What Salar de Uyuni tours you can choose from
There are two main Salar de Uyuni tours to choose from: a one-day tour and a 3-days tour that takes you from Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile.
Due to my limited time, I went for a shorter one and I enjoyed it a lot but if you have more time in South America and plan to visit the Atacama desert too you should consider the longer one.
Should you book the tour online or in Uyuni?
I booked my tour online before arriving in Uyuni and I can recommend doing the same. Not only you will have peace of mind there will be a spot on the tour waiting for you, but you can also read the reviews and choose the tour that suits you the best.
There were stories of irresponsible and drunk drivers leaving tourists behind somewhere in the salt flats or of cars in poor technical conditions so booking the tour in advance will give you the opportunity to go through reviews and find the best company.
Here are some of the Salar de Uyuni tours:
- Uyuni Salt Flat Full-Day Tour
- From Uyuni: Salt Flats 4WD Tour with Lunch and Sunset
- Uyuni: Starlight and Sunrise Salt Flats Tour
- 3-Day Salt Flats and Colored Lagoons Tour from Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni tour – what you will see
Salar de Uyuni day tour
Most of the tours follow the same agenda and during the first stage, you will be accompanied by all the other tourists.
The tour starts at the trains’ graveyard – the peculiar collection of rusty locomotives from the beginning of the 20th century.
Uyuni has always been a transportation hub and there were plans to extend the railway network in the area but due to the numerous difficulties (mostly technical and political) the project was abandoned and the trains were left to decay some 3 km away from the center of Uyuni.
There are actually pretty many trains here and visitors can climb up to them to take pictures. But since all the tours start here the place is a bit crowded.
Another stop is in the nearby village of Colchani where local women sell souvenirs. The prices are rather affordable so if you plan to get some souvenirs in Bolivia this seems like a good place (I bought a few keychains with llamas there).
This is also where my tour had a lunch break (the food was prepared by the cook who accompanied the tour) before heading towards the salt flats.
From the village, it was around one hour drive through the salt flats to the Isla del Pescado. Even if the view around was stunning it was also a bit too bright and, well, flat so everyone in my car (me included) took a nap – it was just impossible to keep your eyes open.
Isla del Pescado is a rocky hill that stands out in the flat landscape of Salar de Uyuni. The “island” is covered in cactus and is one of the many great photo spots in the salt flats. From the upper parts of Isla del Pescado, you can enjoy stunning views of the endless salt flats around.
Before heading back to Uyuni there are a few more stops in the middle of nowhere to take pictures, including the silly one with the perspective (like the dinosaurs chasing you or surfing on the bottle of wine). The driver has all the necessary toys to make your photos look cooler so you don’t need to worry about that.
My tour stayed at the salt flats until the sunset and we were back in the town already after dark. The whole Salar de Uyuni day trip lasted around 8 hours and that was enough to get a feel of this incredible place.
Salar de Uyuni to Atacama 3 days tour
If you decide to go from Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama with the 3-days tour you will see the same places as on the one-day Salar de Uyuni tour as well as numerous other spectacular sights: colored lakes, hot springs, flamingo herds, geysers, interesting rock formations, and painted volcanoes.
But the biggest advantage of the multiday tour is the opportunity to stay overnight in remote locations where you can see some of the most stunning views of the sky full of stars above you. The accommodation is provided in either a salt hotel, a hostel, or a tent.
What to expect at the Salar de Uyuni tour
First of all – incredible views that will stay in your mind for a long time. Even if it’s been a while since my visit to Salar de Uyuni, I still can vividly see this stunning place when I close my eyes.
Most of the tours use 4×4 jeeps – each car fits up to 6 tourists, a driver/guide, and a cook. During the day you will be served a simple yet fine lunch, vegetarian options are usually available.
All the tours follow roughly the same itinerary so you will be seeing many other tourists in some of the places, while you will be also able to enjoy the remote locations in the salt flats. The place is large enough to fit all the visitors without bumping too much into each other.
There will be no internet connection on the tour, the place is really remote. But you will be busy exploring and enjoying the place so you shouldn’t really notice the lack of internet.
The downside of visiting Salar de Uyuni is its high altitude – you might feel fatigued, headache, and/or nausea if your body is still not used to the altitude. I arrived at Uyuni almost directly from Punta Arenas (so the altitude 0) and I felt pretty weak, had to take some painkillers to get me through the day. But Salar de Uyuni was worth it.
What to bring for the Salar de Uyuni tour
The sun operates pretty strongly here so don’t forget sun protection – sunglasses, sunscreen and something to cover your head. Comfortable shoes are also necessary, especially to get to the top of the Isla del Pescado.
But most of all – have your camera ready and fully charged – you will take way too many pictures for sure!
What’s the price for Salat de Uyuni tours
The tour prices vary. The Salar de Uyuni day tours usually start at $70 and the 3-days tours at $170. But sometimes it’s better to pay a bit more for a well-rated tour. I paid for my 1-day tour $100 (this was in May 2019).
Final thoughts on visiting Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni is a truly marvelous place, one of the most stunning in the world. Sure, it is very popular among tourists but they come there for a reason, to see this beauty in real life. I also did a detour during my trip to Chile to see Salar de Uyuni and I didn’t regret it for a single moment. The place lives to all the hype!
I really enjoyed visiting Salar de Uyuni, the place took my breath away so many times (and that was not because of the high altitude). If you are planning a trip to South America be sure to include Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia in your itinerary – you don’t want to miss that place!
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You can find the best accommodation options at Booking. They have many discounts and excellent customer service. Click here to look for the place to stay in Uyuni
Never travel without travel insurance, you never know what might happen and better safe than sorry. You can check the insurance policy for Bolivia here.
I recommend joining organized tours to get to know the place better and to visit more places during your trip. You can find a great selection of tours at Get Your Guide – click here.
Make sure to have the offline map always installed on your phone, they can save you so many troubles. I always use the free app Maps.Me.
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Claudie01/10/2022 at 17:47
Hi Kami, thank you so much for the article!
Just to make sure I understand correctly, you took a public bus from San Pedro de Atacama to the city of Uyuni on your own, and then a one-day trip into the Salar de Uyuni? Your organised trip didn’t include the travelling between the 2 cities?
If it’s the case, how was the passing between the 2 countries in a public bus ?
Thank you :)
kami03/10/2022 at 08:40
Exactly that’s what I did. The trip was fine, just your regular bus journey, nothing extraordinary really :) Salar de Uyuni is amazing, well worth the effort to get there!