How to tour the Salt flats in Bolivia like a boss

Salt flat reflection girl BoliviaEven if you know nothing of Bolivia, I am sure you have seen some remarkable reflection pictures from the salt flats, didn’t you? (More on how to make amazing creative pics of Salar de Uyuni here).

I have recently done the 3 days tour of the salt flats (Salar de Uyuni tour) and here are some useful tips on how to organize it by yourself, and exactly  how much it will cost you.

If you are not going there soon, read the post for the motivation, this place is freaking amazing, it’s unique, it’s worth it ! 😉

Here is everything you need to know about Salar de Uyuni:

How to tour Salar de Uyuni Like a boss Misstouristcom2 

What is Salar de Uyuni?

10 BILLIONS tons of salt! Can you imagine?

Salar de Uyuni is world’s largest salt flat, let’s get this out of the way from the begining.

“The place where Heaven meets the earth” they call it.

Yes, guys, those people did not exaggerate, it is out-of-this-world beautiful!

Millions of years ago, there was a huge salty lake there, it dried up, and now it is the biggest salt flat in the world which also becomes the largest reflecting surface during the rainy season.

The best (if not only) way to see it is to take a 4WD tour with 5-6 other people in the car.

There are different tour options – for 1 day, 3 days or 4 days.

How many days in the salt flats are enough?

Salar de Uyuni Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni Map

In Red – what you are going to visit, in blue – the Start and Finish of the tour

While it is possible to do a day tour, 3-4 days tours that head deeper in the Altiplano are more popular (and are recommended!).

What I particularly don’t like about the 1 day tour is that you don’t see this surreal place by the sunset.

I took a 3 days tour, which is basically a 2 days tour as you finish at 8 30 a.m. the last day (but you will wake up at 5 a.m.)

3-4 days tours vary a bit from where they start and finish:

  1. Start and finish in Uyuni;
  2. Start in Uyuni, finish the tour in San Pedro di Atacama, Chile. That is what many people do, me included;
  3. Start the tour in San Pedro di Atacama and finish Uyuni (the other way around). Expect to pay more in this case (Chilean prices, you know 😉 ).

When to go to the salt flats in Bolivia

Lagoona colorada bolivia

You know what, when I went in January, I didn’t even double check if that was the best time to go.

I just assumed the mirror reflection is always there. But it is not. It is there only after the rain, obviously. 🙂

Best time depends on your preference of what you want to see. Most people say it is best to go from May to November when the weather is mild, but keep in mind that the salt flats will be dry.

The wet season is from January to April. The rain will make that beautiful mirror effect, unbelievable image of infinity.

I went in January, even if most of the salt flat was dry, we found a place that allowed us to see the reflections. So I had a 2 in 1 experience!

But honestly, any time of the year it is truly spectacular. Any month you choose, you will not regret your choice!

How to get to Uyuni from La Paz

Salar de Uyuni funny pics
The starting point is a little town (living out of tourism basically) called Uyuni. I have heard you can also start from Tupiza, but this will take an extra day.

Budget option:  The night bus from La Paz will take you there at 5-6 a.m. They said it’s going to be bumpy, but I would not say it was really bad. The price is about 25 USD.

The bus will leave you at the station in the early morning, you will have PLENTY of time to drink coca tea and find a suitable tour company for yourself before 10 a.m. (that’s approximately when the jeeps leave)

If you wish, you can stay for one more night, just to relax. I was feeling fine after the bus, so I did not want to wait.

Comfortable option: You can fly to Uyuni, as it has a small airport. The approximate price it 80-100 USD.

How to choose your Salar de Uyuni tour

Driver food dinner salar de uyuni_Please keep in mind that Uyuni is a very standardized tour. Everyone there will offer you exactly the same route. They will try to increase the value of the tour, saying that the food is better/the driver is faster, but believe me, it is all the same at the end.

The things you should ask before you choose the tour are:

  • How many people are there in the car? – the less, the better, of course, but it is usually 6 people + driver.
  • Does the driver speak English? – ours didn’t speak a word in English, but my Spanish was good enough to understand the meaning :).
  • Where does the tour end? – do you come back to Uyuni or do you continue in Atacama Desert in Chile? Most times this is your choice to make.
  • Is the entrance to the National park included? – Usually, no. It is an extra of 150 Bob (22$). You also need to pay extra to visit the “fish island” within the salt flat.

There is usually no problem to just show up on the tour, they are formed on the first come first serve basis.

Make your driver stay for the sunset in the salt flats, insist on it if he wants to leave. Our best pictures were taken during that time of the day. Make sure to talk about this when you book the tour.

Most probably, your guide will be all in one – a driver, a cook (the food was good btw) and an organizer.

If you don’t speak any Spanish, this is what I recommend – make sure someone in your group understands at least a bit, and he will translate you the main things. If no, well, you will use the body language, and the tour is mostly about seeing things, not a guided excursion. Everything that my guide told me (not that much to be honest), I could have easily read in Wikipedia here.

How much does it cost to visit Salar de Uyuni?

Salt flats BoliviaThe tours offer ABSOLUTELY the same itinerary, the difference is the company and the price you will negotiate (see price below).

My friend, prepare to bargain a bit.

The usual price is 700-750 Bob for a 3 days tour (100 – 110 USD).

They will try to convince you that they offer better food or more experienced drivers. The truth is, they are exactly the same and I see no reason paying more than 750 Bob for the same service.

The price includes everything – transport, food and accommodation. Don’t forget about the extra ~20$ for the national park entrance. And, in case you are going to San Pedro de Atacama after, there is an extra transfer payment from the boarder (50 Bob). You can usually pay this in advance where you book the tour.

This is the price for a Spanish speaking driver. If you want a tour in English you will have to pay double – 1300 – 1500 Bob (or about 220 USD).

If you will take the same tour from Chile, it will be much more expensive.

What will you see in a Salar de Uyuni tour?

Pink flamingos Bolivia

Even if the salt flat will surely be the highlight of the tour, it is only the first day of your trip.

What will you see in the other 2?

Endless rocky desert, colored lagoons, pink, white and black flamingos, geysers belching sulfur, sleeping volcanoes (smoking sometimes), hot springs, cactus covered islands, a train cemetery … and many more things!

I am especially not posting the itinerary here, I would like you to get surprised and astonished by the astonishing nature.

Trust me, Salvador Dali would feel at home in this surreal place, and anyway, when else will you have a chance to walk on Mars? 🙂

What are the accommodation options in Salar de Uyuni?

Salt flats bolivia photographerWe stayed in a salt hotel the first day (hot shower was an extra payment of 10 Bob) and in a nice refuge (at over 4000m altitude!!) in the second night where we shared a (big) room (all 6 passengers from our jeep).

The salt hotel was pretty cool – the tables, chairs, beds – everything was made completely out of salt. Even the building itself was made out of salt bricks! How cool is that? It did not have much to offer in terms of amenities (but hey, you are in the desert in the middle of nowhere), but it is clean and nice. Great experience!

Your Salar de Uyuni packing list

Tree rock BoliviaHere is what I recommend taking with you:

  • Warm clothes – (take layers, it is a desert and you will wake up early);
  • Sunglasses and sun block – (it WILL be hot during the day);
  • Camera – (out of them all, this is NOT the place to forget it);
  • Camera charger – (if you are planning to take many pictures);
  • Waterproof shoes – (you will walk on that water layer) or just flip-flops;
  • A towel – (the hotels are going to be staying in are very simple and won’t provide it)
  • Wet napkins – (to refresh yourself);
  • A pijama – (I’ve heard it’s damn cold during the night sometimes; plus, the second night you are going to stay with other 5 people in the room);
  • Some cash – (there is an entrance fee to the National Park (150 Bob), that is most probably not included in your tour) + for souvenirs;
  • Water and snacks – (even if it is provided by the tour, it is always better to have more in case you will get hungry);
  • A torch (useful, but not obligatory).

In case you are going to the Atacama desert afterwards (like me) – you will put your main luggage on the top of the jeep and a backpack with what you need for these 3-4 days with you in the car.

Forget about staying online for those days. There will be no phone signal and no Internet connection (reminder – you will be literally in the middle of nowhere). On day 3 though (right before the border crossing) there was an opportunity to use an overpriced Wi-Fi (20 bob for 15 mins).

Salt flat group picture


– Bonus: La Paz – what to do and where to stay –

La Paz is not the capital of Bolivia (it is Sucre), but La Paz is bigger than the capital and it is an international hub where you will, most probably, stop by before the Salar de Uyuni tour.

It makes sense to stay in La Paz for a day or two to accommodate yourself to high altitudes (the city is 4000 meters above the sea level)

If you decided to stay there, here are, very briefly, things to visit in La Paz:

Where to stay in La Paz

Almudena Apart Hotel La PazWhen I travel, I love staying in apartments, but I also like the service of a hotel. So, when I browsed the options, I found Almudena Apart Hotel and decided to stay there.

In Almudena, you have the best what a hotel can offer – delicious buffet breakfasts every morning, 24 hour front desk, a cleaning service. But at the same time you have that feeling of home which I was nurturing for a long time after so much travelling. You have your own apartment with a living room, a kitchen. The kitchen had all that I needed bonus a kettle, and I love tea! I found there the comfort which I needed after my long trips around South America. I stayed for 3 days just to simply relax!

The hotel is located on the hill, the views from my room were fantastic! Just like that:

Almudena Apart hotel view2

I would recommend staying at Almudena. They have fast Internet connection unlimited coca tea, and the privacy of your own apartment – I could not ask for more!

Check the rates/book the hotel here!

Best hotels in La Paz, Bolivia, Where to stay

Luxury (US$ 150 and up): Atix Hotel has a unique design and is home to the finest cuisine in all of La Paz. Guests have rated the staff as professional and courteous. Casa Grande Hotel has rooms with balconies that offer spectacular city views. Guests can also benefit from the Spa services.

Middle (US$ 50 – 100): Hotel Rosario La Paz is the to go place for anyone who wants to experience true Bolivian food and design. Casa Fusion Hotel Boutique has its name speaking for it. It is a fusion between modern and classic Bolivian architecture and an overall wonderful place to stay.

Budget (up to US$50): Hotel Bolivian Rooms & Suites is a quiet hotel with a chic design situated in a great location for shopping and local cuisine. Hotel B&B Tinka is perfect for those who want to go down the streets and experience true Bolivian lifestyle

 

Further exploration:

If you are staying for longer than just a couple of days, I recommend visiting Sucre (don’t miss the dinosaur prints over there!), Potosi, and the Titicaca Lake (I did the tour from the Peruvian side of the lake, read here).

 

Summary:

Salar de Uyuni is one of the most surreal places I have been to in my life. Try to make your itinerary so that you visit this place.

We spoke about the essentials of the Salar de Uyuni tour, how much exactly it will cost you, how to choose the best tour and how to get to the place. Also, when to go, for how long to go, and many other things.

Train Semetery Bolivia Uyuni_If you still have some additional questions, please leave a comment below, I will be happy to answer!

Going to Chile next? Check this post!

Yulia


Pint it for later:

How to tour Salar de Uyuni Like a boss Misstouristcom 4

Read more:

20 creative ideas for your Salar de Uyuni pictures

Machu Picchu – how much does it cost to visit? The only guide you will ever need

First time in Peru? 8 Best things to do in the country

By | 2017-09-01T18:17:32+00:00 June 29th, 2016|Bolivia, export, South America|41 Comments

About the Author:

Yulia is originally Russian but truly is a world citizen in heart. She was traveling around the world for over 4 years now. Her blog MissTourist.com is created with the purpose to inspire people to travel more and to share her advice of how to travel "smart".

41 Comments

  1. Megan Indoe 01.07.2016 at 13:55 - Reply

    Awesome, this is something we are planning on doing when we go to South America after the New Year! I have pinned this and bookmarked it for future reference! Thanks for all the great tips!

    • Yulia 01.07.2016 at 14:37 - Reply

      Hi Megan!
      You are very welcome!
      Let me know if you have any questions! 😉

  2. Johnny 02.08.2016 at 04:49 - Reply

    I’m headed over in a months time and love the writeup!! What time did you get back to Uyuni from the tour? I’m looking to take a 2015 flight out of Uyuni back to La Paz and wanted tom ake sure I could make it.

    • Yulia 07.08.2016 at 22:23 - Reply

      Hi Johnny!
      I was not actually back to Uyuni, I continued my journey to Atacama desert in Chile. But I think if you would go back, you would be back by 1-2 p.m.
      Hope that helps! 🙂

  3. Beatriz 19.12.2016 at 02:13 - Reply

    Hi, great article, can one start in Uyuni and finish in Uyuni after the 3. Day tour? And would you suggest to book the tour in advance?
    Thanks
    Beatriz

    • Yulia 19.12.2016 at 14:56 - Reply

      Yes, you can totally finish in Uyuni as well (see in the post above).
      In that case you do not need to book in advance, your tour is pretty standard.

  4. Beatriz 19.12.2016 at 15:16 - Reply

    Thank you so much Yulia, best of luck on your travels
    Beatriz

  5. Maria 28.12.2016 at 10:25 - Reply

    Hi Yulia,
    Lovely post and very easy to read! Great pics too!
    I was wondering if you know if the tours usually include accommodation?
    I read online that it’s totally fine to book a tour once you reach Uyuni, but a bit worried if I will be able to have a hotel to stay, or if it’s better to book the hotel in advance?

    Thank you!

    • Yulia 30.12.2016 at 22:01 - Reply

      The tour included accommodation during the actual tour, sure, but you need to take care of your hotel in Uyuni if you wish to stay there overnight (i didnt).
      in that case I would suggest booking it in advance, yes

  6. Tam 11.01.2017 at 05:24 - Reply

    This is great. Do you think you can self-drive around Uyuni and the flats, geysirs, etc? If so, does it make sense to rent a car in Sucre? Do you know about getting from Chile to Bolivia by plane?

    • Yulia 11.01.2017 at 10:27 - Reply

      Hi Tam!

      I am pretty sure you don’t want to rent a car and drive by yourself in Bolivia, especially the salt flats. Except the fact that you are not allowed (it’s a national park and you need a special permit), you will probably get lost in 20 minutes, there are no roads, no signs, no phone signal. There are plenty of good planes or premium buses linking Sucre, Uyuni and La Paz. From Chile to Bolivia you can get by plane, just check my resource page and use kiwi to find the cheapest route.

  7. Anna 11.01.2017 at 22:22 - Reply

    Hey, great post, thanks so much for all the information! In the article I didn’t find the name of the tour agency you chose and if you can recommend it? Would be great if you could give me further information about this 🙂

    • Yulia 15.01.2017 at 04:30 - Reply

      Hello Anna,
      the tours offered in Uyuni are completely identical as I said in the post, you will get the same service and the itinerary.
      The only difference is the price (depending on how you negotiate) and the amount of people in the car.

  8. Wesley Shu 19.02.2017 at 10:43 - Reply

    Dear Yulia:

    Thank you for your throughout information. You said “even if most of the salt flat was dry, we found a place that allowed us to see the reflections.” Which tour did you hire? They search the water for the passengers? I am afraid that I may have similar situation because I will go there in April, while the rain season is mostly in Feb and March.

    • Yulia 19.02.2017 at 16:53 - Reply

      The drivers usually know where the water is because they did the same route a couple of days ago. There is no difference which tour you will choose (unless you take an exclusive private tour but I know nothing about those) because they all go the same way. You will see caravans of jeeps taking the same route. They also communicate by the phone which particular place to go to if there is not enough water.
      No worries, if there is water, they will find it! Just don’t be shy to insist a bit. For example our driver wanted to get us to the hotel before the sunset, but I insisted we stay for the pictures and he agreed 🙂
      Hope that helps, have a great trip! 🙂

  9. Amanda 24.02.2017 at 15:40 - Reply

    Wow. Just wow. Thanks for all that info. Can you tell me if the flamingoes are there in late January or early February? And can you get close enough for decent photos of them? Thank you lots

    • Yulia 25.02.2017 at 12:19 - Reply

      hey Amanda, thanks so much!
      I have been in late January and there were many flamingos! And yes, you get really close so you can take an amazing picture especially if you have decent zoom!
      have fun and safe travels!

  10. Dylan 27.02.2017 at 20:07 - Reply

    Hi Yulia. I’m planning on doing Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina in a months time and I just stumbled onto your website. Very very useful information! Thank you for posting the article as it’s already helped me decide my route from La Paz to San Pedo di Atacama. Cheers! Dylan

    • Yulia 02.03.2017 at 06:23 - Reply

      You are very welcome!
      Safe travels!

  11. Kendrick 21.03.2017 at 00:07 - Reply

    Greetings Yulia,
    Planning on visiting the Salt Flats this year and have a couple questions: I’m planning on coming to Uyuni from La Paz and continuing through Bolivia to Santa Cruz. Taking the 3 day tour back to Uyuni, does it affect the price? I can just tell the driver I want to come back to Uyuni and he will do it just like that?

    • Yulia 26.03.2017 at 09:27 - Reply

      Yes, all the drivers go back to Uyni in any way and the tour was originally planned this way that it starts and finishes in Uyuni. But because many traveler (me included) prefer to continue to Atacama in Chile, there is a choice of not returning.
      If you wantt to come back you do not have to pay anything

  12. Laura 28.03.2017 at 18:57 - Reply

    Hi!

    I am planning a trip to Bolivia in June and Uyuni is my list. As I am travelling solo I would like to know if I should arrange the trip before going to Bolivia, if I should arrange it from La Paz or if it is also possible to go to Uyuni and organise it there directly joining a group.
    I am considering the option of doing a day of trekking to a volcano or something similar, I’ve seen online that a few companies offer it, do you know of any agency who offered something like that or if it could be easily added to the tour?
    Thank you!

    • Yulia 29.03.2017 at 20:12 - Reply

      Hi Laura!
      As I said, I did not book anything in advance, we got it on the day of the tour. it is very easy, most of the people do it that way too!
      I did the most standard tour of 3 days, not sure if there is a volcano hike, sorry!

  13. Sam 11.04.2017 at 23:39 - Reply

    Hello
    We only have time for a 2 day tour maximum. Do you think this is possible? Thanks

    • Yulia 12.04.2017 at 13:54 - Reply

      i know for sure that there are 1 day tours, but there might be 2 days tours as well. If not, you can always go for a private one, they are very flexible and will organize it for you, but it will be more expensive of course.

  14. Zac 29.04.2017 at 11:43 - Reply

    Hi Yulia,
    First, this post is amazing!

    I am inspired to start creating similar posts to help people plan their own trips.

    Second, my girlfriend and I just arrive in Bolivia.

    We will probably only have 3 days and nights in the La Paz area if we do a 3 day salt flat tour.

    My girlfriend and I are going to La Paz this week (after Uyumi, we still need to book our tour but we fly in tomorrow and land at 1030am unfortunately so i think we won’t be able to leave tomorrow).

    So for 6 days would you recommend:
    Option A
    3 day Salt flats tour
    1 day cycling death road
    2 days lake Titicaca (specifally overnight at isle of sun)

    Option B
    2 days salt flat tour (assuming can’t leave on the day we land)
    1 day cycling death road
    2 day lake Titicaca (isle of sun, copacabana) – this would just be a long day trip
    1 day La Paz

    Option B
    3 days salt flat tour (assuming can’t leave on the day we land in Uyumi)
    1 day cycling death road
    1 day lake Titicaca (isle of sun)
    1 day la Paz

    • Zac 29.04.2017 at 11:44 - Reply

      Thank you! And obviously that last one should be option C ☺

    • Yulia 05.05.2017 at 17:44 - Reply

      Hi guys! sorry, sometimes i am unable to reply right away to your questions.
      If this is still applicable, I would probably go for an option A. There are so many things to see on lake Titicaca and the Salt flats and I would recommend to do it with no rush.
      I did not do the death road, but I have heard it is amazing!

      Hope you are having lots of fun there!

  15. alex 29.04.2017 at 23:12 - Reply

    Hi! I was wondering if you know a few specific tour companies that are reputable in terms of service and safety. I have heard some pretty bad stuff about uyuni tour drivers drinking on the job etc.

  16. Joanna 30.04.2017 at 08:38 - Reply

    Hello! Which tour did you go with?

  17. Kat 04.06.2017 at 15:40 - Reply

    Any advice for which airline better for la paz ti uyuni flight? Also the 3rd day drop off to cross border to atacama what time do most tours get to the border and can you do a tour from the border of the atacama desert?

    • Yulia 06.06.2017 at 11:32 - Reply

      I took a bus, but i think any airline would do the job, right, just search on skyscanner or such.
      I think we were at the boarder at about midday, maybe even earlier (the day started veeery early that day i remember)
      yes, you can also do the tour the other way around – from Chile to Salar de uyuni. But I have heard those tours are significantly more expensive though.

  18. Colleen 28.06.2017 at 04:32 - Reply

    Our travel group includes one person who cannot eat anything containing gluten. Can you tell me what type of food was served on your tour?

    • Yulia 02.07.2017 at 06:43 - Reply

      The food was simple – soups, pasta, salads, some meat (chicken), nothing fancy, our driver was cooking. In case you want to make sure they can serve gluten-free food, i strongly advice you write them in advance and double check that directly with the company.

  19. Robin 12.07.2017 at 21:50 - Reply

    Hi Yulia!

    Excellent post. I am looking at flights now. I have a very limited amount of time, but I have wanted to do the 3 day tour for several years now. So, I was thinking overnight bus from La Paz, 3 day tour and then fly back. Wondering if the 8:05am flight back will be OK or if I should book the 19:10 flight, just to make sure I have enough time. Thank you so much!

    • Yulia 13.07.2017 at 20:06 - Reply

      No, 8 am flight is definitely too early.
      If I remember correct, you will be back to Uyuni by 12 (we were at the Chilean boarder at about 9 30 – 10 am), plus the time needed for the driver to get back to Uyuni. I think 7 pm flight is just fine! 🙂

  20. Vickie allen 09.08.2017 at 09:04 - Reply

    I understand November is when Flamingos arrive for mating. Are their any specific tours for taking pictures of the Flamingo in Nov.?

    • Yulia 09.08.2017 at 13:45 - Reply

      not that i know of. Maybe some private tours organized especially for you

  21. Pei 29.08.2017 at 18:47 - Reply

    Do you have the name of the bus company and the tour company did you use for this trip? Thank you.

  22. Yiannis 20.09.2017 at 04:16 - Reply

    are there any tours from Lap paz to that area or you have to get there ?

Leave A Comment

512 Shares
Pin338
Share157
Tweet12
Reddit5
WhatsApp

By continuing to use the site by scrolling or navigating further, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close