Even 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:
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?
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:
- Start and finish in Uyuni;
- Start in Uyuni, finish the tour in San Pedro di Atacama, Chile. That is what many people do, me included;
- 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
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
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
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$). You also need to pay extra to visit the “fish island” within the salt flat.
There is usually no problem to just show up on the tour, they are formed on the first come first serve basis.
Make your driver stay for the sunset in the salt flats, insist on it if he wants to leave. Our best pictures were taken during that time of the day. Make sure to talk about this when you book the tour.
Most probably, your guide will be all in one – a driver, a cook (the food was good btw) and an organizer.
If you don’t speak any Spanish, this is what I recommend – make sure someone in your group understands at least a bit, and he will translate you the main things. If no, well, you will use the body language, and the tour is mostly about seeing things, not a guided excursion. Everything that my guide told me (not that much to be honest), I could have easily read in Wikipedia here.
How much does it cost to visit Salar de Uyuni?
The tours offer ABSOLUTELY the same itinerary, the difference is the company and the price you will negotiate (see price below).
My friend, prepare to bargain a bit.
The usual price is 700-750 Bob for a 3 days tour (100 – 110 USD).
They will try to convince you that they offer better food or more experienced drivers. The truth is, they are exactly the same and I see no reason paying more than 750 Bob for the same service.
The price includes everything – transport, food and accommodation. Don’t forget about the extra ~20$ 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?
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?
We 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
Here 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).
– 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:
- ‘The Witches market;
- Free walking tour La Paz;
- Parque Mirador Laikakota;
- Cycle Death road.
Where to stay in La Paz
When 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:
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!
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).
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.
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!
Pint it for later: