Uyuni Salt Flat (Salar de Uyuni) in Bolivia has always been on my bucket list ever since I saw a picture of it on the internet. The landscape looked so unreal and I had to see it with my own eyes. Did you know that it’s the largest salt flat in the world? During my 2 week trip to Peru and Bolivia, I got the chance to take a 3 day tour to explore this amazing landscape and surrounding areas. Pictures simply don’t do it justice!
When I was planning to visit the Uyuni Salt Flat, I tried to find as much information on it as possible as I didn’t know which tour was the “best” and what to expect during the tour. There are 2 options to tour the salt flat (Salar):
- One day sunrise and sunset tour. This tour takes you to some places on the Salar the 3 day tour doesn’t, and you may find areas with water to take the cool reflection shot even during dry season. It’s also extremely beautiful to see the sunrise and sunset.
- 3 day 2 night Salt Flat tour takes you to the salt flat with a sunset view as well as other cool landscapes (lagoons, geysers, hot springs, desert). You only spend 1 day on the Salar.
While searching for reviews on Tripadvisor, three reputable tour operators came up: Red Planet, Quechua Connection and Salty Desert Aventours. I personally ended up choosing Quechua Connection because my friends went with them before and they have really good reviews on tripadvisor (note: this is NOT a sponsored post so all opinions are mine). I enjoyed my tour with them and have absolutely no complaints. After comparing to my other friend who used Red Planet, a few noticeable differences (and similarities):
- Quechua Connection is the only company that offers you bikes to ride across the Uyuni salt flat on the first day.
- Different tours stop at different spots for the night; Quechua Connection & Red Planet both stop at hostels right next to the hot spring on the 2nd night. This means you can visit the hot spring at sunset or under the Milky Way at night while other tours have to get up at 5am to drive to the hotspring the next morning. Definitely a plus to have the hotspring to yourself under the stars!
- Quechua Connection provides you with table and chairs for lunch outside. Red Planet doesn’t and you have to find rocks to sit on while eating your lunch.
- Our company tried its best to accommodate tourists with dietary restrictions and the guides have altitude sickness pills as well as oxygen tanks for emergency situation. I assume other companies do this too but I wouldn’t know.
- Not sure about other companies but I heard horror stories of drivers drink and drive; didn’t see any of that on our tour
Know Before You Go:
- Rainy Season is November to April and dry season runs from April to October. If you want the cool mirror effect, you need to go during rainy season or by June before water evaporates
- July is extremely windy
- Prepare for high altitude (3500m – 5000m) on the 3 day tour.
- If you are flying out of Uyuni to La Paz after the tour, have 11 Bolivianos (~1.5 USD)to pay airport departure tax (no need to pay that if you are flying out of La Paz)
- You need to bring your own water on the tour; drinks are only provided during meals
- The airlines let you bring water on board (I didn’t feel safe upon learning about it)
- The 2nd night is a dorm, be prepared to freeze and share with 5-6 other people
- NO SHOWERS
What To Pack:
Similar to the Incha Trail, you need to pack a lot of things as if you are going on a camping trip as there is no luxury accommodation (or even regular accommodation with hot shower) during the 3 day tour
Travel Document & Money
- Cash: bring cash to pay for the tour, water, and snacks, small changes for bathroom, entrance fees to sights and tips for the driver and guide. I would recommend to bring at least 400 Bolivianos (~60 USD).
- 11 Boliviano for Uyuni airport departure fee
- Altitude sickness pill: If you are not acclimated, you should have the altitude sickness pill with you. The salar is at around 3700m and during the 2nd day you will be at around 5000m
- Food related sickness pills: Bring it just in case you get upset stomach. There is no pharmacy on the tour
Attires & Accessories
- Winter clothes & layers: It gets extremely cold at night even during the summer months
- Hat, scarf, and gloves are extremely important
- Sunglasses: the sun can be very strong at such high altitude
- Swimsuit: EXTREMELY IMPORTANT!! If you want to be able to enjoy the outdoor hotspring
- Towel & Hanger: Accommodations do not offer towels
Toiletry & Others
- Body wipes: there is no hot shower during the 1st night and no shower at all during the 2nd night
- Toilet paper: there is none during the 2nd night; if you pay for the bathrooms during the tour, there is generally toilet paper except a couple of places
- Sunscreen: it’s easy to get sunburned at this high altitude. I highly recommend this lightweight Japanese sunscreen
- Lotion: I didn’t realize how dry it is on the Salar and my eczema was acting up. Bring body location to properly hydrate your skin
- Dry Shampoo: No shower
- Extra batteries: there is no electricity to charge your phone/camera on the 2nd night
- Camera & Tripod: if you are into photography then don’t miss the opportunities to take amazing shots of the Milky Way
- Headlamp: there was no lights in our bathroom during the 2nd night
- Sleeping bag liner: you are provided with a sleeping bag but it gets mixed up the following day, so if you want to be clean, bring your own sleeping bag liner
- Ear Plugs: necessary since you will be in a 6 person dorm room on Night 2
What To Expect
After reading reviews online and getting recommendations from my friends, we emailed Quechua Connection to make the booking a few months in advance (you probably don’t need to do it that far in advance like we did). They can communicate with you via Email or Whatsapp and to make the bookings we had to provide the company with our names and passport number. There was no deposits and we paid everything in full in cash (Bolivianos or USD) in person the night before the tour.
Our 3 day tour was 180 USD excluding some park entrance fee and tips. We had to pay about 200 Bolivianos extra for entrance fee costs.
Drinks are provided at meal time but you need to bring extra water for yourself for 3 days. There are shops on the day (especially day 1) so buy some snacks with you.
The company accommodates people with dietary restrictions as much as they can. We had 2 people in our group with severe food allergies to gluten and certain fruits and they were given food they could eat so thumbs up to the company.
Breakfast: usually pancakes or bread, jam, fruits, coffee/tea
Lunch & dinner: rice or pasta, vegetable, protein (llama steak or chicken or canned tuna) & dessert (mango pudding or fruits or cake), coffee/tea/soda/water
Day 0 – Arrival to Uyuni
We took the last flight out of La Paz to Uyuni on Amaszonas. There are only 2 airlines that fly from La Paz to Uyuni, one is Amaszonas and the other one is BoA. I read reviews before that Amaszonas are better because BoA has a lot more delays. For some reason all the tourists were on the Amaszonas flight and all the Bolivians were on BoA.
It was a short flight (~1 hour) and our tour operator picked us up from the Uyuni airport. We were driven to the Quechua Connection’s office to make our payment in either USD or Bolivianos. You can also pay with credit card but they charge an extra fee, so cash is definitely preferred.
We were told that drinks is only provided during meals so we bought our own. The company dropped us off at our hotel (Hotel de Sal Casa Andina) which was amazing and super spacious. It was actually the best hotel we stayed at during our 2 week trip. They even had free coffee and fruit juice in the cafeteria at night. There was also free breakfast with our stay. They also offer 3 person room which was what we needed.
Day 1 – Train Graveyard, Salt Flat, Islands, Sunset
We were picked up from our hotel by 10:30am and driven to the main tourist office to meet with the rest of the group. There we waited for other travelers before we were assigned to one of the 4 jeeps they had. The drivers tied up gas tank, our luggage and water and sleeping bags on the top of the jeep and we started off towards our first stop: Train graveyard.
We got to the train graveyard about 20 minutes after leaving the tour office and were given about 30 minutes there to climb up the abandoned trains and take photos. There was a portable bathroom there but unfortunately it was locked.
We continued onward to a touristy town where we visited Colchani Salt processing “factory”. I walked around a bit and found this really cute pair of alpaca leg warmers for 25 Bolivianos (~4 USD).
After another short drive, we finally arrived at the salt flat. It was quite amazing to be surrounded by nothing but salt (and whiteness). It looked like it came straight out of a science fiction. Unfortunately since we were there during the dry season, there was not enough water on the surface to reflect the sky. Hopefully someday I will be back during wet season.
Our guide gave us each a bike to ride to the lunch spot, which was 3km away. I heard our tour is the only tour that offers bikes, so that was pretty cool 😀 Although I have to say it was not easy to ride bikes across the salt flat because the ground is not 100% flat and the bikes are not the most advanced or new.
One thing I did not know was that our guide was REALLY good at taking photos and helping us pose. He did a lot of funny videos and photos for us (and for the group) due to the lack of depth perception on the salar. Also, apparently the trick is to lie flat on the salt flat (or as low as possible) to get the coolest perspective.
We spent over an hour here just taking photos and walking around in crazy windy conditions but it was totally worth it! I wish we had stayed longer but we had to move onto the next cool spot: Incawasi Island.
Little did I know that there is an island full of huge cactus in the middle of the salt flat where nothing else grows. We had to pay an entrance (and bathroom) fee of 30B (~4.5 USD) to get in. Once you are in, you are free to roam around and climb to the top for a better view of the Salt Flat if you don’t mind walking up with the high altitude.
We spent about 40 minutes here before we set off for another island, this time a cave. I never thought I cared about caves until this particular cave. It helped that our guide was an amazing photographer. I heard that in the past, people stayed in the cave to watch sunset. But we didn’t do it this time.
We continued on driving until we found a random spot to watch the magnificent sunset. It was one of the most colorful sunset I’ve ever seen but oh boy it was freezing cold!! Our guide was really excited for this sunset, apparently because usually there is clouds n the horizon but this time it was completely clear.
Our first night hotel was called Manica Hostel, which wasn’t too bad. We had a 3 person private room with our own bathroom and electricity so we could charge our phone and camera (yes electricity is a luxury item here). Unfortunately there was no hot water in the bathroom so no shower night no.1!
Day 2 – Coral Valley, Lagoons, Stone Tree, Geysers, Hot Spring
Little did I know that the 3 day Uyuni Salar tour is actually only 1 day on the salt flat. We officially left the salt flat the night before. Day 2 started bright and early at 6am in the morning. We left by 7am to visit the first stop: coral valley.
The second day was a lot of driving in a desert landscape. It’s actually quite amazing how the landscape changes every 3hour on this day. We drove by deserts, coral valleys; we saw volcanoes followed by lush green and random villages. We also entered the national park today and had to pay 150Bs for entrance fee so make sure you bring enough cash and your passport with you.
One of the cool things we saw along the way were 2 lagoons with flamingos. Did you know that flamingos are not born pink? They get the pink color from eating algae in the lagoon. Most people also wouldn’t expect to find volcano flamingos hidden away and thriving in the Andes. They have adapted the harsh weather as well as the high altitude.
A few other cool things we saw during Day 2:
One word about the accommodation, since it’s in such a remote location, all the accommodations were hostels with no showers and electricity. Each car stays in the same dorm with a private bathroom, but there is no heating in the hostel so make sure to wear layers to bed. Our bathroom also had no lights or toilet paper, so make sure you bring headlamps as well as a roll of toilet paper with you.
The highlight of the day was the hot spring. Since we stayed about 6 minute walking distance to the hot spring, we could go anytime we wanted. Our group ended up going around sunset after we checked into our hostel. Since only our group and Red Planet are staying near the hot spring, we ended up having the place all to ourselves for sunset. The entrance fee for the hot spring is 5Bs. If you just want to dip your feet in, then it’s free. There is a changing room at the hot spring, but there is no lights in the changing room so bring flashlight or head lamp and towel. This is also where having a hanger was extremely helpful to dry the wet swimsuit and towel.
I think this sunset was even more stunning than the one the day before. Similarly, the Milky Way was more clear today since we were at an even higher altitude. It was well worth the sub freezing temperature to capture this.
Day 3 – Dali Desert, Chilean Border, Green Lagoon
We actually spent most of Day 3 driving back to Uyuni. If you are not short on time, it’s actually a better option to get dropped off at the Chilean border and cross into Chile. It’s a lot more efficient and you are not wasting the whole day driving back. Meanwhile for the rest of us, we saw more deserts and lagoons.
The highlight (and a surprise) came in the afternoon about 2 hours from Uyuni. Our guide took us into this secret valley that had an incredible landscape.
After this stop, we pretty much drove for another 2 hours straight to Uyuni with a 10 minute stop at a local town for toilet and snacks. We got back to Uyuni at around 5:30pm and had about 2.5 hours before we flew out of Uyuni to La Paz. It was really an amazing experience to do the 3 day tour, but if there is one thing I could change, I would end my trip in Bolivia at this point and go straight to Chile on Day 3 instead of spending 1 entire day driving back to Uyuni from the Chilean border. If you are only interested in the Salt Flat, then it’s a good idea to do the one day tour instead of 3 days.
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