THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO SALAR DE UYUNI (BOLIVIA’S SALT FLATS)

The famous salt flat of Bolivia is at the top of traveller bucket lists visiting South America. The endless expanse of white salt, the other-worldly reflection effect when it rains, and all the incredible lakes, volcanoes, and mountains make it one of the best tours on the continent. Here’s a complete guide to Salar De Uyuni with everything you need to know about the town of Uyuni and how to organise a salt flats tour.

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WHAT'S THE BEST WAY TO VISIT SALAR DE UYUNI

The best way to visiting Salar De Uyuni is with a guided tour.

 

The salt flats are a short drive from the town of Uyuni but it’s not the sort of place you can visit by yourself without a guide. You need a 4×4 to drive over the salt flat and the landscape can be difficult and dangerous to navigate for people without the right experience. It’s dangerous enough that there have been fatalities over the years and it’s not somewhere you want to be stranded.

 

Tour companies in Uyuni offer several options, but the two most popular are the 1-day and 3-day tour salt flat tours.

1-DAY VS 3-DAY SALAR DE UYUNI TOUR

Here’s a brief comparison of the 1-day and 3-day salt flat tours:

1 Day Tour3 Day Tour
Price$20-50$100-150
Timing10:00 AM - 19:00 PM08:00 AM first day finishes at midday on the third
Advantages• A short return trip to Uyuni

• Best for people who are short on time
or need to return to La Paz
• Transport to Chilean border on the final day

• The places visited on the second and third
day are amazing

• A night in the Salt Hotel
Disadvantages• Miss out on the incredible sights on
the second and third days

• Only see the salt hotel, don’t stay in it
• A long return trip to Uyuni if that’s your
plan (8-hour drive)

• Extended periods of time spent in the jeep
which might not be for everyone

We recommend the 3-day tour as the sights on the second day are even better than the salt flat in our opinion. You also get dropped off at the Chilean border, which is perfect if you are going on to see the Atacama Desert.

 

For the full comparison and breakdown of sights, you visit on the 1-day vs 3-day tour, check out the full post here:

 

 

 

THE BEST SALAR DE UYUNI TOUR COMPANIES

All the tour companies in Uyuni offer the same trip and itinerary:

 

  • Day 1 – driving out onto the salt flats and a night spent in the salt hotel
  • Day 2 – driving across the high-altitude desert and visiting sights along the way
  • Day 3 – A morning whistle-stop tour of geysers and rock formations before being dropped off at the Chilean border at midday.

So, when you are looking for a tour and reading reviews, you want to be looking for companies with excellent reviews relating to their tour guides and jeeps.

 

Some companies will only have Spanish speaking guides, so this is something to check for.

 

And any company that doesn’t maintain their jeeps is a no go. Breaking down in the middle of the salt flat or high-altitude desert is the last thing you want happening on your tour.

We booked our tour with Salty Desert Aventours in January 2020 and would highly recommend them.

 

Our tour guide Jamie was great, spoke perfect English and kept us entertained over the three days. We had no issues with the transport, and the 4×4 was comfortable.

 

They have a 4.5-star rating on Trip Advisor with 926 reviews and one the Trip Advisor Travellers Choice Award in 2020:

 

 

 

Some other good companies with heard of through word of mouth and other blogs:

 

 

HOW MUCH DOES A SALAR DE UYUNI TOUR COST?

The average cost of a Salar de Uyuni 1-day tour is between $20-50.

 

The average cost of a 3-day tour is between $100-150.

 

Prices will be closer to $100 in low season (summer in Bolivia – November to April), and higher in the peak season (winter – May to October). If you book online in advance prices may even be as high as $200. Don’t do this.

How to Save Money On A Salt Flats Tour

Here are a couple of tips for finding the best price on a Salar de Uyuni tour:

 

 

  • Don’t book online, tour prices are always inflated
  • Shop around in town and compare prices
  • Haggle – bartering isn’t a social faux pax in South America. If there is a small group of you, you can try and get a lower price as a package deal. Their first price won’t be their best price so don’t accept it right away, you’ll easily get a 5-10% reduction
  • Visit in low season – fewer tourists mean prices are lower

 

We visited in January 2020, which was low season. We ended up getting a great deal which was just over $100 for the 3-day tour.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT SALAR DE UYUNI?

The best time to visit Salar De Uyuni depends on your preferences:

 

 

  • For cheap tours and sunny weather: November To April (wet season/summer)
  • For lots of tourists, but better weather all round in Bolivia: May to October (dry season/winter)
  • For the best of both worlds: Shoulder Seasons – April/May and Nov/Oct
  • For the Mirror Effect: Later in rainy Season – Jan onwards to April

 

Whilst most blogs will tell you to visit Bolivia in the dry season, which is generally true as the weather is better, it’s much better to be on the salt flat during the wet season – November to April.

 

 

This is for several reasons:

 

 

  • it doesn’t rain as much in the Andes because it’s an arid landscape, and when it does rain, it’s light so it won’t ruin the day
  • Day time temperatures will be more enjoyable than the dry season and night-time temperatures, whilst still cold, won’t drop to below freezing allowing you to venture out at night and stargaze in the thermal baths.
  • Because this is also low season, tours will be cheaper.

So in summary, if you visit in summer (wet season); you save money, still have relatively sunny weather, and if it rains, this is when you get to see one of the most incredible natural reflection effects on earth.

 

For the mirror effect, the rain will build upon the surface of the salt flat over the rainy season. So, the later you visit during the rainy season (January onwards), the more likely you will see it:

 

 

 

WHAT TO PACK FOR A SALAR DE UYUNI TOUR

Here are some great items that need to pack to make your salt flats tour stress-free. Five items you will need all year round and two for the different seasons:

5 Useful Items You Need To Bring On A Salar De Uyuni Tour

  • Gloves – freezing winds on day 2 in the high-altitude desert mean your fingers will be immobilised. If you can find a pair of e-tip gloves so that you can still use your phone and camera then even better
  • Phone/Camera Tripod – essential for keeping a steady camera or phone when taking the perspective and reflection shots
  • Headlamp – useful in the mornings when its pitch black and when heading out at night to the thermal baths
  • Face Sunscreen – the sun is intense at 3,000m, and the reflections of the white salt means there’s no escape
  • Lightweight Thermal Layer – slip on easily when exiting the jeep to stay warm

1 Essential Item You Need To Bring In Summer

  • Waterproof Boots – water on the salt flat come up to ankle height

1 Essential Item You Need To Bring In Summer

  • Thick thermal layers – night-time temps can drop below freezing during the winter.

Out of all these items, the roll-on face sunscreen was so useful for us.

 

The sun and reflection on the salt flat are intense, and with a roll-on, you can easily apply suncream to your face throughout the day. It also kept our hands from getting oily, so we didn’t have to worry about getting our camera gear messy.

 

We’ve gone into more detail with links to product recommendations in the post below:

 

 

 

Salar De Uyuni Tour Full Packing List

Here’s a full list of things you will want to bring:

 

  • Hiking boots – the salt will get all over your shoes, and on the second day when you go into the mountains, most of the desert is loose gravel and stones, and you can also do some climbing over rocks when you reach the Dali valley – so best to have some robust shoes that can get dusty.
  • Hiking socks x 2 – merino wool, so they last a couple of days without smelling
  • Separate pair of lightweight shoes – for the end of the day when you reach the hotel. It feels great to kick off the smelly hiking boots and wear some comfy shoes instead
  • Pair of regular socks – to go with your change of shoes
  • Hiking trousers or shorts – we took base layer leggings but didn’t end up wearing them. We feel more comfortable walking in shorts, but many people were wearing trousers. Remember you spend a lot of time driving so you will want to choose something comfortable to sit in.
  • Waterproof jacket/windbreaker – perfect for when you reach some of higher altitudes to keep the wind out and stay warm, or when there is a light drizzle.
  • Hoody / Jumper/ Lightweight thermal jacket – the evenings get very cold when you’re above 3,000m
  • Woolly Hat/Snood – both are useful for keeping your ears/head warm when you reach those colder and windier places
  • Cap – to keep the sun off your face/neck if you’re having good weather on the salt flat
  • Sunglasses – if you have a sunny day on the salt flat, you will essentially be blind without sunglasses. The reflection off the white surface is incredibly strong so bring a good pair with UV protection
  • Swimwear – for the thermal springs
  • Flip flops – for making your way from the hotel to the thermal baths (about a 5-minute walk). You can also wear them in the evenings around the hotel if you don’t want to wear trainers, but it will be cold!
  • Travel towel – not essential as both our hotels provided towels but always better to be prepared

 

Toiletries

 

  • Toilet roll – better to be safe than sorry
  • Wet wipes – if unluckily you need a nature poo
  • Standard items – toothbrush, deodorant etc
  • Medical kit and medicine – you never know what can happen on the trip, be prepared

 

Gear

 

  • Water bottle – you can fill your bottle up each day at the hotel
  • Portable charger – there’s electricity in the hotels, but there’s usually only one working plug socket which everyone uses, so bring a portable charger to keep your phone charged. One fully charged battery should last the 3 days.
  • Camera – obviously

 

Other

 

  • Day backpack – This will be the backpack you carry each day on the trek and will need to look after your valuables like your camera, water bottle and snacks.
  • Snacks – cereal bars etc., always handy although you are fed well and given snacks each day
  • Extra cash – cash in BOB for when you want to buy snacks or water. On the morning of the second day, you visit a shop before driving into the desert. You can also buy wine and alcohol at the hotels.

How To Pack For A Salar De Uyuni Tour

If you are doing the full 3 day/2-night tours and getting dropped off at the Chilean border, then you will take your big backpack with you on the jeep.

 

It will be strapped to the top of the jeep for the entire day, covered in tarpaulin and tied down to protect it, so you won’t have access to it until you reach the hotel for the evening.

 

Therefore, you should pack a day bag which you can take in the jeep, so you have easy access to some essentials:

 

 

  • Camera/phone – for taking ALL the pictures
  • Tripod – for effect shots
  • Portable battery charger – you will go through your batteries quickly with the number of photos and videos you’ll be taking
  • Sunscreen – roll on for the face and then another for neck, arms shoulders etc
  • Hat/cap – keeps the sun off your neck and face
  • Sunglasses – these are essential, the reflection of the white surface is powerful and you won’t’ be able to see a thing
  • Water bottle – you can fill this up on the first morning before you leave. You will also be able to fill it up at the hotels you stay at each night
  • Extra cash – you stop at a shop on the morning of the second day before heading into the mountains. You can also buy extras at the hotel such as beer and wine

What To Wear On A Salar De Uyuni Tour

You spend most of the day in the jeep so make sure you wear comfortable clothes.

 

We went with loose sports shorts, a t-shirt and layers that you can take on and off easily. It can be cramped in the car, especially if there are some big lads squished in.

 

For the layers, a fleece or light jacket to chuck on when you get out of the jeep.

 

At 4,000m, it gets cold. You will also want a waterproof windbreaker in case the weather turns bad. We hardly had any rain whilst on the trip, but the windbreaker helped with the biting winds once you are higher up in the mountains.

 

We wore our hiking boots for the 3 days. Your shoes will get salty on the salt flat so don’t wear anything you don’t want to get dirty.

 

If it has rained, then you will also want waterproof shoes. The small lakes that form can come up to your ankles. When you are out in the mountains, there’s lots of loose gravel and rocks so you will want the extra support from boots.

 

For the complete packing list:

 

 

 

UYUNI SALT FLATS TOUR ITINERARY & WHAT TO EXPECT

Here’s a complete breakdown of the 3 -day tour itinerary including some tips and tricks for what to expect and plan for on each day:

 

Day 1

Day 1 is an early start of around 8.00 AM. You will start by packing up the jeep and having a short debrief with your guide.

 

The first stop is just outside of town at the Train Cemetery where you will have 20 minutes to take some pictures. After this, you will travel to the Salt Museum where you can buy some crafts like mini-alpaca keyrings, and then lunch.

 

The rest of the day is then spent out on the salt flat. You will make multiple stops to take photos, including the famous perspective shots.  If you’ve visited in summer and its rained, your guide will also take you to a place for some epic reflection shots.

You will then end the day at a sunset spot, either Incawasi Island or close to Tunupa Volcano.

 

After watching one of the most spectacular sunsets in the world, you will head to your accommodation, ending the day with dinner and a night in the Salt Hotel. 

 

Created from salt bricks held together with salt mortar, the hotel and everything inside it is made from salt. Whilst it sounds cool, the hotel isn’t anything special, but the private room we had was excellent, and the beds were super comfy – we crashed early as it’s a tiring first day.

Day 2

On the second day, there’s another early start driving across the high-altitude desert beyond the salt flat. You will spend a lot of time in the jeep, but you stop often so it never feels like a chore.

 

The first stop of the day are the giant cacti fields at the edge of the salt flat. These things are the sizes of houses and completely blew our minds.

 

The next couple of stops are at the multitude of incredible high-altitude lagunas filled with flamingos. The best of the bunch is Laguna Colorada which is a deep red colour due to a specific type of red algae that lives there.

After seeing the lagunas you’ll have a lunch stop and then in the afternoon it’s on to the geothermal area of the desert where you will see the Sol de Mañana Geyser (Morning Sun Geyser).

 

The steam pools and boiling mud in this area can reach between 200°C to 250°C and the steam of the geyser can reach heights of between 10 to 50 meters.

 

Finally, to end an already incredible day, once you reach your hotel you and your tour group can all jump in the thermal springs and watch the stars. This was a fantastic experience. Koum is obsessed with stars and gazing upon the galaxy seeing countless shooting stars is something he won’t forget anytime soon.

Day 3

Yet another early start on the final day. First up is a visit to the Dali Desert – a surreal and barren part of the high-altitude desert that is frequently compared to a Salvador Dalí painting.

 

The weird colours and strange rock formations here make it feel like you are on another world.

See how the salt flats tour fits into a wider South America backpacking trip:

 

 

Then it’s on to the final sights, and the tour saves the best till last – Laguna Verde, Laguna Blanca & Licancabur Volcano.

 

The two lagoons, one green and one white, are right next to each other, eclipsed by the perfectly cone-shaped Licancabur stratovolcano.

 

From here it’s a short drive to the Chilean border where you are dropped off. Alternatively, you can take the jeep back to Uyuni if you need to, but it’s about an 8-hour journey. Most backpackers head into San Pedro De Atacama and fly or bus to their next destination from there.

 

The information in this itinerary is based on the 3-day salt flats tour with did with Salty Desert Aventours. Other tours may not follow the exact same route or plan.

For more South America backpacking routes and itineraries, follow the links below:

 

 

THE BEST SIGHTS ON THE SALAR DE UYUNI TOUR

A Salar de Uyuni tour takes you to some of the most unique natural landscapes in the whole of South America.  Here are our top 5 sights from the entire trip:

1. Laguna Colorada

The deep red colour of Laguna Colorada is caused by red algae and other microorganisms in the lake.  

 

You can also see huge flocks of flamingos (or a flamboyance if you want to be fancy) feeding on the lake, and this is your also your chance to catch a sight of the rare James’s Flamingo, which can only be seen in this part of the world. 

2. Licancabur Volcano

Volcán Licancabur is a stratovolcano with a near-perfect cone rises up behind Laguna Verde. The symmetry of the volcano and the colour of the lake make for some beautiful pictures.

3. Reflection Sunset

A picture is worth a thousand words. If you manage to visit during the rainy season and see this natural wonder, then you are luckier than most.

4. Termas De Polques Hot Springs

At the end of the second day, you and your tour group can all jump in the thermal springs.

 

Depending on what time you arrive, you can do this in the day and enjoy the incredible view out across the high-altitude lake, or if it’s dark, you can sit and watch the stars.

 

We decided to have dinner, grab a bottle of wine, and go once it got dark. This was our favourite part of the trip. The night sky was so clear, and we could see the entire Milky Way. We sat there for a good couple of hours enjoying the warmth of the springs whilst slowly getting wine drunk.

 

This is one of the six reasons we give for why you should do the 3-Day Tour. If you are still unsure about booking a Salar De Uyuni Tour then head to the link below to read the other five:

 

 

5. The Dali Valley & Stone Tree

Though Dalí never painted this Bolivian reserve, the arid, stark desert horizon coupled with strange rock formations strike a strong resemblance to the famous artists work.

 

In particular, the Árbol de Piedra, or Stone Tree, could be one of Dalí’s weird subjects. The base of the rock has been weathered away by wind and time, while the top has remained intact.

Be sure to check out our Bolivia Itineraries to see how you a visit to the Salt Flats fits in with an extended trip through the country:

 

 

UYUNI TOWN GUIDE

Before starting the tour, you will need to get to Uyuni. There’s hardly anything to do here tourist wise.

 

Most people book onto a tour and leave as soon as possible. You should probably stay for at least one day/night to get organised before the tour. Here’s everything you need to know about the town.

Uyuni Itinerary

We took a day bus from Sucre so arrived in the evening. Luckily, we had some friends already in town who booked us onto a tour for the next morning.

 

As mentioned, you will want to book the tour in person to save money so organise your itinerary around doing this.

 

If you are up to it, you could take a night bus from La Paz or Sucre, arrive at 5 AM in the morning and book a tour for that day. If that’s too intense for you, then book a single night’s accommodation.

 

Here’s what we suggest:

 

 

Day 1

 

  • 5.30 – Arrive Early
  • 6:00 – Breakfast
  • 8:00 – Book Tour
  • 10:00 – Check-in
  • 12:00 -17:00 – Relax for the day
  • 18:00 – Dinner
  • 20:00 – Pack

 

Day 2

 

  • 08:00 – Tour Starts

How To Get To Uyuni From La Paz

You have two options from La Paz: Fly or bus

Buses From La Paz To Uyuni

We booked all our overnight or long buses with Tickets Bolivia. 

 

The best-rated company is Trans Copacabana. This may be more expensive than booking directly at bus stations, but we had read a lot about dodgy drivers and thefts on buses in Bolivia so decided to play it safe.

 

Buses cost between $17-25 online, are all overnight with sleeping seats, and take between 8-10 hours depending on the company.

Flights From La Paz To Uyuni

Flying is the quickest option and takes 50 minutes. It will be a lot more expensive than the bus, but prices fluctuate so check Sky Scanner close to the time you are visiting.

 

Check out our La Paz guides if you are heading there next:

 

 

 

How To Get To Uyuni From Sucre

Buses take 8 hours to reach Uyuni from Sucre.

 

The ‘6 de Octubre’ bus leaves at 9:30 AM arriving at 5:30 PM for $11.68 or a night bus leaving at 9:00 PM and arriving at 05:00 AM.

 

Check out our Sucre guide if you are heading there next:

 

 

Best Accommodation In Uyuni

Piedra Blanca Backpackers Hostel – simple dorms and private rooms with a free buffet breakfast included. Piedra Blanca is in a great location as well, a 10 minute walk away from most of the restaurants and tour companies

 

 

  • Bed in 4-bed dorm with shared bathroom – $12 a night
  • Twin room with shared bathroom – $33 a night
  • Double room with private bathroom – $44 a night

 

Booking / Hostel World

Hotel Oasisa – This 3-star hotel offers a shared lounge and a concierge service. The accommodation features a 24-hour front desk, airport transfers, and shared kitchen.

 

  • Bed in mixed dorm with shared bathroom – $20 a night
  • Twin room with shared bathroom – $45 a night
  • Double room with private bathroom – $45 a night

 

Booking 

Onkel Inn Wagon Sleepbox Uyuni – we stayed here. The location is perfect as it’s right opposite Salty Desert Aventours. We booked to get one of the cool train cabins that had been converted into bunk beds. However, we ended up with a capsule room inside the train station that was tiny. Nothing wrong with it, but if you want one of the more spacious cabins, make sure to double-check your booking. To add breakfast to your booking is only $1 which is worth it as its substantial.

 

  • Single capsule with shared bathroom – $17
  • Twin capsule with shared bathroom – $30
  • Wagon suite (double room with private bathroom) – $61

 

Booking

 

Best Places To Eat In Uyuni

As mentioned, there isn’t much going on in town but a few restaurants have popped up close to the tour companies providing great food for travellers.

 

  • Donna Isabella – quality pizzas. This is where we ate on our one night in Uyuni and would happily recommend it for a quick and cheap meal.
  • Llama Café – the best café vegetarian café in town with quality coffee. The owner is also super helpful and will provide tourist information if you need it.
  • Railway Café Bistro – great breakfast spot with egg dishes, porridge, museli, fruit etc. Everything you want and need in the morning.
  • The Hot Spot Uyuni – nice place for dinner with inventive dishes and tasting menus. Not a fancy restaurant though, just two brothers mixing up the dining experience. Top reviewed restaurant on trip advisor in Uyuni so they are doing something right.

For another great adventure in Bolivia, why not head to the Amazon? Bolivia is the cheapest country in South America for visiting this wonderful place. You can fly straight there from Uyuni or travel there from La Paz.

 

 

 

 

Or if you are still planning your Bolivia trip, here are three great posts for you to check out: