Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat and it covers around 12,ooo square kilometers. The Salt Flats were formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. It is covered by a few meters of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness. Salar de Uyuni is estimated to contain 10 billion tonnes of salt, of which less than 25,000 tonnes is extracted annually.
Getting to Salar de Uyuni
It is extremely easy to reach the Salt Flats in Uyuni from many parts of Bolivia but the most common route is La Paz > Uyuni. The bus journey is direct for 10 hours and depending on what company you use, it will cost between $25 and $44 USD.
Todo Turismo was recommended to us and we were glad we paid the little extra to be with a decent company. The seats were semi-reclinable with blankets & pillows, Wi-Fi, a ‘meal’ for dinner & breakfast & movies. One thing we’ve never seen before is the option to request a breath test for the driver at any moment you wished. I’m sure this sounds bizarre but unfortunately a lot of Bolivian bus drivers are found to be drunk whilst driving so this was reassuring that we were in good hands (although we never asked him to be tested!)
If you have any trouble booking directly online, Kanoo Tours are an easy company to book with via online (the price is the same).
Note: There is no need to stay in Uyuni the night before or after the tour as the overnight buses get in with plenty of time for you to start the tour and finish with plenty of time to take the next bus to a further destination.
Red Planet Expeditions
After looking around online and getting recommendations from friends, we took our tour with Red Planet Expeditions. They are a little bit pricier, but do have an added benefit of getting exclusive access to the hot springs at night (other companies only can go during the day).
We had such a hilarious guide, Carlos, who was born and bred in Uyuni. He was so full of life, information and personality. We also lucked out with our group, a really fun group of people (mostly Aussies) who we will also be meeting up with in Rio, Brazil as they coincidently had booked an apartment just streets from ours.
Red Planet also has a selection of tours with some including a drop off in San Pedro, Chile. This can be very convenient if Chile is your next destination!
We took the 3D/2N tour and visited some of the most spectacular sites in the world. (feeling like a broken record here !)
What to bring to the Salt Flats
The below information is based on our tour with Red Planet. Be sure to check if there is anything else specific you need/don’t need if you choose to go with a different company.
- Headlamp or phone light – The lights go out when the generator runs out.
- Swim Wear – Hot springs baby
- Lip Balm – The salt, sun, wind and dry air will burn your lips over the 4 days.
- Sunglasses/Hat – The salt flats are blinding!
- Camera + extra battery or make sure it’s on full charge as you’ll be snapping photos every 5 minutes and there isn’t a lot of places to recharge.
- Something warm for the evening – The evenings can be cold and during the days windy at times.
- 2 T-shirts
- 1 Long sleeve shirt
- 1 pair of shorts/long pants
- Flip-flops – We didn’t pack these but they would have been handy for the hot springs.
- Towel – The first night you have access to a shower, second night a swim in the hot springs. You can also rent them.
- Extra Cash – Other than using the rocks for the bathroom, the real toilets aren’t free anywhere. Water /alcohol/snacks are available at times at the small towns. Wine is about USD$6-$10, beer $2-4.
- Snacks – The meals are adequate enough but some times the drives are long so if you get hungry like us then it’s best to pack some extra.
- Water – You can buy along the way and they do provide at lunch and dinner but the tour usually provides an inadequate supply. An extra 2L bottle per day.
- Red Red winnnnne Although available along the way, we brought some wine to enjoy over dinner and the hot springs! The locals enjoy a free cup too 😉
3D/2N across 1000km of breathtaking landscape
Although the main reason for the tour is to visit the salt flats, many don’t realize that there is so much more to see and experience out ‘in the sticks’ of Bolivia. The salt flats actually only take up a third of a day of the whole 3 day trip.
Below you can read and see pictures from some of the highlights throughout the 3 days including seeing a variety of flamingos, colourful lagoons, mountains, hot springs, llamas, geysers, sand dunes and rocks, rocks and more rocks!
Day 1. – Abandoned Train Yard, An Island of Cactii & Salt Hotel
Abandoned Train Yard – This train line was the main transportation hub used for the exportation of silver and minerals from the Andes mountains to the Pacific Ocean ports. When silver prices plummeted back in the 1940’s, many people lost their jobs and this place got abandoned. The train cars and locomotives dating back to the early 20th century, are now quite rusted and eroded by the constant blowing of the salt winds. Using this as an adult playground, we climbed over and in all the old and rusty locomotives whilst of course, taking in the desert scenery.
Cactus Island (Island surrounded by no water) – Inca Wasi island, also known as Isla Incahuasi is the Spanish name where isla means island, Inca stands for Inca, and huasi is derived from the Quechua word wasi meaning house. It is the only island in the world with no water surrounding it. It’s filled with thousand-year-old cacti and rocks and the slight walk to the top gave us a real persecutive of the below 12,000km of salt flats.
Salt hotel – Who can say they’ve ever stayed in a hotel made completely of salt? There’s definitely a first for everything. The Salt Hotel is one of the only hotels in the premises of the Salt Flats and everything from the side tables to the bed frame was created with salt. No carpet, salt floor instead, it felt a little bizarre on your toes but it was very unique. We can now add that tour list of bizarre accommodation throughout our trip so far!
Salt Flat Perspective Photos
This vast open space is the perfect spot to bring out your creative side and take some awesome perspective photos. With a little help from the guide, we had a complete field day taking photos. It look a little getting used too with the positioning but once we got the hang of it it was a lot of fun. The photos come out best if you have the sunlight in front of you and of course with the use of some props. These can be bought at the market along the way for $1-$4. (think dinosaurs, pringles, action figures, people)
During wet season, which is when we were visiting, there is supposed to be water on the ground which makes for some great reflection based photos. Unfortunately, due to the el Niño effect, no rain came this season, which meant everything was fairly dried up. This said, there are random patches of water here and there, that comes up from through springs as shown below.
When you come across Doritos in can (yes Doritos in a can!) we jumped at the idea to make a very well directed film. Check out our talents below!
View Salt Flats X Doritos X Perspective on Vimeo.
Having fun with perspective and taking in the vast emptiness was a definite highlight. We could have stayed forever taking these photos!
We finished our day off watching the sun go down over the mountains and took the opportunity to take a few more happy snaps!
Day 2 – Lagoons, Flamingos, Llamas, Volcanoes, Geysers, Hot Springs, you name it!
Llamas – We took the opportunity to get up close and personal with the llamas during one of our first stops. The llamas are taken care of by various farmers and at the end of the day, the alfa male rounds up its pack but during the day they roam around freely on the spiky grass. Our favourite was a dark baby Llama who never left his mother’s side. Such an interesting face & body shape this fella had. Llamas aren’t dangerous animals but they have a good spit on them so don’t get too close or you may get covered in their delicious green spit.
Lagoons + Flamingoes – We saw a variety of different lagoons however, Laguna Colorada was definitely the most impressive. The red colour was so vivid and the flamingos were either flying above the lagoon or feeding. Every November, Salar de Uyuni is the breeding ground for three species of pink South American flamingo: the Chilean, Andean and the rare James flamingos.
No matter where we stopped, the background looked like a set from a movie. We were taken back more times than not and had no idea that this far out in the dessert could be so unbelievably picturesque. I mean is this even real??!!! It looks like a painting that belongs in an art museum.
- When flamingos are standing on one leg, half of their body is resting/sleeping. If only we could incorporate this same concept into our lives!
- Flamingoes are pink because of the microorganisms (food) they eat.
- The lakes are all different colors due to the microorganisms / chemical properties inside the lagoons however the color only shows when it is windy outside!
- The lagoons can be red, green or white depending on the microorganisms under the water.
A Visit to Mars – After a picnic lunch and a stop to stretch the legs with a game of hackysack we drove to see the mud pits and geysers of Bolivia’s only semi-active volcano. It was outrageously windy & cold up here (5000m above sea level) but it felt like we were on Mars. Red sand everywhere, sulphur violating your nose, mud exploding everywhere and steam billowing out of control.
Hot Spring Party – Hot springs, wine, stars & newly made friends! All the other tour companies take you to the hot springs during the early morning/day but what makes Red Planet so popular is the availability (for only us) to visit the springs late at night. We stayed directly across from the springs and enjoyed a few bottles of wine whilst sitting back and relaxing underneath the clearest of skies.
Day 3 – The drive back via more rocks, lagoons and mountains
Although in 3 days we covered over 1000km of land, these drives never felt too long. The stops were frequent, the guide was always engaging us in some form of sing-a-long or dance off, and we can’t forget the countless natural pee-stops at the most magnificent pop-a-squat places ever. Thank you nature, thank you!
Visiting the Uyuni Salt Flats is a must if coming to Bolivia and it’s one of our biggest highlights of South America so far! There’s something so unique, natural and beautiful about the landscapes of Bolivia, your eyes can’t avoid staring directly out the jeep for 3 days straight.
Married Days survived: 308