Why You Should Visit the Uyuni Salt Flats of Bolivia?
Bolivia is a lesser-known land of adventure travel. There is a vast array of ecosystems and landscapes to explore. Not to mention, a fantastic culture to get to know more intimately. Of everything this country has to offer, the Uyuni Salt Flats – or Salar de Uyuni – is one of Bolivia’s most distinctive offerings! Several unique features make the Uyuni Salt Flats well worth the trip. Trust us, you will have the opportunity to unearth the wonders of the Bolivia Salt Flats on a visit to this area! But first, you should know what makes this place so special.
What and Where are the Uyuni Salt Flats?
The Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat. It is a total of 4,086 square miles (10,582 square kilometers). That is equivalent to almost two million football fields! This immense landscape is the result of several prehistoric lakes and their gradual transformations over time.
Located in Southwest Bolivia, the Salar de Uyuni is in the Potosi region. This is also near the crest of the Andes, putting it 11,995 ft (3,656 m) above sea level. The Salar is a climatological transitional zone as you move from the Atacama desert on the Chilean border into the salt flats as part of the Altiplano, or high plateau.
How to get there?
The length and logistics of your journey to Salar de Uyuni will depend on your starting location as it is situated at the intersection of Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. There are three primary departure points for tours of the region:
The Uyuni Salt Flats are best accessed from the small Bolivian town of Uyuni. There isn't much to the town itself, but it serves as the main hub for accessing the region, and the starting point for almost all tours of the vast region. The easiest way to get to the town of Uyuni is via a short flight from LaPaz, Bolivia's capital city. Flights are generally around $100-$200 usd round trip, depending on the time of year. If you are looking for a budget option there are overnight busses from LaPaz to Uyuni that will put you into the City early in the morning allowing you to skip the hassle of an unnecessary overnight Uyuni, alternatively there are early flights as well which we recommend. The classic 3 day Salt Flats tours start with a pick up from the airport, bus station or hotel with the tour departing around 10:30am.
The Salt Flats can also be done in reverse from the Chilean town of San Pedro de Atacama, these special tours can be arranged on request at an additional cost. Tours can also be arranged to start in Uyuni and end in San Pedro de Atacama, which is a great option for those travelers wishing to extend their trip. The Atacama is an amazingly unique landscape to explore, and the town of San Pedro is a nice town to settle down and relax for a couple of days, serving as the perfect base for desert adventures, biking, sand boarding, star gazing (world's clearest skies), great hotels, hiking, sightseeing, photography and more.
Finally for travelers arriving from Argentina, Tupiza in Bolivia is the ideal starting point. Visiting the Uyuni salt flats from Tupiza is a popular option for travelers who want to experience the stunning landscapes of southwestern Bolivia. Tupiza is located about 200 kilometers (124 miles) south of Uyuni and offers a less crowded and more scenic route to the salt flats. Tour operators in Tupiza offer a range of tours that typically take four days to complete, with visits to sites such as the Tres Cruces viewpoint, the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Park, and the colorful Laguna Colorada before arriving at the salt flats on the final day. Along the way, travelers can expect to see a variety of wildlife, including flamingos, llamas, and vicuñas, as well as otherworldly landscapes that seem to stretch to the horizon.
What to consider when booking a tour?
Salar de Uyuni Tours: There are many different tours options for visiting the Bolivian Salt Flats, and it can be a little difficult to decide what is best. We will break down the best options below.
We don't recommend these, as they are generally booked on the streets of Uyuni with irrefutable companies at bargain prices. So you never know what you are getting, or who is operating the trip, as the companies will pool together trips to fill cars at high volumes. With this often comes risks such as un-professional drivers & staff, Non-English speaking guides (Spanish only), drivers who serve as the guide, cook and driver which leads to exhaustion and overworking. Companies who operate in these conditions put the travelers at risk, as the drivers can fall asleep at the wheel.
Classic Tours (Mid Level):
These trips are great options for those looking for a cost friendly trip. This trip is fairly basic as far as accommodations go but, you get to see all the sites in the company of a professional English guide and professional driver. This no-frills trip is the perfect option for the adventure traveler not needing or wanting upscale services or accommodation, but still a great experience.
High End Tours:
If you are seeking more upscale accommodations, and premium services in the region there are a few really neat options available. We suggest looking into the newly built glamping domes that are right in the middle of the Flats called - Kashi Lodge, these have a minimum 2 night stay, with exclusive & private activities and tours directly from the lodge. Another recommended option is the 3 day tour in the famous luxury salt hotels (Luna Salada Hotel & Hotel Tayka).
Custom tours can be arranged for those wanting something specific, or private. These tours allow you to go at your own pace, and you can book on additional nights and locations in the region.
Short on Time?: There are some shorter 1 & 2 day tour options from Uyuni if you are short on time. However we recommend allowing 3 days to fully explore all of the sites Salar de Uyuni salt flats have to offer.
Must See Sites & Must Do’s (Highlights):
The Classic 3 day tour will visit all of the must see sites, see our favorites below.
Must See Sights
- Laguna Hedionda
- Train Cemetery (Cementerio de trenes)
- Cactus Island (Isla Incahuasi)
- Tunupa Volcano - Volcan Tunupa
- Rock Tree - Árbol de Piedra
- Morning Sun Geyser (Geiser Sol de la Manana)
- Dakar Monument (Flag monument)
- Green Lagoon (Laguna Verde) and Licancabur
- Coloured or Red lagoon (Laguna Colorada)
- Witness Sunset, Sunrise, Stargazing on the Salt Flats
- Get Perspective photos, mirror effect, white desert
- Soak in the Hot Springs (Aguas Termales de Polques)
Is There Any Wildlife?
Despite the barren landscape, there’re plenty of ecological wonders in store! There is a surprisingly diverse array of flora and fauna in the salt flat region. In fact, it is a significant breeding ground for several species of pink flamingos. Other than flamingos, there are Culpeo (Andean Fox), Vizcachas (in Chinchillidae family), Guanaco (part of the camelid family), and various birds. The Salar is also a part of Isla Incahausi. This is a rocky outcrop of land, and a former island, situated in the middle of the salt flat. It is adorned with native cacti, making it quite the contrast against the salt flat landscape.
Apart from those examples, the salt flat region of Bolivia is virtually devoid of plants and wildlife. The few creatures and plants that manage to survive are only found certain times of the year or in particular areas, like on Isla Incahausi.
Best Time to Visit
Luckily, you can visit the Uyuni Salt Flats any time of the year. The seasons do impact your experience and overall travel, however, so let’s take a look at the different weather patterns.
One of the most popular times to visit the salt flats is during Bolivia’s rainy season. This wet season runs from December to March. You may be thinking; why would I want to visit in the rainy season? Well, water collects atop the salt flats and creates a mirror type effect. This visual treat provides for fantastic photography opportunities and seemingly endless horizons.
If you’re visiting more for the salt factor of the salt flats, then arriving between April and October is your best bet, as it is the dry season. You will miss the mirror effect, but you’ll also miss the mud and rain. The salt flats will resemble a vast desert, but instead of sand crusting and breaking, it is salt.
Visiting in November is a hit or miss. Some say it is ideal as you have a chance to get the best of both worlds. One day the salt flats will be a salty, desert wasteland, and the next rain could come and change it into an endless mirror of water. We recommend taking a look at the typical weather patterns and temperatures to paint a complete picture of what to expect.
How Long Should You Stay?
FlashpackerConnect offers tours in the Uyuni Salt Flats for various lengths of time. If you only have a few days to spare, we have spectacular three-day tours that focus specifically on the Salar de Uyuni. However, we also offer more in-depth tours ranging from week-long, nine days, ten days, and even 13-days long adventures that explore areas beyond the salt flats for a complete South America experience!
Altitude sickness is a risk when visiting the Uyuni salt flats and surrounding areas, as they are located at a high altitude of around 3,600 meters (11,800 feet) above sea level. Symptoms of altitude sickness can range from mild to severe and may include headache, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
To minimize the risk of altitude sickness, it's recommended to acclimatize to the altitude gradually by spending a few days in a lower altitude area, such as La Paz or Sucre, before traveling to Uyuni. Additionally, it's important to stay hydrated, avoid alcohol, and eat light meals while acclimatizing to the altitude.
If symptoms of altitude sickness occur, it's important to rest and avoid further exertion until symptoms subside. In severe cases, it may be necessary to descend to a lower altitude or seek medical attention. It's also recommended to consult with a healthcare provider before traveling to high-altitude areas if you have a pre-existing medical condition or are taking medication that may affect your response to high altitude.
Bolivia Has More to Offer.
If you want to see more natural wonders in Bolivia, you can! There is so much to be explored and just choosing one place is challenging. You can discover Bolivia from the Amazon Jungle to the Salar de Uyuni and all the way to Lake Titicaca.
Check out our many Bolivia and Uyuni Salt Flat tour options, we can also arrange custom & private tour packages covering all of Bolivia, and even extensions to the Atacama desert in Chile which is very popular among adventure travelers.
Another great combination trip is liking Peru and Bolivia. Visiting both Machu Picchu and the Uyuni salt flats on the same trip is a great way to experience the natural and cultural wonders of South America. While the two destinations are located in different countries, it's possible to link them together with a bit of planning. Check out these multi-day tours that include both destinations, with options for travel by bus, train, and plane. These tours typically start in Cusco, Peru, where travelers can explore the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu before traveling to Bolivia for a visit to the surreal landscapes of the Uyuni salt flats. The combination of these two destinations offers a unique and unforgettable travel experience that showcases the diversity and beauty of South America.
Find out how and check out our many Bolivia and Uyuni Salt Flat tour options.