Photo credit: skittledip
Pictures of the spectacular Salar de Uyuni never fails to blow me away. So I was really thrilled when I finally got a chance to check this off my travel bucket list!
The Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flats in the World and when it rains, the layer of water makes it seem as though you are walking on air. Which is why many also call it the largest mirror in the World!
How to go?
Most people visit the Salar from either the town of Uyuni (1/3days) or Tupiza (4days) in Bolivia as tours can be easily organized directly from there. If you are heading towards the Atacama Desert in Chile, you can also get picked up at the end of the tour near the border instead of returning to Uyuni or Tupiza.
Pro-tip: It isn’t really necessary to book beforehand and pay additional fees to agents if you are starting from Uyuni. There are tons of tours that start around 10am everyday. So just pop by any of the tour agencies in Uyuni the day before to make your reservation. If you’re adventurous, you can even do it on the day itself between 8 and 930am!
What I did?
I visited the Salar from Uyuni during the dry season in June and did both the 3day and 1day tour. It’s actually pretty silly to do both, but I screwed up because I failed to realise the agency for the 3day tour didn’t include the water area in the dry season. :/ So please check properly beforehand! (Recommendations for tour agencies listed below)
Pro-tip: There’s not much to do in Uyuni so it’s best to just book a tour immediately upon getting there.
Anyway since I’m wiser now, I’m just going to combine both tours and describe how the perfect trip should flow if you went with the right tour agency. Different agencies might mix the order up a little, but the highlights are almost all the same!
Shall let the pictures do most of the talking.
First up, the train graveyard near Uyuni. Nice place to just climb around taking photos.
Small touristy village of Colchani where you can learn about how salt is made and buy souvenirs.
International flags beside the old salt hotel. The Singapore flag is still missing from the collection!
Lunch point beside the salt hotel.
Salt mining area. Basically salt gets dug up and is left to dry in piles all around.
Props for the must do touristy shots on the salt flats. Unfortunately our photos for these were pretty bad but you can easily search online for examples. You’ll spend a lot of time fooling around here, taking pictures and videos. From stuff like…
…grabbing people out of shoes,
balancing on your head (ok maybe this is not for everyone),
to getting naked. haha. Get creative!
Isla Incahuasi used to be the main island on the Salar but is now populated by giant cacti. There is an extra admission fee of BOB30 or USD5. This is also a popular lunch site for some tours.
Pro-tip: Make yourself comfortable because you’ll be spending long periods in the 4WD
Sunset on the Salar to end the day. We were pretty unlucky as it was too windy and the mirror effect didn’t come out too well. Still really cool though.
Accommodation at the salt hotel for the night. This place was pretty nice with heated rooms and comfy beds.
Pro-tip: Do ask for pictures of the accommodation before booking your tour. Met some other travellers who had terrible experiences with theirs.
Cosy dining area.
View points and rock formations form the main landscape for the second day. Unfortunately my camera died halfway and I missed out on a lot of pictures. Look out for the upcoming video though!
It’s a little hard to understand when you see the landscape but you’ll be spending most of the tour at more than 3000m above sea level!
Pro-tip: Take altitude sickness pills or chew on coca leaves like the locals do.
You will also see lots of Lagunas and wildlife.
We had very basic accommodation for the second night. The place wasn’t heated and this is where your cold wear and sleeping bags come in. We were also extremely “lucky” to have our tour coincide with the winter solstice. -30degree celsius at night is no joke!
The final day was more of a half day. We woke up super early to visit the geysers in the morning before visiting the natural hot springs at Termes de Polques.
It’s not compulsory but I highly recommend it! Where else can you get into a hot spring at an altitude of 4,400m and feel warm for the first time in 3 days.
One last laguna before ending the trip. Those heading towards the Atacama Desert in Uyuni will get dropped off near the border while the rest will take a long long ride back to Uyuni.
Best time to visit Salar de Uyuni?
Dry Season: April – December
Wet Season: December – April
There are pros and cons for both. The dry season is the most accessible as it allows you to explore everywhere for the full experience. There is still water at certain spots so it’s still possible to see the mirror effect. The wet season however magnifies the mirror effect and truly makes it an unforgettable experience.
What to bring?
– Even though your 3 meals are included, water is usually only available during meal times. Bring about 3L of water and snacks you’ll like to enjoy along the way.
– Cold gear is a must! The winds can be very strong and it will get cold at night. Bring or rent/bargain for a sleeping bag from your agency as well. You’ll not regret it.
– Sunblock and shades. You are pretty high up and the white reflective surface magnifies the effect of the sun.
– Wet wipes. I’m not sure how many people would want to shower in that kind of weather.
– Torchlight for when the generator turns off at night. Electricity usually cuts pretty early at around 10pm.
– Extra batteries or portable chargers for your electronic devices. Batteries go dead very quickly in the cold.
Salar de Uyuni Tour Costs/Prices & Recommendation
Accommodation in Uyuni:
Budget – Piedra Blanca Backpackers Hostel. I stayed in 3 hostels and this was the best. Hot powerful showers, heated rooms, and wifi. It was consistently close to 0 degrees Celsius when I was there so the hot water was a godsend. USD11 for dorms.
Splurge – Los Girasoles Hotel. Didn’t try this but heard it’s one of the best with great service and even heated bathrooms. USD43 for singles.
Tour Agencies in Uyuni:
After trying two agencies in Uyuni and listening to what the other travellers had to say, I’ll say that you can go with:
Hodaka Mountain for the 3-Day Tour. The price is very competitive, food is better than the slightly cheaper ones, and they are one of the few agencies that bring you to the area with water for the 3-day tour. USD100
Brisa Tours for the 1-Day or Sunset Tour. The guide is quite famous amongst the Korean/Japanese community for being good with taking pictures! ~USD30 although it is dependent on how many people you have in your group.
Both can be found along the road beside the train station in the town of Uyuni. Remember to bargain a little too!
Pro-tip: Remember to check if your guide speaks English or whatever language you know! It makes a big difference in the experience.
The tour circuits are quite similar but the main difference lies in the quality of organization. Feel free to shop around and do drop off a comment below if you have any other recommendations or personal stories to share. :)