If you ever travel to Bolivia or even to one of the neighboring country you MUST find a way to spend a few days in largest salt desert in the world, Salar de Uyuni. Whatever your expectations, chances are, they will be exceeded by this awe-inspiring scenery, one of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet.
The 3-day trip, which we highly recommend, can be done in many ways, from north to south or the other way around, depending on where you’re coming from. We were crossing the South American continent from north to south so coming from La Paz, we inevitably ended up in the most popular starting point for the tour, Uyuni. Uyuni as a town is quite depressing and the only thing you can do is wait for the tour to start, hopefully the next day.
What are your options for the Salar de Uyuni 3 day trip?
- From Uyuni – you can choose a round trip which is only making sense in case you want to go back to La Paz or you can choose to be dropped off to one of these destinations:
- Tupiza – if you want to explore to south part of Bolivia
- Salta – in Argentina if that is your next country to visit
- San Pedro de Atacama – in Chile, which was our choice since Atacama Desert was something we really wanted to see and we had to keep travelling south.
2. From Tupiza – a good option for those travelling to Bolivia from Argentina. It usually takes 4 days since you have to cover more ground to reach the Salar and you have the option of returning to Tupiza or ending the tour in Uyuni. Your options for travel agencies are a bit limited here, but they tend to offer better services.
3. From San Pedro de Atacama – of course, if you are in Chile. This tour usually ends in Uyuni and probably you’re going to have to pay a little bit more for it.
As for choosing the company, we really cannot give any advice as the quality of the services provided are liable to change in time and we heard so many horror stories form other travelers or on line about drivers getting so drunk that the tourist had to drive the car, cars breaking down constantly or services provides being totally different than the ones agreed. Make sure you read the latest reviews on TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet before you book. As a reference, we chose Red Planet.
What’s included in a 3 day/2 night shared tour of Salar de Uyuni:
- A 4X4 usually Toyota Land Cruiser, shared (up to 8 passengers). We were 5 and I think it’s a very important aspect when choosing an agency.
- Spanish speaking guide. You will be lucky if he speaks few words in English
- Meals for the whole duration of the tour
- 2 nights accommodation
What you should pack:
- You will have to buy your own water (2L/day/pers)
- Sunglasses – a must due to high solar radiation and reflection from the salt
- Sunscreen (SPF30 or above)
- Good walking/trekking shoes
- Warm clothes (many layers for the cold nights)
- Flip flops; you will need them for the thermal springs or to get off the car in the flat in the rainy season when thick sheet of water is covering the flat.
- Swim suit for the hot springs
- Some extra snacks for the road
We began our tour with a quick stop at the train cemetery.
Being the rainy season, they couldn’t drive the typical route across the flats. We still went on the flats, but on a different route so we missed some of the sights, like Inca Huasi Island (the Cactus Island).
We soon entered the Salar and standing on the world’s largest salt lake you can’t help but feeling like a tiny atom on a huge white piece of paper. The immensity of the whiteness is overwhelming.
The water from the rains becomes a huge mirror reflecting the beautiful blue sky, making it almost impossible to tell where land ends and sky begins.
Under the layer of water you can clearly see the honeycomb shaped cracked salt bed that gets this form during the dry season.
We stopped in the middle of the flats and had the opportunity take the most awaited perspective photos, a little harder to get because of the water.
The quick stop at the Salt Hotel:
We spent the first night in a small mining village at the edge of the Salar, in a homestay that the agency recommended us. So until the dinner was ready, we couldn’t resist the temptation to go out to the main square and check out the local life. The whole village was gathered there drinking beer and dancing while the local fanfare was playing. We were immediately offered glasses of beer and invited to celebrate together. We didn’t quite understand what exactly they were celebrating, but that was just a minor aspect. In the meantime we were on a lookout for our guides, making sure they didn’t join the party as we had a long drive ahead of us the following day. We found out later they had a few beers, but nothing serious, so we managed to leave reasonably early in the morning.
We left the Salar and we started to pick up some altitude, while driving across the desert into the Altiplano, different magnificent landscapes started to develop. The white salt reflections gave way to volcanoes, strange rock formations, lunar landscapes and beautifully colored lagoons.
There is no phone signal, no internet, no roads, no shops and no soul around you, but there is no other place on earth you’d rather be.
Going deep into the Siloli Desert, the highest desert in the world, we reached the famous Stone Tree or Arbol de Piedra
Driving down south, the lagoons started to appear, each one with a distinct predominant color given by the minerals and microorganisms in the water, dotted with thousands of pink flamingoes. They get the intense pink color in the feathers from the same micro-organism which they filter while feeding.
The flamingoes share the banks of the lagoons with lamas and guanacos, a related species but with a longer fur.
We spent the second night in a particularly freezing accommodation close to a lagoon, in the middle of nowhere, at 4000 m altitude, without electricity, running water or heating, sleeping on stone beds. Of course we were given lots of blankets and together with the multi-layer clothing we came prepared with, helped us survive through the night. Once inside the lama blankets we got warm and cosy.
The first stop was at the highest geysers in the world at almost 5000m where we watched the hissing steam and the boiling mud pools, in the early morning sun.
The Salar de Uyuni 3 day trip ended on a strong note, as our last stop was at the Laguna Verde.
I’ve said it before; Bolivia is one of the most spectacular countries we visited so far, offering the breathtaking views you’ve just seen and a long list of superlatives.