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The most up-to-date guide to the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia, the incredible mirror-like lake taking South America by storm, from how to get there, salt flat tours and much more!
(click any link to go direct to that section or scroll down to read the whole guide)
Salar de Uyuni is accessible from Bolivia (for those going south) from La Paz, and from Chile (for those going north) via San Pedro de Atacama Desert.
From La Paz, it is usually 8 hours on a bed (cama) bus overnight, allowing you to arrive early morning, which is the best time to arrive to Uyuni.
From San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, buses take around 11 hours, factoring in the border crossing from Chile to Bolivia and involve a combination of buses. Tours are usually more recommended for when going from San Pedro to Uyuni or vice/versa.
Bolivia Hop has been officially voted Bolivia’s best bus company in 2016, 2017 and 2018 but as of January 2019, they still do not operate from La Paz to Uyuni. Bolivia Hop is the best way to get to and from La Paz, and then Todo Turismo is probably the best way to get from La Paz to Uyuni or from Uyuni back to La Paz. When booking with Todo Turismo, always try to get the Cama (bed) option. Do NOT go with other companies such as Transporte Omar or anybody else…safety records are suspect so we strongly recommend to travel with Todo Turismo to/from Uyuni, and Bolivia Hop to/from La Paz. Once in Uyuni, you can start your Salt Flats tour (1 day or a 3 day tour that ends in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile).
There are NO direct buses from San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni and it is strongly recommended to take a 3 day tour from San Pedro to Uyuni (or from Uyuni to San Pedro if you are traveling South) instead of trying to do this route via bus. This is because you will need to change buses, cross borders, and quite often this is a logistical nightmare.
If you insist on trying to travel from San Pedro to Uyuni by bus, or from Uyuni to San Pedro by bus. Cruz del Norte are usually the best bus company to go with.
The Bolivian Salt Flats in Uyuni are a MUST see for any trip to South America. It is STRONGLY recommended to book your tour in advance where possible and to NOT book your tour in Uyuni (book in La Paz or online) as many companies scam tourists, so be very careful with your choice of tour operator.
There are 2 types of tours of Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats:
A one-day tour of Salar de Uyuni in 4×4 jeeps are common and the shortest tours possible. The one day tour is also the cheapest way to visit the Salt Flats. Tours start in Uyuni around 10am (allowing you to have breakfast after your overnight bus from La Paz to Uyuni) and finish around 5pm (allowing you to take an overnight bus back to La Paz on the SAME day or to another destination.
A visit to the train cemetery is followed by a stop in Colchani before arriving to the Salt Flats and getting the first glimpse of this vast environment. Salt hotels, salt mounds, isolated ‘islands’ covered in cacti, lunch, and plenty of time for taking photos before returning to Uyuni at 5 pm. This is approximately how most of these tours run but for a more detailed itinerary check FindLocalTrips here.
Prices are from $70 USD to $90 USD
3 Day Tours of Salar de Uyuni in 4×4 jeeps are the most popular tour type. The first day is the same as the one day tour – usually spending the first night in one of the basic Salt Hotels on the Salar itself. These hotels are almost completely constructed out of bricks made from dried salt!
The second and third days are spent seeing the colored lakes, hot springs, flamingo flocks, hot geysers, crazy rock formations – such as Arbol de Piedra (Rock Tree), and painted volcanoes. You will be sleeping in tents and truly immersing yourself in this rugged part of the world. The stars alone in this unpolluted place can take your breath away.
3 day tours ending in San Pedro de Atacama – It’s also possible to hop over the border at the end of the tour, connecting to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
No attractions are missed by leaving the tour at the Chilean border before it heads back to Uyuni.
3 days tours STARTING From San Pedro de Atacama – There is also the opportunity to do this Salt Flat tour starting in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile and ending in Uyuni on the last day or returning to San Pedro the following day. Tours from San Pedro can be somewhat more expensive than those from Uyuni. This is the best way to get to Bolivia from Chile and the itineraries are the same as above just in reverse order with the final day being the Salt Flats themselves.
The best and most popular way to visit the Salar de Uyuni is by taking a 4×4 tour across the salt flats.
Most Salt Flats tours are safe and reliable; however, the conditions are basic in this area and you should be aware of this. The Salar de Uyuni is one of the harshest environments for vehicles on the planet and occasional vehicle issues can happen, this to a certain extent is unavoidable. The drivers are used to breakdowns and are pretty adept at fixing their vehicles. They are always willing to help each other out and you are usually not stuck for long – so a bit of patience is often all you need. Food will be basic.
As with all tours, pick your tour operator carefully. There have been occasional issues with tour drivers drinking alcohol while driving 4×4 jeeps laden with travelers and causing some nasty crashes. It is why we strongly recommend to go with one of the best tour operators available. FindLocalTrips is probably the best place to compare operators and from our experience, they only work with the safest and most reliable operators. More information can be found here
Some basic information:
If you want detailed information on a full day (1 day) tour or the 3day tour, click on any of the tabs below to get a full and detailed itinerary and tips on what to bring etc.
The tour starts from Uyuni. We will depart to the Salt Flats.
11:00am – 12:00pm
The first stop is going to be the Train Cementery where you’ll see the first locomotives in Bolivia. From there we go to Colchani, a small village next to the Salt Flats known as the “salt miners workshop”. You”ll be able to witness the factories and rustic way of table salt production.After this comes the great Salt Flats of Uyuni (Salar de Uyuni) where they will show you how the salt is mined aswell as see the piles of salts (pyramids of salt). Following that you’ll see the “Eyes of the Salt Flat” (Ojos de Sal), which are big holes located in the salt flat where the water from underneath of this dead lake still comes out by high pressure.
13:00pm – 14:00pm
Visit a hotel made entirely out of salt (also a museum), you’ll be able to take pictures of the rooms, lobby and sculptures inside. When all that is done, lunch will be given in the same hotel!
14:00pm – 15:00pm
Once you all finish your meals, you will go forward to the central point of the salt flat which is Incahuasi Island (Fish Island), where you will see the giant cactus and the rock formations of petrified Coral. There will be always time to stop in the middle of the salt flat to see the unusual formations in the salt flat that look like hexagons and pentagons on the surface. And a must-do here is to take pictures with the vast perspective (you can google some picture ideas!).
15:00pm – 16:00pm
After some fun you will head north and get close to the big Volcano Thunupa (5434 m.a.s.l.) to get some more pictures from the distance. Later you will return back to Uyuni arriving to town at 18:30 pm after having enjoyed the most fantastic sunset in the big Salar of Uyuni.
Arrive back to Uyuni
The unique setting of endless salt flat at Salar de Uyuni make all kinds of crazy perspective photography possible. Here we have our top tips for great Salt Flats photos to add to your collection.
Will I get problems with altitude sickness at the Salar de Uyuni?
IMPORTANT: IF TRAVELING FROM LA PAZ (also at high altitude) you should be fine in Uyuni, once you have spent 1 or 2 days in La Paz, or even Cusco (Machu Picchu) in Peru.
Altitude sickness can catch many travellers a little bit off guard. Not everyone gets sick at high altitudes and it is difficult to predict who is likely to be badly affected by it. For most people it is nothing more than a headache and some dizzy sensations that diminish over a short period of time, 1 to 2 days for most people.
If you want to limit your chances of getting sick though, there are a few things you can do.
Drink lots of water and slow down!! This sounds simple but both of these things are very important. Your body is struggling because you don’t have enough oxygen so avoiding any extraneous activity is a good idea. Chew Some Coca Leaves. The native people of South America have been chewing coca for centuries thanks to its ability to alleviate mild altitude sickness symptoms. Coca leaves can be bought in any supermarket and even souvenir shops or street stalls.
Take (Soroche) Altitude Sickness pills, these are sold over the counter all over Peru and Bolivia and are just a few dollars. If you are flying straight into altitude over 2500meter, without spending any time at a intermediate elevation and you’re worried about getting sick, you can ask your doctor for more specific and stronger altitude sickness medication in advance.
From where do the tours of the Salt Flats start? Can I start from La Paz?
All of the tours of Salar de Uyuni start in Uyuni. The tours will not include your transfer from La Paz, you will need to organise and pay for this separately. The buses to Uyuni are overnight and depart La Paz every night and arrive into Uyuni the next day at approx. 7am. All the tours start at 10am-11am. It is strongly recommended to book your Uyuni tour online or in La Paz, NOT in Uyuni itself.
Do I need to stay one night in Uyuni before and after my tour?
You will arrive into Uyuni early in the morning and it is possible to start a tour the day you arrive. Most of the tours will start 10am-11am in the morning. You will return to Uyuni by 5:30 – 6:00 pm and will have time to eat and head back on the overnight bus to La Paz or take a bus onto Potosi / Sucre. It is advised that you book these buses in advance of taking your trip of the Salt Flats so no it is not necessary to stay in Uyuni.
Are there ATMs?
Bring money with you. Sometimes the ATMs do not work in Uyuni so it is best to take out any money you need in advance.
Will I have internet connection on a tour?
No, there is no internet connection on the tours. It is a very remote location.
We all agree that the Salt Flats in Uyuni, Bolivia are a MUST for any trip to South America. Uyuni is accessible mainly via La Paz, although other entrances are via San Pedro de Atacama and Patosi or Salta in Argentina. It is strongly recommend to book Salt Flat Tours in advance and only book with reputable companies (those with good reviews online or who allow you to book and pay online). Use Bolivia Hop to get to/from La Paz, use Todo Turismo to get to/from Uyuni, and use FindLocalTrips to compare tour operators and book directly with them. Any further questions or comments, please contact us here.