Salar de Uyuni

This article is an itinerary.
Salt mounds in Salar de Uyuni.

Salar de Uyuni is the world's largest salt flat, located in Bolivia. Photographers flock here to capture the unique landscape. It is often visited as part of a 3 or 4 day tour of South West Bolivia, described below.

Understand

Salar de Uyuni Background

Salar de Uyuni comprises over 12,000 sq km in the Potosi region. The salt is over 10 meters thick in the center. In the dry season, the salt planes are a completely flat expanse of dry salt, but in the wet season, it is covered with a thin sheet of water that is still drivable.

The standard tour heads south toward the southwest corner of Bolivia, by many fluorescent-colored lakes that are created from a collection of different minerals from runoff from the surrounding mountains.

Tour Background

This article outlines the "standard" tour. The tour is conducted in 4x4 vehicles (usually Toyota Landcruisers) with 6 or 7 people, with the driver often doing the cooking. Most 3- and 4- day tours have the same itinerary for the first 2 1/2 days: a day on the salt plains, then heading south to the southwest corner of Bolivia, and then splitting off from there. The specific sites that are seen can depend on the tour, but group input can define which sites are visited and how much time will be spent at each.

Accommodation is usually provided in basic refuges and the weather can be very cold, but it is well worth it for the amazing scenery. Avoid tours that offer a night in one of the salt hotels - they are illegal as, not being part of the water grid, they pollute the environment.

Prepare

What to Bring

Get In

The main starting point of tours to the Salar de Uyuni is Uyuni. The best time to obtain stunning photographs is during the wet season in Bolivia, when the salt flat is transformed into the world's largest mirror.

Getting There

Finding an Agency

When choosing a tour operator it is important to check with other travelers to understand the type of experience they have had and the vehicles, drivers, and food they had on their trip. Trips will arrive in all of the departure cities coming in the opposite direction and this is a good opportunity to ask other travelers their impressions. Common complaints include vehicles in extremely poor repair, a lack of emergency supplies, intoxicated drivers and limited food and water.

Other Tour Options

Choosing a Tour Package

There are several options to visit the Uyuni salt flat. Starting your trip from La Paz, you will take the bus to Oruro and afterwards, board the train to Uyuni. After a pleasant trip for around 7 hours, you will arrive in Uyuni at night. You can book in a hotel in Uyuni or in one of the hotels built in salt blocks located near the salt flat. The next day, you will start your journey towards the Uyuni Salt Flat visiting Colchani, a small town where you can buy handicrafts made in salt. From this point you will see unimaginable and spectacular views of the largest salt desert in the world, with an approximate area of 12,000 km2, the Salar de Uyuni! You will begin the trip watching the water bubbling on its surface in the so-called “the eyes of water”, and also the inhabitants of the place in their work of extracting salt for marketing. Next you can continue to Incahuasi Island, or Fish Island, located in the heart of the Salar, which is characterized by the presence of giant cacti. You can walk around the island, enjoying a spectacular view of the Salt Flat and appreciate the great white intertwined with the Andean sky, this is the best place to photograph the Salt Flat. Later, you can continue the journey continue heading south west toward the colored lagoons (Red, Blue, White, Yellow and Green), located in the Parque Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa. These sites are occupied by volcanoes, and offer wonderful and surreal views. On some tours, you can visit places such as the Cave of the Galaxies and the Devil's Cave. The lagoons are so-named due to the different tones that characterize them and are due to the presence of algae, the chemical composition of the water, the movement of the wind or to the specific time of the day. Recently, modern hotels were built in this region, allowing a comfortable stay, avoiding the basic accommodations cited elsewhere. At your return to Uyuni, you can visit the little town of San Cristóbal, the Train Graveyard and admire the sunset on the Salt Flat, one of the most magnificent you will see in your life!

Go

First Day - The World's Largest Salt Flat

On the first day you will visit the salt flats. In the dry season this will be a hallucinogenic white landscape. In the rain it is mostly submerged and will show a perfect reflection of the sky.

Second Day - Heading South Past Colorful Lakes to Laguna Colorada

Laguna Colorada

Third Morning - Geysers and Hot Springs down to Laguna Verde and Back

It will begin at an ungodly hour (5am) without breakfast to visit some of the following:

Next will be a long drive back to Uyuni, or you can also branch off here to San Pedro de Atacama.

Third Afternoon - Eastward Toward Tupiza

If you opt for the four day tour to Tupiza, then you will go off the beaten track, and visit some small communities. You will see the previous and some of the following:

Third Afternoon - Northward Toward Uyuni

Salar de Chalviri

The road back to Uyuni is very bumpy. You will stop in various small communities on the way.

Fourth Day - ending in Tupiza

tour will be a long ride through beautiful landscape. The last attraction before arriving in Tupiza is:

Fourth Day - ending in Uyuni

Stay safe

Watch for drunk drivers. Every year there are some accidents on the Salt Desert, with drivers from the various companies drinking more than is healthy. Do not risk your life by traveling with a drunk driver.

Some advise to bring emergency supplies (including up to several extra days of food and water) in case the truck breaks down in a remote place, but unless you are on a custom tour there will likely be another truck along in a few minutes.

Altitude sickness is a real possibility here. If you are arriving directly from the coast, you may need up to a couple days to acclimatize. Dizziness, shortness of breath and headaches are common symptoms, but extended bouts of nausea and vomiting are not unheard of among those who have rushed their ascent. The locals swear by chewing coca leaves to help, and although they do relieve the symptoms, they taste terrible and may cause you to fail a drug test. Anyone not already fully acclimatized is advised to pick up some Acetazolamide from the pharmacy in Uyuni before departure.

You can also drink Coca Leaf Tea. Everyone from the Pope to Queen Sofia of Spain drinks it when visiting Bolivia. If you add a little sugar, it is even tasty!

In order to avoid Altitude sickness, a gradual adaptation to the altitude is advisable, visiting initially Bolivian flat located at 500 masl Santa Cruz de la Sierra, then moving to the valley Cochabamba, located at 2,500 m., and only then making the trip to Salar de Uyuni.

Warning about particular tour companies.

Go next

See Uyuni or Tupiza for transportation options from there.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, February 08, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.