Ready to explore the biggest salt flat in the world? I am not sure about you, but we love exploring unusual and extraordinary places. You can’t find many places in this world as tremendous as Salar de Uyuni. Salt flats are one of the most well-known sites in Bolivia and one of the most beautiful places in South America.
In this post, we will let you know all you need to know about salt flats in Bolivia, the entire program of a day tour and other trips you can do around Uyuni.
Although, if you are coming to Bolivia, do not only stop at Uyuni, Bolivia offers so many beautiful places like magical Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca or the cute colonial town Sucre.
WHAT DOES SALAR DE UYUNI MEAN?
Salar comes from the Spanish translation and means ‘salt’. Uyuni is the name of the town close to Salar de Uyuni. And this is where you will arrive once you are visiting Salar. Uyuni means “pen” and originates from the Aymara language. Salt flats in Uyuni are also known as Salar de Tunupa, which means Salt Flat Enclosure. There are also known as simply: Salt flats of Uyuni or Salt flats of Bolivia.
WHY ARE SALT FLATS IN BOLIVIA SO SPECIAL?
There are many things which make Salar de Uyuni a very special place. Salar covers an area of 12.106 sq km, and it is the biggest salt flat in the world. It is entirely covered in salt and used for one of the biggest distribution of salt. There is also a train cemetery as in 1940 trains were used here. You can see one of the most beautiful reflections in your life, stunning sunrises, starry skies with the milky way, and beautiful sunsets. And on top of everything, you can get the coolest pictures ever. Just as we were very impressed with the Salineras de Maras in Peru, the salt flats in Bolivia are extraordinary.
8 QUICK FACTS ABOUT SALAR
- The Uyuni Salt Flats is located at 3.656 meters above sea level.
- It is estimated that Uyuni contains 11 billion tons of salt.
- NASA uses Salar de Uyuni to estimate the positioning of NASA’s satellites.
- Salar is the largest resource of lithium, where up to 70% of lithium supply is extracted to make batteries.
- Salar is not just salt but contains sodium, magnesium, and potassium.
- There is very little wildlife living in Uyuni.
- However, 80 types of migrating birds visit Uyuni, including 3 types of flamingos.
- The salt crust of Uyuni varies between a few centimeters to up to 10 meters.
EXTRA TIP: Make sure you acclimatize before you travel to Salar de Uyuni. We recommend to stay 2 – 3 days in La Paz beforehand to make sure you prevent altitude sickness. Furthermore, drink plenty of water and coca tea.
HOW TO GET TO SALT FLATS IN BOLIVIA?
There are many buses, planes, and trains going to Uyuni from all major Bolivian cities. Todo Turismo goes from La Paz to Uyuni. It’s currently BOB250 one-way, departs at 9 pm daily, and takes around 10 hours. We took a bus from Sucre which took us around 10 hours.
From La Paz, the quickest way is to go by plane directly to Uyuni International Airport.
Trains exist, and let’s say traveling by train can be adventurous. If you have little time or no interest in those types of adventures you probably shouldn’t take any trains in Bolivia. They do work but tend to be overall unreliable.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO GO TO SALAR DE UYUNI?
The most popular tour is the three days Salar de Uyuni tour. They cost up to $300 which includes transportation, three-day meals, and simple accommodation. Make sure to dress up warmly as nights are very cold and accommodation lack heating. If you have time to compare prices and tours it’s cheapest to find a tour in Uyuni.
However, you can easily see salt flats of Uyuni in one day and that comes naturally cheaper and involves less freezing.
READ MORE: 15 MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES IN SOUTH AMERICA
OTHER TYPES OF DAY TOURS
A day trip to Salar de Uyuni is not the only tour you can go for. Have a look at all other options you can do in a day in Uyuni. We did a full-day tour and also starlight and sunrise at Salar, which we highly recommend to do.
STARLIGHT + SUNRISE: 3:30 AM – 8 AM
SUNSET + STARLIGHT: 3:00 PM – 9:00 PM
STARLIGHT: 11:00 PM – 3:00 AM
DAY TIME TOUR: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
All these tours are operated by Hodaka. Most other operators have probably similar ones.
DAY TOUR TO SALAR UYUNI
We really liked our full-day tour to Uyuni. We booked a day tour to Uyuni at a tourist office called Hodaka. Many Asian people (mostly Japanese who are into photography) use this tour. This way we thought that we would have more time to take pictures. Generally, we are not big fans of tours as they usually give you too little time to really take in a place or just to take a lot of pictures. There are countless other tour operators nearby the train station in town Uyuni.
FULL DAY TOUR WITH SUNSET: 10:30 AM – 7 PM
The tour is cheap, considering other options, and includes lunch as well. Just make sure that they will have a spare tire on the car 😀 (later you will find out why, so keep on reading).
PROGRAM OF THE FULL DAY TOUR
It is a full-day trip that starts in the morning at 10:30 AM with the first stop at the
- train cemetery,
- continuing to the salt flats,
- free lunch,
- picture taking,
- stopping at the Isla Incahuasi (excluding fee) and
- finishing up with a gorgeous sunset.
We started our tour at the Cementerio de Trenes or in English train cemetery. It is a very interesting place to see. If you wonder how the hell there are train tracks in the middle of the salt flats, read further to learn more. The train tracks were built during the time of industrialization in Bolivia.
It’s a very old station, and the first locomotive came to the station in 1889. Trains were used to transport silver, gold, and tin between Uyuni and Antofagasta (formerly Bolivia’s only access to the Pacific). During the Chaco War, their railway was used to transport soldiers. Sadly these old trains are not being taken care of and face with looting. And unfortunately, Bolivia lost Antofagasta and the area around Chile.
The only downside that there is a lot of trash lying around.
DRIVING THROUGH THE ENDLESS SALT FLATS
After 20 minutes of running around the train cemetery, we continued our journey to the salt flats. We have never seen anything like that. Wherever you look, it’s white landscapes, and we felt like in a winter wonderland. Just that you walk on salt instead of snow.
LUNCH AT DAKAR POTOSI
Every day tour to Uyuni includes a free lunch that is prepared by the tour operator. The place is called Dakar Potosi and is entirely made out of salt. If you are vegetarian/vegan or have any food allergies, make sure to communicate this to the tour company so they can prepare a meal suitable for you. We had delicious quinoa pancakes with potatoes and vegetables and the rest had some chicken. If you need some extra salt, just take it from anywhere around you (haha).
Next to the salt restaurant is a small place with country flags from all around the world. Many people take photos there and it is just so nice to find your country there, especially a country, which is as small as Slovakia.
We continued driving thought salt flats and looking for a spot where we can take photos. Honestly speaking, most tour guides are really great at taking photos, so trust them. Our guide had all kinds of toys in his trunk, and of course a big dinosaur ?. They do this almost every day, so they really know how to take great pictures. It is a lot of fun for sure.
HOW TO TAKE AWESOME PERSPECTIVE PHOTOS AT SALAR
Because of the white surface in Salar, you can create a lot of illusions. Such as this one with a dinosaur. At first, know what you want. Then the composition is the key: if the composition is off, the whole picture looks weird. It is very important that the photographer is very close to the first subject and the other object(s) are further away to create the illusion. Most of the time guides (photographers) are literally lying on the ground to get the best perspective. The photographer needs to find a great angle and let others know where to stand. Make sure to take a lot of photos to get the best shots.
Getting a flat tire in South America is quite normal as cars and streets are not that great. Anyways, the funny part was that we didn’t have a spare tire. Besides, there is no network. So we couldn’t call for help.
There was another car driving quite far away from us, so we started to wave at it, but probably they didn’t see us or thought that we are taking some crazy jumping photos. So we didn’t waste any time, we took our tripod and started to take photos.
Our driver was trying to find the network, but finding a connection in this area is pretty hopeless. We saw other cars but again, they didn’t stop. After half an hour we were lucky and another car stopped, gave us their spare tire and we could continue. Unfortunately, this episode cost us a lot of time which we later didn’t have for more picture taking.
This island was an absolute surprise to us as we really didn’t expect something like this. Incahuasi or Inkawasi 40.000 years ago was an actual island surrounded by a prehistoric lake. Can you imagine everywhere you look from the island there was water? Some people call it cactus island as there you will see many tall cactuses called cacti. The island is a remnant of an ancient volcano. It is a small place and you need to pay an additional entrance fee (around BOB30). We had only 45 minutes (damn, how we hate tours) so we had to hurry up to find a great spot for photos.
We were super impressed bu the beauty, and, therefore Incahuasi made it to our list of most beautiful places in South America.
The highlight of the day tour is definitely watching the sunset. We got to our spot before 6 pm. We got our rubber boots on, and with lots of excitement, we set up our tripod. I think the rest of the people looked at us like we are idiots (in a good way :D). But we didn’t care. We took so many photos from all possible angles. With every minute, the colors of the sky are changing, and if you are into photography, you are in heaven.
Also, if you want to learn what photography gear do we use, check out our 16 must-haves for photography geeks.
EXTRA TIP: Make sure to pack some heating pads for your boots. It is very cold, and despite many layers, two socks and rubber boots, your feet will get cold very fast.
Stargazing with watching the sunrise is a great way to admire starry skies, the milky way, and of course, the sunrise.
Make sure to check for the dates to avoid full moon. During full moon, you won’t be able to see too many stars. We took a stargazing tour, but of course, we had a full moon, so we haven’t seen many stars, but the sunrise was UNBELIEVABLE. We have literally never ever seen anything like it. You can watch our time-lapse video from sunrise in Uyuni. What do you think?
WHY IS THERE A REFLECTION?
If you visit Bolivia and its salt flats you very likely want to see the water reflection. If you want to see this type of water reflection, it is recommended to travel to Uyuni in the months till May.
However, you can’t predict nature. We were so lucky to see them also in June. Because it is really cold, it occasionally even snows in Uyuni. Most of the days are sunny, and that is why the snow melts away and creates a small layer of water. And this is the time when you can see the sky reflecting on the ground.
When the sun goes down, the temperature changes rapidly. Within a few minutes, it gets really cold. And since you are standing in freezing ice water, you are getting colder faster. We didn’t care, it was so beautiful that we just forgot about everything. We just ran around, thinking about what pose to take in order to get the silhouette right.
WHY IS A DAY TOUR JUST ENOUGH?
Of course, it is not enough to explore Salar de Uyuni in one day. We were thinking a lot if we should join the popular 3 days tour, but due to health issues, we had to refuse. It is very cold at night, and often, the temperature goes below 0° Celsius. Sometimes it can be around minus 20°. The problem is that hotels have no heating. You have a sleeping bag (not all tour companies provide sleeping bags, so ask for it or find a tour that does). Additionally, you will also get 2 blankets.
WHAT IS THE BEST TIME TO GO TO SALAR?
From the end of December to the end of March there are a lot of floods and most tour operators shut down and will no go further as 10 km into the salt flats. That’s why the best time to travel to Salar de Uyuni is May to Septemeber. If you travel in May and June you will still have a chance to see water reflections in some parts of Salar.
IS UYUNI DANGEROUS?
Uyuni is a very touristy place, and we felt no danger around us. However, Uyuni is a very strange place. Uyuni looks like some kind of apocalyptic town and sadly has very little charm. We saw ruins from buildings lying around, a lot of trash, and sadly many stray dogs. We also didn’t understand why there are trash heaps in the middle of the road. They looked like roundabouts, or is it just an easy way to pick up the trash? The mystery remains unsolved.
IS BOLIVIA DANGEROUS?
During our three weeks traveling in Bolivia, we felt absolutely safe. However, be more cautious in the capital of Bolivia, La Paz. As you might have seen, there are always strikes or protests, and you never know what can happen. Many times, the streets are closed, and this might affect transport (especially to the airport).
Are you traveling to South America? Make sure to read our GUIDE ON SAFETY IN SOUTH AMERICA.
WHERE TO STAY IN UYUNI
Uyuni is prepared for tourists and there are various accommodations which you can choose from. We stayed in Beliz – Inn B&B and it was pretty nice. We had heating, an overall comfy room and breakfast included in the price.
CHECK ALL HOTELS IN UYUNI
We hope that you will enjoy your trip in Bolivia and that your day trip to Salt flats will be amazing. Let us know if you need any help. Have fun and don’t forget to take photos along the way.
ARE YOU PLANNING A TRIP TO THE SALT FLATS OF BOLIVIA? THEN PIN IT FOR LATER.
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