Before traveling to Bolivia, The Salar de Uyuni had been on my bucket list for years. The mesmerizing salt flats are the largest of their kind – and among Bolivia’s most well-known locations. During my time in Bolivia, I spent one day in the salt flats and experienced the famous mirror effect firsthand. On this basis, here is a complete guide on visiting Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia.
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Welcome to the Largest Salt Flats in the World
Our day trip started in the town of Uyuni. We first headed to the city’s train cemetery. The cementerio de trenes is a collection of abandoned mining carriages. They have been sitting idle in the Bolivian desert for over 35 years.
We took a few pictures and mounted some rusty locomotives before continuing to a market village.
After buying souvenirs and eating lama meat in the market town of Colchani, we drove on, and the guide told us to shut our eyes.
The Toyota Land Cruiser trundled on for a few minutes until the guide said the following: chicos, abren sus ojos!
We reopened our eyes and looked out of the window. Wow! The five people in the car were equally stunned.
We had just entered one of the most breathtaking places on earth. Bienvenidos al Salar de Uyuni! Welcome to the largest salt flats in the world.
The Salar de Uyuni stretches over 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 square miles) at an elevation of 3,663 meters (12,018 ft) above sea level.
Several thousand years ago, various lakes shrunk significantly in size and created this vast expanse of salt. The surface consists of halite (common table salt) and gypsum.
The Salar’s unique properties make it such an epic location. During the rainy season, the puddles on the surface create an incredible mirror effect, dubbing the Salar “mirror of the world.”
Visiting Salar de Uyuni: the Basics
Here is the story of my Uyuni Salt Flat tour. I used a company called Sol Andino Expediciones and would warmly recommend them.
Not all of their guides speak English – but they will compensate for that with humor, insightful explanations, and flexibility.
If you’re interested in visiting Salar de Uyuni, hit up Sol Andino on their contact channels – and tell them that I sent you.
How to Get to Salar de Uyuni
Visiting the Salar de Uyuni is possible both from Bolivia and Chile.
The closest town is Uyuni in southern Bolivia. To get here, you can travel by plane or by bus. The quickest way is to catch a flight to Uyuni Airport from Santa Cruz or La Paz.
In terms of road transport, you can take night buses from La Paz, Santa Cruz, Sucre, or Cochabamba. They take between 10 and 13 hours, depending on the point of departure.
From the cities of Oruro and Potosi, the journey is shorter. As such, you’ll have to make a stop in either one of those if you want to avoid a night bus.
Getting to Salar de Uyuni is also doable from Chile. If you choose the Chilean route, the tours start in San Pedro de Atacama and usually involve three days in the Salar.
Choosing a Uyuni Salt Flat Tour
You can go on an independent Salar de Uyuni trip by renting a car or bicycle in nearby villages. That’s, however, not the recommended option.
Visiting the Salar de Uyuni on a guided tour is a much better choice as you’ll reach the best places in the least amount of time. There are one, two, and three-day tours available in the town of Uyuni.
As mentioned before, I recommend Sol Andino Expediciones. If you speak zero Spanish, let them know, and they’ll work something out. Get in touch with them and tell them that I sent you.
There are many other tour companies in Uyuni, and they vary in quality. The Uyuni Salt Flat tour cost depends on the season and how many people are in your group. Expect to pay between 35 and 70 USD for one day. Three-day tours cost upwards of 200 USD.
The Best Time to Visit Salar de Uyuni
The dry season runs between April and November. During these months, you’ll have excellent weather, but you won’t experience the insta-famous mirror effect.
The best time to visit Salar de Uyuni is during the rainy season between December and March. You’ll see mesmerizing sunsets, and the salt flats will feel like the moon.
Visiting Salar de Uyuni: Places to See
- The train cemetery: the first stop on your Uyuni Salt Flat tour will be Uyuni’s train graveyard. You’ll encounter dozens of abandoned carriages that were once transporting silver and other minerals from mines in Bolivia to ports in Chile.
- The town of Colchani: a small market town close to the salt flats where you can buy salt products.
- Different spots inside the salt flats: The guides will take you to some of the best locations for distance-manipulating photos as well as magical sunsets.
- The Rallye Dakar Monument and flags: you’ll visit a salt monument to the Rallye Dakar race that passed through the Salar de Uyuni on several occasions between 2009 and 2018.
- The Uyuni Salt Hotel: Close to the monument, you’ll find a hotel made entirely out of salt. The building looks epic and is undoubtedly worth a stop. If you have a higher budget (over 200 USD per night), you can also spend the night here.
If you opt to visit Salar de Uyuni on a three-day trip, you’ll also get to see various lagoons and flamingo reserves on the border with Chile.
Where to Stay in Uyuni
Most of the hotels in Uyuni are basic without too many amenities. On the plus side, you won’t pay a fortune here, no matter where you stay.
Be sure to stay between the bus station and the main avenue (Avenida Ferroviaria). As all the tour companies and restaurants are in this area, you won’t have to walk long after your excursions.
I stayed at Hotel Jerian, a small hostel/hotel with clean rooms in a strategic location. Find more hotels in Uyuni on Booking.com.
My Conclusion on Visiting Salar de Uyuni
Visiting Salar de Uyuni was one of the highlights of my trip to Bolivia.
We started early in the morning with breakfast at the hotel before heading to the office of our tour agency.
At the train cemetery, we climbed some abandoned carriages and took pictures with the people in our group, three Spaniards who were working for the Bolivian national women’s soccer team.
We then explored the markets of Colchani, and I bought some salt artifacts. We also tried lama meat, and it was much more tender than I expected.
Upon arriving inside the actual salt flat, we were all in awe of this otherworldly location. We visited during mid-March, at the end of the rainy season. The mirror effect was still in full swing, and the Salar de Uyuni looked breathtaking from every angle.
At this point, I have to mention our fantastic guide, Flavio from Sol Andino. With over 20 years of experience, he knew precisely where to go at what time. He also adapted his schedule to our preferences. We heard from several other tourists in Uyuni that the guides were unsympathetic and tedious, but Flavio was the opposite.
We had lunch in a part of the Salar that’s covered in water before heading to the Rallye Dakar monument and the Salt Hotel.
At the end of the trip, we drank beers and enjoyed one of the most magical sunsets in the world.
All in all, visiting Salar de Uyuni is a must on your trip to Bolivia – as it’s undoubtedly one of the most stunning locations in South America.