Taking a Salar de Uyuni tour is the only way to visit this unique landscape. The Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world. At 10,582 square kilometres (4,086 sq. miles), it’s hard to imagine such a large space.
Picture an infinity of blinding whiteness with a few volcanoes rising in the far distance.
Think salt hotel, made of salt walls and floors, in the middle of nowhere.
Visualize hexagonal shapes in the white desert stretching as far as the eye can see.
Imagine. Eons ago this used to be an ocean but all that is left is an immense area of salt. There is a total lack of perspective,
an island full of cacti,
lots of visitors.
I am used to white landscapes, I am Canadian after all. But my white comes with bitterly cold temperatures and the ability to build a snowman. Here on the Uyuni Salt Flats, the white space is blinding, scorching hot and silent. It’s infinite whiteness.
Taking a Salar de Uyuni Tour is a unique experience, to say the least. You are in for an incredible, off-road adventure if you decide to take the 3-day/ 2-night tour.
Salar de Uyuni Tour: 13 Things You Need To Know Before Going
1. Salar de Uyuni Tour|Where Do They Start?
The Salar de Uyuni tours start from Uyuni and Tupiza, Bolivia and also San Pedro de Atacama in Chile.
Salar de Uyuni Tour: Starting From Uyuni
Some people opt for a day trip from Uyuni. The salt flats are not that far from Uyuni. Your day would be the same as Day #1 on the longer tours with a stop at the railway graveyard, the market and salt museum in Colchani, lunch at the Salt Hotel, a visit to Isla Incahuasi and time to play around on the salt flats with photos and perspective.
The 3 days/2-nights tour from Uyuni spends the first day on the salt flats and then heads south through the Andean altiplano. The landscapes are otherworldly and include lagoons, volcanoes, deserts and really rocky areas reminiscent of Mars (although I haven’t been there yet). Some Andean wildlife such as llamas, alpacas, flamingoes and vicunas dot the landscapes. There are no real roads just tracks through salt, sand and/or rock.
Salar de Uyuni Tour: Starting From Tupiza, Bolivia
It’s a 4-days/ 3- nights tour that originates in Tupiza, Bolivia and ends in Uyuni.
Salar de Uyuni Tour: Starting From San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Salar de Uyuni tours also start in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
These tours will be more expensive as you will be paying in Chilean pesos.
Salar de Uyuni Tour: Personalize It Just For You
The tours follow basically the same route. It is possible, for example, to exit Bolivia and enter Chile with a bus transfer to San Pedro organized. It’s best if your tour company knows in advance. However, there were people in my jeep that changed their plans mid-tour and the driver was able to arrange a bus transfer for them.
Salar de Uyuni Tour: Drivers Can Rearrange People:
If you are heading back to Uyuni and most of your car is heading to the Chilean border, the drivers can swap passengers around. Rather than waiting at the border, you can get started on the approximately 8-hour trip back to Uyuni. Apparently, on the return trip, there is a road that is slightly better than all the off-roading done on the tour.
2. Prices of the Uyuni Salt Flat Tours
Everything I read said you should not pay more than 750 Bolivianos ($143 Cdn) for the 3-day Salar de Uyuni tour and to book the tour right in Uyuni.
After a recommendation from a fellow Spanish student in Sucre, I decided to book my tour in advance. I felt that knowing my plans would be less stressful.
I ended up paying 300 BOB ($57 Cdn) more than everyone else in my jeep. Some had booked right in Uyuni and others had booked through an agency in La Paz. So I say – go with the above advice and book your Salar de Uyuni tour right in Uyuni. There are plenty of tour companies in Uyuni that are happy to accommodate you on a tour.
Even if you book with one company you won’t necessarily be on the Salar de Uyuni tour with them. There is much redistributing of tourists so that the jeeps are full.
3. Salar de Uyuni Tour: The Altitude
Depending on where you are coming from, you may already have been acclimatizing to high altitude. Cusco (3399 metres) and Rainbow Mountain (5200 metres) in Peru have altitudes which require you to pay attention to how your body reacts. La Paz, Bolivia is the highest capital in the world at 3640 metres.
You might want to consider acclimatizing in Uyuni before heading off to the salt flats which sit at 3656 metres above sea level.
As you head towards the south-west corner of Bolivia driving through the Andean altiplano, you reach even higher altitudes. The Laguna Colorada has an altitude of 4278 metres and Laguna Verde which is the last stop on the Salar de Uyuni tour sits at 4300 metres.
Come prepared. The entire trip is absolutely in the middle of nowhere with zero cell service. Bring altitude sickness medication or coca leaves/candy. You will definitely notice yourself short of breath.
4. Salar de Uyuni Tour: Bring Cash
Plan ahead and make sure you have Bolivian currency. There is nowhere to get cash on the Salar de Uyuni. If you are left with Bolivian currency, there are lots of currency exchanges in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile.
On The Bolivia Salt Flat Tour You Need Money For:
- Bathrooms at all the stops. Don’t get too excited. There really aren’t that many. Most of them include toilet paper.
- Colchani market – if you plan to shop.
- Entrance to the Isla Incahuasi (the cactus island) 30 BOB ($5.70 Cdn)
- Shower Fee at Accommodation: 10 BOB ($1.90 Cdn) I had one hot shower + one cold.
- Entrance to the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa: 150 BOB ($28.50 Cdn). Keep your ticket in a safe place as you need it to exit the park. You guessed it! I had no idea where my ticket was! Could still be hanging out with flamingoes. Also, the bathrooms at the park entrance were the worst of the whole trip.
- Entrance to the hot springs: 6 BOB ($1.15 Cdn).
- Cash for a snack: You will have eaten breakfast at 4:00 am on the third day so leave a bit of cash to buy a snack at the hot springs
- Cash to exit Bolivia: 15 BOB ($2.85) There was a lot of confusion at the border as people did not have the cash to exit the country.
5. What To Pack For The Salar de Uyuni Tour
- A quick-dry microfiber towel – no towels at the hotels; needed for the hot springs
- Bathing suit for the hot springs (Day # 3, leaving from Uyuni)
- Toilet paper – neither hotel provided toilet paper
- Flip flops – for shared bathrooms; if the salt flats are wet
- Sunscreen, lip balm with SPF, sunglasses and hat
- Layers – clothes for cold nights and hot days. Taking the Salar de Uyuni tour in December, the nights and mornings were chilly but not freezing.
- Bandana to cover your neck and face. The wind, especially at the Laguna Colorada, was so strong that your shoes and legs are covered in a layer of dust. Protect your neck and face!
- Camera, extra charged batteries and phone
- Cards, journal, book – there is about 2 hours of time between arriving at the hotel and dinner
- Small flashlight or headlamp
- Prop for fun pictures on the salt flats
- Sleeping bag- lots of resources recommend a sleeping bag. You can rent one from the tour operator. In December it was not necessary to have a sleeping bag.
6. Your Luggage On The Bolivia Salt Flats Tour:
If you are returning to Uyuni, you can leave your larger luggage at the tour operator’s office.
Everyone in my group had both a day pack and larger luggage on the roof of the vehicle. The luggage is covered in a tarp which protects it from rain, and the dusty world out on this Salar de Uyuni tour.
All luggage is brought down each night so that you have what you need.
7. Long Day In The Jeep
You signed up for this tour because you like off-road trips – right? The 3-day Salar de Uyuni tour covers a lot of southwest Bolivia and Day #2 is a lot of time in the jeep. The tour heads south through the Andean altiplano stopping to see lagoons, flamingoes and remarkable landscapes.
I found the changing landscapes fascinating, but prepare yourself for the kilometres covered.
8. Over 50 and Solo
Most people on the Salar de Uyuni tour are young backpackers. Not all but the majority. So when you sign up to go, be prepared for the company of 20-year-olds. My best advice is to roll with the company in your jeep. It’s 3 days together!
In my jeep was 3 Germans on their gap year and another young couple from Europe. The first hotel had a rule – two to a room! Luckily I had not expected a private suite. My roomie? A 20-year-old German on his gap year! Neither of us was too fussed about the situation although his friends were slightly horrified.
When it was clear the hotel was not full, my driver offered me another room!
9. Water, Food and Wine On The Bolivia Salt Flats Tour
Water is included at lunch but not at dinner. Bring your own water and don’t be afraid to bring lots. It can always be stored on the roof or in the back of the jeep.
The first night we stayed in a town. It was actually much smaller than a town. But, there was one little shop that sold a few things like beer, wine, water and Pringles.
The lunches and dinners are decent enough. One lunch was at a salt hotel with many other groups and the second day it was a tailgate picnic.
There are vegetarian and gluten-free options (one lunch there were delicious egg frittatas). But it’s pretty basic. I had to ask for an egg both mornings as the breakfast menu was bread/ pancakes.
When the pasta was served the second evening, I had to ask for an alternative. I got a plate of rice to go with the spaghetti sauce. That worked!
As mentioned before, bring snacks.
10. Accommodation On The Uyuni Salt Flat Tour
There were just 2 jeep loads staying at our salt hotel on the first night. The floors were all salt which feels a lot like sand between your toes! There were plenty of blankets for this time of the year (December).
The second hotel had dorm rooms one per jeep load and many people had to share the bathroom.
Both hotels offer coffee, tea and cookies upon arrival.
It is very basic accommodation but it does the trick when you are on an off-road adventure!
Other Hotels On The Salar de Uyuni:
Close to Uyuni is one of the most luxurious salt hotels, the Palacio de Sal. It was the first salt hotel in the world.
More recently another luxury hotel has opened in the Salt Flats of Bolivia. Kachi Lodge is an upscale, eco-friendly lodge with 6 domes (they look like little igloos or possibly a space station!) I can imagine enjoying the starry nights from here.
11. Charging Your Devices
Both hotels had charging stations. The first night there were a few plugs and the second night there were many plugs but also many people. Be prepared. Charge everything beforehand. Bring an extra camera battery. I was really happy to have this charger with me.
12. Anything Can Happen On The Bolivia Salt Flat Tour
Gas leaked all over my luggage. Yes, it did. My suitcase and all its belongings reeked intensely of gas. A couple of plastic items inside my suitcase even MELTED… so I am not exactly sure what kind of chemical reaction was happening on the roof but it was drastic. My driver denied it at first but the smell was so overpowering there was no denying the problem.
Of all the vehicles that were heading on the same route, ours constantly had the hood open and our driver was pumping air into two of our tires at every stop.
We were crawling through the landscapes at an exceedingly slow pace while all the other vehicles passed us. Finally, we had an out and out flat tire just as we were trying to make it to the Chilean border on time.
So – have an open mind! This off-road adventure can have a lot of unexpected experiences.
13. The Border Crossing From Bolivia Into Chile
On Day #3 after a very early start to see the geysers, you arrive at the border between Bolivia and Chile around 9 am. There are many jeeps and people lined up to get their exit stamp. Make sure you have the white slip of paper you received on entering Bolivia and 15 Bob that we were all charged.
This Salar de Uyuni tour was not without its moments (mostly my gas infested belongings) but honestly, it is an unforgettable experience off-roading through the Bolivian landscapes.
More Travel Info
- Travel Itinerary: Looking for a travel itinerary in South America? Here is my 3-month itinerary through Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Colombia.
- Salar de Uyuni Tour: Want to take the hassle out of planning? You could book your 3-day tour in advance right here.
- Salar de Uyuni Tour: This company, Ruta Verde, does 3-day tours to the Salar de Uyuni and the Lagoons and gets great feedback on Trip Advisor
- Organized Day Trip to the Salt Flats: You could also book a day trip from Uyuni out to the Salt Flats.
- Bolivia Travel Guide: Need more information on Bolivia? Here is my go-to guide!