When I first arrived in Bolivia, the highest item on my to do list was to go on a tour to the largest salt flats in the world – Salar de Uyuni.
I didn’t have much of an idea what the tour entailed, except that you could take those cool photos where you look tiny against objects such as dinosaurs or shoes because of the lack of perspective.
But I found out that the three-day Uyuni Salt Flats tour is so much more than just funny photos on the salt flats. It’s also active volcanoes, flocks of flamingos, steaming geysers, vibrant sunsets, colourful lakes and a whole lot of desert.
Here’s 10 reasons why you should do a salt flats tour in Bolivia.
You can climb all over abandoned trains
The first stop on the Uyuni Salt Flats tour is a visit to the Uyuni train cemetery, located just outside of the desert town. Uyuni was once a major centre for trains carrying minerals to sea ports.
The cemetery contains several rusty trains that were left abandoned and fell into disrepair. You can climb all over the trains for some cool photos (but do take care as there are some sharp edges and slippery sections).
You get to take a 4WD roadtrip through the desert
This roadtrip of southern Bolivia is definitely an adventure as you get around in a 4WD over the salt flats and through the desert.
Your driver’s 4WD skills are mostly put to the test on the second day of the tour as you traverse through long stretches of desert and rocky roads.
There’s many stops along the way at volcanoes, lagoons, and even a rock in the shape of a tree. The Stone Tree (Arbol de Piedra), located in the Siloli Desert within the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, was shaped into the shape of a tree by strong winds and desert sand.
You can take lots of fun photos on the salt flat
The first day of the tour takes you onto the Uyuni Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni). Extending over 10,000 square kilometres, this is the largest salt flat in the world.
Here you can take lots of fun photos due to the lack of perspective on the flats. You can looks like you’re fighting dinosaurs, sitting inside your shoe, eating the 4WD, or you’re being held in the hand of one of your travel mates.
You can hike to the top of a cactus island
Incahuasi Island is a rocky, cactus filled island located on the Uyuni Salt Flats. You can hike to the top in about 15 to 20 minutes and get a great view over the salt flats – it looks like the sea or clouds from above.
You get to sleep in salt hotels
You’ll be sleeping in hotels made of salt during the tour. The bed bases, walls, tables and chairs are all made of salt.
The hotels are basic with shared bathrooms and a common dining area. There’s no wifi of course in the desert but there are electrical ports in dining areas to charge phones and cameras. Showers may be available at the hotels you’re staying at depending on the location, however they do cost extra.
There’s pretty lagoons everywhere
During your tour, you’ll stop at seven lagoons for some awesome photo opportunities. The lagoons range in colours. Some are coloured white from the mineral borax, while others are coloured red, pink or green due to the algae growing in the warm water.
You might also be able to witness picture perfect reflections on the lagoons in the morning.
You can go flamingo spotting
On the second day of the tour, you’ll be going flamingo spotting.
There’s no shortage of opportunities to see the unique bright pink birds hanging out in the desert lagoons.
All the volcanoes are really cool
There’s some spectacular scenery on the tour, including lots of volcanoes as you drive through the desert. Most of these volcanoes sit on the Bolivian-Chilean border.
You’ll make a sightseeing stop at the Ollague and Lincabur volcanoes and you’ll see several others from the car.
My favourite was the Licancabur Volcano, located right near the border crossing and towering above Laguna Verde.
You’ll see the sun rise over a spectacular geyser field
It’s an early start on the third day of the tour to catch sunrise over the Sol de Manana geyser field. You’ll leave your salt hotel at 4.30am, take a short drive through the desert and hopefully see a colourful sunrise peek over the mountains and shine light onto the steaming geysers.
It’s definitely worth the icy start to see sunrise and then you get time to roam around the geysers and boiling mud pools. Watch your step though as many of the geysers produce very hot steam.
You can relax in a hot spring
On the final day of the tour, you’ll get the chance to take a dip in a hot spring at Laguna Chalviri. Hopping in the thermal spring feels amazing after the chilly early morning visiting the geysers.
Entry to the hot spring is six Bolivianos ($0.85USD).
Bolivia is incredibly diverse and this three day tour will show you some of the country’s unique highlights. So start thinking about the funny photos you’re going to take on the salt flats!
Things You Should Know:
- You’ll get the cheapest price for salt flat tours in Uyuni. Depending on the season, it can be possible to book the day before or it may also be possible to reserve by email. There are many companies offering tours – and everyone does the exact same route. You may find that even though you’ve booked with one company, you’ll be sharing a driver with other travellers that booked with another company.
- Expect to pay between 800-900 Bolivianos ($115-$130USD) for a three-day tour with a Spanish speaking guide. This includes a driver doubling as a guide, 4WD transport, accommodation, and meals. You’ll also need a little bit of cash on the tour. You’ll need to pay 30 Bolivianos ($4USD) to hike Incahuasi Island and 150 Bolivianos ($22USD) for entry into the national park on the second day of the tour.
- Tours are more expensive if you want an English speaking guide. This is however not essential as it’s largely a sightseeing tour and the guides provide only brief descriptions about the places you see. Likely someone in your group will be able to translate the descriptions, but really you need just a basic understanding of Spanish to find out what times to meet each day and how long you’re spending at each site.
- The desert is scorching during the day but cold at night. It’s recommended to bring a sleeping bag for the cold nights, however blankets are provided at many of the salt hotels.
- Make sure you bring a hat and plenty of sunscreen on the tour. Lightweight clothing is also a good idea to cover up as much as possible. Altitude on this tour ranges between 3500 to 5000 metres above sea level, and you will burn easily in the hot sun at these altitudes.
- Mineral water is only provided at meal times during the tour so it’s a good idea to bring 3-5 litres with you. You can get bottled water in Uyuni.
- Make sure you bring a roll of toilet paper with you as it’s not available in the salt hotels.
- It’s also a good idea to bring some cash with you in case of any extras. At some salt hotels and at Incahausi Island, it’s possible to buy snacks and drinks.
- You can choose to end your tour at the border of Bolivia and Chile or return to Uyuni. If you plan to cross the border and head to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, you’ll need to arrange the transfer when you book your tour. A minivan will pick you up at the border. You’ll also have to pay an departure tax of 15 Bolivianos ($2USD) in cash.