Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest and highest salt flat that extends on about 12 thousand square kilometers in the altitude of 3,650 m above the sea level. It lies in the Potosí department in the southern part of Bolivia. The salt flats were formed here from a salt lake that covered the area in the prehistoric time. Not far from these salt flats, you will find the province called Sud-Lípez with colorful laguna, volcanos, Andean fauna and one of the most beautiful deserts in the world. Actually, the most popular trips to Salar de Uyuni take 3-4 days and include also the visit of Sud Lípez. The savage beauty of the landscape makes it one of the best sights in the South America. Here is your quick guide to Salar de Uyuni tours that covers the most important facts you need to know before visiting this spectacular place in Bolivia.
When is the best time for the Salar de Uyuni tours?
Good time to visit Salar de Uyuni is either between June and October when the sun is very intense and it does not rain. Between January and April, it rains a lot and so you might get to see the largest natural mirror in the world. It depends on what you are looking for, but in any case, regarding the nature of the trip, you should ensure few days before that the tours aren´t canceled due to unfavorable weather condition. What is great is that anytime you go to Salar, you will make perfect pictures as it is one of the best places in the world to take pictures, whether the surface is dry or wet, and you can make some optical illusions.
We went in November and it was also a very nice experience, it was already warm during the day, but dry.
How to get there?
The starting point for the Salar de Uyuni tours is either Uyuni that is accessible from La Paz, Oruro, Sucré and Potosí, or Tupiza if you travel from Argentina.
From La Paz: Reliable coach companies that operate between La Paz and Uyuni are Todo Turismo or Trans Omar. The journey takes about 13 hours and the buses leave La Paz in the evening, arriving in Uyuni around 6 a.m. You can get tickets directly at the Terminal de buses in La Paz, from where all the buses leave and every company has its own stand there. Looking for the cheapest tickets is not recommended as the road between La Paz and Uyuni is very bad and the cheap companies do not have buses in a good state.
From Potosí: there are several buses daily leaving from the main bus terminal and the journey takes about 4-5 hours. Good bus companies are Trans Diana or Trans Emperador, that have several buses every day and you can get tickets on the place.
From Sucré: You need to transfer in Potosí and the two companies stated above are again the best choice, otherwise, just check the buses once you arrive at the terminal and pick one it seem ok to you. The journey from Sucré to Potosí takes 3-4 hours.
If you are not a fan of buses: You can also take a taxi for those shorter distances. If you find more people to get into one taxi, then it is a cheap option too. If you are not a fan of Bolivian roads neither, you can book your flights with Amazonas or TAM.
We found very interesting taking the night bus with Trans Omar from La Paz – the buses are comfortable and you can sleep well, especially in the VIP class, which is really not expensive. Getting to Uyuni at 6 a.m., we had enough time to take a breakfast and then head to the chosen agencies to book the tour. As it was not a high season and there were no troubles on the road, it was ok.
How to choose the tour operator?
You can book your tours via the internet, or after your arrival to La Paz, in Potosí, Sucré or even in Uyuni, where all the companies have offices in one street. You should be careful when choosing the tour operator for your trip to Salar, as out of +/- 70 tour operators only 10-15 are reliable. Low price is not really a “win-win” in this case, as many of the cheap tour operators have bad cars, more than 7 people in the car, alcoholised drivers, guides who don´t speak English, or not everything is included in the price as it should be. Salar de Uyuni may not seem to but is a place of car accidents. Go through the references of particular companies on Trip Advisor and other travel forums and always make sure what is included in the price and check the general conditions before paying.
Here below are the reliable tour operators based on our research done before going there in November 2015 and we got the last one, with a guide called Lorenzo and we were very happy with the whole trip:
In the high season (from June to October, or January to April), it is better to either book your tour in advance via the internet (if possible) or arrive a day ahead to Uyuni to book the tour a day before not to risk.
What kind of tour to choose?
It depends on how much time do you have and what do you want to see. The salt flats tour takes 1-2 days. If you want to go further and see also the beautiful colorful laguna with flamingoes, volcanos and beautiful desert in Sud-Lípez, then you need to count at least 3-4 days. In order to get an idea of what to expect, read about my experience with Salar and Sud-Lípez. Almost all the tour operators offer the same Salar de Uyuni tours in function of the number of days and somewhere you can negotiate an opposite tour so that you don´t stop at places together with all the other jeeps.
How much will it cost you?
For the 3 days/2 nights´ trip to Salar de Uyuni and Sud-Lípez, you need to count around 700 – 1200 Bs per person and the price includes the transport in Toyota 4×4 land cruiser, guide, accommodation for 2 nights and food for 3 days. Remember that low prices shouldn’t be an indicator of the best option as either the cars are in bad state, the drivers drink alcohol during the trip or aren’t able to do basic reparations in case of a problem.
What to bring?
You can take a small backpack inside of the jeep and you can usually have 1 large bag per 2 people that will be transported on the roof the jeep.
- Good camera + spare batteries and memory cards
- Enough bottles of drinking water (you can buy them in Uyuni)
- Some snacks (as the meal included are only breakfast, lunch and dinner during a full day of the trip)
- Toilet paper and hygienical wipes (as in some accommodation in the desert there is no water)
- Coins (you will need to pay for the use of toilets)
- Good sunglasses
- High protection sunblock (the sun is pretty strong in the high altitude, plus there are strong reflections from the white salty ground)
- Lip balm with UV protection
- Flashlight (in some accommodation there is no electricity)
- Swimsuit, towel and flip flops (if you choose the longer trip, you will stop at the thermals)
- Comfortable walking shoes (on some places you can climb on huge stones)
- Warm clothes for the evening or sleeping (depends on the season, but is true that even during the summer months, the temperature differences between day and night are significant)
- Coca leafs or some other medicine against altitude sickness (if this will be your first days in such altitude)
Staying overnight in Uyuni
If you plan to get to Uyuni a day ahead in order to choose and book your tour in advance or whether you need to stay the night after you come back from the trip as we did, there are several hotels or hostels in Uyuni. I have a good tip for you: check out the hotel Jumari, as is close to the bus station, the personal is very friendly and the hotel is clean, there is hot water and the breakfast is great. There are also some restaurants in Uyuni – you might see a lot of pizzerias and other types of cuisine adapted to the tourists I would say. Do not stay longer than necessary, as there is nothing to do in Uyuni.
Have you ever done the Salar de Uyuni trip? You can share your experience in the comments below!
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More about our trip and pictures: