Today we are going to talk about one of the most extraordinary phenomena in South America and one of the main tourist destinations in Bolivia. In this article we share with you a complete guide to visit the Uyuni salt flats.
With an area of 10,582 square kilometers on the altiplano and located at an altitude of 3,653 meters above sea level, the Salar de Uyuni is considered the largest and highest salt flat in the world.
In all its extension it houses a reserve of 9 million tons of lithium, among other minerals, cactus islands, rock formations and even, in spite of having a somewhat hostile climate, in some places you can find colonies of pink flamingos.
For all these reasons, and much more, this salt desert is a must on your trip to Bolivia.
Without further ado, let’s start with all the details you need to know to visit the Salar de Uyuni.
🔝 Are you going to tour Bolivia? In this article we will tell you everything you need to know to visit the visit Lake Titicaca and Isla del Sol..
What is the best time of the year to visit the Uyuni salt flats?
Choosing the best time of the year to visit the Salar de Uyuni is not an easy task, since it will depend not only on your available travel dates, but also on the weather you want to face and the way you want to appreciate the landscape.
Throughout the year, the different seasons offer different pros and cons, as temperatures, rainfall and, along with that, the landscape vary.
During the dry season, between April and May and from October to part of December, the weather is quite pleasant and the days are usually sunny.
This will allow you to see an endless white desert where you can take fun pictures and enjoy spectacular days without being too cold.
Between the months of June and September, temperatures drop a little, but the sunny days persist, so it is still a good idea to visit the Salar de Uyuni during this season.
As the end of the year draws near, temperatures are gradually rising, but some cloudy days are beginning to appear.
Finally, comes the rainy season from January to March. During this season, temperatures are high and rainfall increases.
And although the rain may seem annoying when visiting the Salar de Uyuni, many tourists decide to do so at this time, as this huge salt desert is covered with water, causing the sky to reflect on the ground and forming a unique landscape.
🍀 We visited the Salar de Uyuni in July, so throughout the article you will be able to see in the photos our clothes and that, in the end, it is not so cold.
How to get to the Uyuni salt flats? MAP
One of the most frequently asked questions among travelers planning to visit this area of Bolivia is how to get to the Salar de Uyuni, and that is what we will try to answer in this section.
Obviously, the question (and its answer) will depend on your travel itinerary, so here is how you can get to this salt flat from the main nearby cities.
How to get to the Salar de Uyuni from La Paz (Bolivia)?
If you are flying from abroad to Bolivia, you will most likely arrive at the airport in the city of La Paz. This is why this is one of the most common routes when it comes to visiting the Salar de Uyuni.
To go from La Paz to Uyuni, there are three alternatives:
- Traveling to Uyuni from La Paz by plane
- Go from La Paz to Oruro by bus and then take a train to Uyuni.
- Take a bus to Uyuni directly from La Paz (this is the option we did, as we were doing a north-south tour).
- Hire one of the tours to the Salar de Uyuni departing from La Paz.
The option of going to Uyuni from La Paz by plane is the fastest way, but also the least economical.
You should also keep in mind that the flights are not direct, but have a stopover in Cochabamba, so if you are going to buy a ticket, check the stopover time before purchasing it.
The option of go to Uyuni by taking a bus from La Paz to Oruro and then a train to Uyuni.honestly, it does not make much sense if you only want to visit the salt flat, since it takes longer than going by direct bus or airplane and that you will also have to make three transfers.
But it is a great option for travelers who want to make different stops to visit other places.
For this, you will have to take a bus from the La Paz terminal to Patacamaya and from there another one to Oruro. Once in Oruro, you can take a direct train to Uyuni.
The option of going to Uyuni directly from La Paz by bus is perhaps the most widely used. The trip takes approximately 9 hours and is offered by several companies such as Cruz del Norte, Nuevo Continente Internacional, Trans Titicaca and Panasur, among others.
As for the option of visiting the Salar de Uyuni by hiring an excursion from La Paz, we will talk later, where we will tell you about the different tours you can take (although below I show you the tour we did).
📷 Take a look and book this tour from La Paz to San Pedro de Atacama through the Salar de Uyuni, its deserts and lagoons.
How to get to Salar de Uyuni from La Quiaca (Argentina)?
Another frequent route is La Quiaca – Uyuni, as many travel through the northwest of Argentina and then cross into Bolivia to continue their journey.
To go from La Quiaca to Uyuni, you must cross the border (by foot or cab) to Villazón and then take a bus to Tupiza. Once there, there is another bus ride to Uyuni.
The complete bus tour can take between 7 and 9 hours approximately.
The other way to go to Uyuni from La Quiaca is by train. For this you will also have to cross the border to Villazón and from there you can take a direct train that takes about 9 hours.
The company that makes this route is Expreso del Sur and the train you must take is the one that goes to Oruro (you must get off at the Uyuni stop).
It is important to keep in mind that this train does not have a daily frequency, so I recommend that you find out the days and times in advance. Here is the link to the official website of Ferroviaria Andina so you can check it out.
🔝 If you are going to visit the Salar de Uyuni from the northwest of Argentina, you might be interested in knowing things to do in Salta and Jujuy.
How to get to the Uyuni salt flats from San Pedro de Atacama (Chile)?
Finally, the last option we will talk about in this article is to go to Uyuni from San Pedro de Atacama, in northern Chile.
On the one hand, there is the possibility of visiting the Salar de Uyuni by hiring a 3 or 4 day tour from San Pedro de Atacama. Once you take the excursion, you can choose whether you want to return to Chile or if you prefer to stay in Uyuni to continue touring Bolivia.
On the other hand, you can travel by bus on your own from San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni.
For this, you will have to take a one and a half hour bus ride to Calama and from there another bus ride of about 11 hours to Uyuni.
Tours to the Salar de Uyuni What options are there?
As we mentioned before, it is possible to visit the Salar de Uyuni by hiring excursions from different cities.
There are tours for all tastes. Some are one-day excursions, others are 3 or 4 days, others are night tours, others are sunrise tours, some depart from the town of Uyuni and others from different nearby cities.
And since there is so much variety, and it can be difficult to choose, we are going to tell youabout the most common tours.
Tours to the Salar de Uyuni from the town of Uyuni
If your idea is to base in the town of Uyuni and take an excursion from there, you should know that you can do the tour in a day or 2 or 3 days.
In general, full day excursions usually last between 8 and 10 hours and take you to visit the train cemetery, Colchani and its salt processing plant, Incahuasi Island and the Ojos del Salar.
Most lenders include lunch, water and transportation in a 4×4 vehicle accompanied by a guide.
📷 This is the most basic of the tours, which is a day trip from Uyuni into the salt flat. Includes transportation in 4×4, meals, a bottle of water and the guide in Spanish.
There is another very interesting tour that can be done in the day, in which they take you to see the sunrise in the salt flat.
Although these excursions are shorter (they last approximately 4 hours), they allow you to see the sunrise in the immensity of this white desert.
The views during the rainy season, when the sky is reflected in the water accumulated in the salt flat, is something unique that I don’t think can be seen anywhere else in the world.
📷 Unforgettable experience! Excursion to the Uyuni salt flat at sunrise.
If we talk about tours of more than one day, you will see that you also have several options. There are 2, 3, 4 and even 5 day tours.
These tours, being longer, allow you to go inside the salt flat and visit several incredible spots such as the Ollagüe Volcano, the Charcota, Cañapa, Honda and Hedionda lagoons, where you can see flamingos, the Siloli and Salvador Dalí deserts, the Valley of Rocks and much more.
Multi-day excursions usually include lodging, meals and transfers accompanied by a guide.
📷 Book here the 3-day excursion to the Uyuni salt flat and its deserts (from Uyuni). Includes transportation in 4×4, 2 nights lodging, all meals, bottle of water and soft drinks. In addition to the driver who will act as a guide in Spanish. There are only some entrance fees that are not covered.
📷 This is the tour I did with my friends! Check it out and book this tour from La Paz to San Pedro de Atacama through the Salar de Uyuni, its deserts and lagoons. Almost everything is included, except for a few tickets.
Tours to Salar de Uyuni from other cities
For travelers who are touring Bolivia (or perhaps Peru or Chile) and are looking for a are not going to spend the night in the town of Uyunior simply for those who prefer hire an agency to take care of everythingthere is the possibility of to hire an excursion departing from other cities.
However, you should keep in mind that these tours are usually longer than one day, so you should consider this when planning your trip.
As far as we know, there are tours to the Salar de Uyuni that depart from:
- La Paz (Bolivia) – see 3-day and 5-day excursion to the Uyuni salt flats.
- Potosi (Bolivia) – see day trip to the Salar de Uyuni.
- Puno (Peru) – see 3 days tour to La Paz and Salar de Uyuni.
- San Pedro de Atacama (Chile)
📷 Want a little more adventure? Add to your visit to the Salar de Uyuni from La Paz, a bike ride along the famous Ruta de la Muerte (Death Route). Here you can see the 3-day and 5-day tours available.
Is it possible to visit the Salar de Uyuni without a tour?
So far we have told you how to visit the Salar de Uyuni through different tours, but there is also the possibility of visiting it on your own.
Of course, before you jump in you should know that, as we said before, it is a salt desert of more than 10,000 square kilometers, and there are places where you can’t see the horizon, so it is very easy to get lost.
To get to the salt flat from the town of Uyuni, you can go by car (if you have a car) or take a local bus that will take you to Incahuasi Island.
We recommend that you check with the locals about the bus schedules and the place from where they start their route.
Once you are on Incahuasi Island you can tour part of the salt flat and then head to Llica to spend the night there, or you can return to the town of Uyuni.
The good thing about going to the Salar de Uyuni without a tour is that it will be more economical, you can have your own time and do it at your own pace. The downside is that it will take you longer, you will miss the guides’ explanations and if you don’t do it carefully, you could get lost.
To visit the lagoons around the Salar de Uyuni, the routes can be gravel roads, but they are signposted, so it is possible to do it on your own.
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So much for our guide to visit the Salar de Uyuni. We hope we have clarified some of your doubts. As always, feel free to leave your questions in the comments.