Everything you need to know about visiting the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia
Bolivia is one of my favourite countries. Its natural beauty and landscapes are underrated, probably because it’s right next to Peru who steals Bolivia’s magnificent glory. If you’re heading to Bolivia and want to do a tour of the Uyuni Salt Flats, this blog has everything you need to know and many important hot tips.
The Salar de Uyuni or Uyuni Salt Flats as us foreigners call it, are located in the province of Potosi. I did a three day tour through this part of the country. I’ll be honest and say the salt flats were my least favourite part of the tour. They were incredibly vast and cool to see, but everything else you experience is far more impressive. Bolivia has large snow capped mountains, gorgeous flamingos, toasty hot springs and breathtaking sunsets, sun and moon rises (I’m from East Coast Australia and I literally didn’t know this was a thing?!). These landscapes far outweighed taking a photo with a beer bottle on some salt for me.
If you’re considering a one day tour to only see the Uyuni Salt Flats, I’d highly recommend you do a three or four day tour instead to see more of this awesome country!
How the tours work
You can do three or four day tours, leaving from La Paz, San Pedro in Chile or from Uyuni (the town closest to the salt flats). The tours finish in different places, depending on what direction you’re going.
The tours are run in 4×4 cars, like a Nissan Patrol or Toyota Land Cruiser with five to six people in the car, not including the driver. Your driver will take you around to see all the wonderful sights and to your accommodation each night. You will be spending a lot of time driving in the car so be prepared for this.
You can fly solo and hope you get a good group of people in your car, go with a friend or try to organise a group of five or six friends to do the tour with. I was super lucky and did it with a group of legends I met at a hostel in La Paz. If you can do this, I’d recommend it. You’ll be getting cosy in the car for a good chunk of the tour, so if you get a crappy group, it won’t be as fun.
Most of the tours are pretty similar and when you’re getting around in your 4×4, you’ll see many of the same cars go by. The tours all go to the same types of accommodation (unless you’re bougie and go full luxury) and follow the same route.
Cost of tours
For a three day tour with an English speaking driver, you shouldn’t pay more than 1100 Bolivianos ($214 AUD) each. For a Spanish speaking driver, you shouldn’t pay more than 700 Bolivianos ($136 AUD) each.
This price includes meals, accommodation in hotels made of salt, a sleeping bag and transport. It doesn’t include snacks, alcohol or entry fees to the national parks. Add an extra 200 Bolivianos ($38 AUD) to your budget for this. You’ll want snacks for the long car rides (what’s a road trip without eating a whole heap of junk anyway??) and a cheeky wine at night makes for extra delight.
On picking a Spanish or English speaking driver:
We chose a Spanish speaking driver because someone in our group spoke Spanish, but if no one in your group does, I would pay the extra for an English speaking driver. If you don’t know the language, you wouldn’t have a clue what’s going on for days on end. This would annoy me and taint my experience, so just spend the extra pennies if you no habla Español.
Booking the tour from La Paz
If you’re heading to La Paz, there are many tour companies you can choose from there. They will include overnight buses to and from the town of Uyuni. Booking straight from La Paz is a good option if you can’t be assed dealing with the admin of getting yourself to the South of Bolivia and back, however it can be way more expensive. I heard of people paying between $300-400 AUD. I paid $158 AUD for the exact same tour.
Booking the tour from Uyuni
The cheaper option, giving you more flexibility, is to get an overnight bus to Uyuni from La Paz (or Sucre if you’re there) and pick a tour company when you arrive. They’ll be waiting at the bus stop for you, don’t worry.
Uyuni is a rather dead and barren town, simply serving as a destination for visitors to start tours. There is sweet FA to do there and I wouldn’t recommend staying a night.
When your lovely night bus rocks up in Uyuni, you’ll be A) tired, B) cold as hell and C) swarmed with people trying to sell you a tour. Many people will try to get you to go to their office. Don’t do this. Ask the people how much their tours are and be specific about what they include in the price. You mainly want to know if sleeping bags and accommodation at the hot springs are included.
The other option is to organise your tour via WhatsApp before you rock up. I did my tour with Uturunku Tours. I thought they were great and our guide was super nice and helpful! When booking, say your amigos did the tour for 700 Bolivianos (Spanish speaking driver) and you’ll get that price again.
Night buses in Bolivia
I did a round trip from the town of Uyuni, taking an overnight bus from Sucre the night before. You can also do this from La Paz. The overnight bus from La Paz is 10 hours and the overnight bus from Sucre is eight hours. Both options are cheap as chips. I used 6 de Octubre bus company, costing $14 AUD one way. The buses were super comfortable, with 180 degree reclining seats and decent toilets (BYO toilet paper to be safe though).
You can book your bus tickets on ticketsBolivia.com. Make sure you do this the night before your bus as they don’t allow you to book the day of. This is how you get trapped in a (very fun) party hostel in La Paz for eight nights and lose all your dignity.
Important must read hot tips
– Make sure your tour includes accommodation at the hot springs. DO NOT let this slide. I literally saw the moon rise over a mountain while sipping wine in gorgeous hot springs and it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
– You can bring your big backpack. I was told I couldn’t, but the tour guides secure them to the roof of the car with a tarp. If you only bring a day bag it might be easier, but if you want your stuff, it’s fine to bring it.
– It’s going to be fucking cold. When tour companies offer you a sleeping bag, definitely pay extra for it. You’ll be nice and warm in the sleeping bag but without it, you’d probably freeze.
– Pack some toilet paper for toilet breaks on long drives.
– When you get to the salt flats and stop for lunch, there will be people with props charging money to take perspective photos for you. If you’re doing a three or four day tour, you do not need to pay them! Your driver will take you to a secluded area on the flats after lunch to take your (alcoholic and camera) shots.
– Taking perspective photos is way harder than you’d expect, especially on a phone. To get your phone to focus on both you and the object is a pain in the ass. If you want to use funny props and take photos yourself, make sure they are at least the size of a wine bottle. We tried to bring our own props and they all failed miserably as you can see below. If I had my time again, I’d bring a cooking pot or something similar!
Check out these pics for a bit of Instagram vs reality.
Touring the flats is relatively simple, but I hope this helps you have the best time visiting them and experiencing everything else this amazing country has to offer.
Yours in salty adventures and crappy perspective photos,