This post is in partnership with Andes Salt Expeditions. We received a discounted rate our our Salar de Uyuni tour in exchange for our honest review, but all opinions are our own!
Things that are actually “out of this world”: outer space, astronauts (when they’re at work), and maybe aliens. After traveling in Salar de Uyuni, we’d argue that the Bolivian desert and the rest of the sights seen on a Salar de Uyuni tour deserve an honorable mention.
The Salar de Uyuni is like an unstated ice rink, thousands of miles wide. Its surface crunches in like tepid, partially melted ice. Hotels made entirely of salt appear to be hovering above the surface like a foreign vessel. Venture deeper into the desert and you’ll find giant cactuses sprouting from inhospitable islands. Pink flamingos feast and wade through crimson lakes framed by a volcanic backdrop and blue skies. Lava bubbles from deep beneath the earth. And as farfetched as it may seem, you’ll feel like you’re watching sunrise from the moon.
Of course, there is a very scientific explanation to all of it; algae, tectonic plates, wind, and time can create tremendous things when they work together. But the real magic of a Salar de Uyuni tour is feeling unsure of everything. Perhaps even like you’re on another planet.
How to Pick a Salar de Uyuni Tour
Salar de Uyuni is an expanse of salt flats nearly 11,000 km². To really experience the vastness of the Salar de Uyuni, you’re best to take a 4×4 tour. Andean Salt Expeditions is an Uyuni tour company that specializes in 4×4 adventure tours. The no-nonsense owner, Braulio Mamani, once worked in the Bolivian mines, and has since dedicated the same diligence to adventure tours on the Salt Flats.
There are nearly 100 operators in Uyuni (Red Planet Expeditions, Quechua 4WD, Salty Desert Adventures, etc.), so how do you pick a Salt Flats tour? You can choose between 1, 3, or 4-day tours that cost range between $20-$500. Other considerations are: level of accommodation, safety, and whether you prefer to depart from Uyuni or nearby Tupiza. We booked with Andes Salt Expeditions based on price and reviews, and had an excellent experience with them.
Here’s a bit more detail about what we liked on our tour with Andes Salt Expeditions:
- Andes Salt Expeditions is one of the least expensive operators in town, but they come with excellent reviews. They keep things simple with basic accommodations and food, but never at the expense of the experience. Their Salt Flat Tours cost Bs. 700 ($100) + Bs. 150 ($21) at the park entrance per person.
- They put car maintenance at the forefront. Many of the guides are certified mechanics, and the ones that aren’t have been fixing Toyota’s so long that they may as well be.
- We got to travel with the locally famous Vladmir. After a few stops with other guides taking shelter in their cars, it became apparent what made Vladmir great. He loves being a guide. He went above and beyond to give us information while other guides seemed to avoid it. He’s a safe driver, and you feel like you’re in the car with your cool uncle. Most importantly, he is likable without having the usual tour guide shtick.
Best Time to Visit the Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni tours are available all year, with some months being more pleasant than others. While it is the coldest time of year in Bolivia, April – October is also the sunniest and the most popular time to visit. November – March is the rainy season in Bolivia. Traveling during this time will give you the most moderate weather and the best chance to see the Salar as a giant mirror.
How to Get to Uyuni or Tupiza
The majority of tours begin in Uyuni, but some depart from Tupiza. You can easily travel to Uyuni by bus from La Paz, Potosi, or Sucre. More infrequently, you can also take a train. Uyuni is a walkable town and it’s easy to get around. Tupiza can also be reached by bus, though departures are less frequent and tour companies are few and far between. All Salar de Uyuni tours should include transport to the salt flats.
Traveling on to Chile? It’s only about 2 hours from the final stop on salt flat tours to San Pedro de Atacama. Most operators will allow you to book your bus to San Pedro as an add-on (Bs. 50) to your salt flats tour.
Salar de Uyuni Tour Itinerary (with Andes Salt Expeditions)
Most tour operator run the same itinerary, but some will make extra effort to get you off the usual circuit. Here’s the general itinerary for a 3-day/2-night Uyuni tour with Andes Salt Expeditions:
Day 1 | The Salty Day: After a 10:30am start, day 1 includes the train cemetery and the Salar de Uyuni. You’ll take lunch at a retired salt hotel, and check out the well-photographed Dakar monument and international flags fluttering against the wind. Venture on to see the surreal cactus on Isla Incahuasi, an island suspended on the Salar, before watching the sunset over the flats. Stay the night in a basic salt hotel.
Day 2 | The Lake Day: The adventures on day 2 start around 6:30 as you leave the salt flats into the deeper desert. You’ll get an early view of Volcan Ollague, a semi-active volcano, before traveling onward to the lakes. There are 5 lakes, but the lakes of interest are Laguna Cañapa, Laguna Edionda, and Laguna Colorada. Each is defined by it’s feeding flamingos, unique color, and epic volcanic surrounds. After lunch, you’ll get a view of Desert Siloli, which we’d say is a far easier alternative to hiking up Rainbow Mountain in Peru. You’ll also see Arbol de Piedra – a stone structure that has been worn into a tree with time. Arrive to the simple refugio early with plenty of time to walk or relax before dinner.
Day 3 | The Thermal Day: Day 3 begins at the ungodly 4:30 am to ensure you get to the Sol de Mañana in time to watch the sunrise. Through the steam, you can smell sulfur and observe slowly bubbling lava too close for comfort. You’ll travel then to the agues thermals for a dip in the naturally heated pool and see the Dali Desert and Laguna Verde before being transferred onto San Pedro de Atacama or returning back to Uyuni.
Should I take a one day or three day tour on the salt flats? One day tours will visit theTrain Cemetery, the Salar de Uyuni, and Isla Incahuasi and return to Uyuni the same day. Three day tours have the same first day, but you’ll travel further, visiting highlights like Laguna Colorada, the Dali Desert, and the Sol de Mañana geysers. In our experience, the three day tour is the only way to go. The first day of salt flat tours was crazy crowded and touristic, and we loved the subsequent days spent in solitude.
How much do Salar de Uyuni tours cost? Above, we indicated that Salar de Uyuni tours can cost between $20-$500. What a range! One day Salar de Uyuni tours should cost around Bs. 150-200 ($20-$30) and include all of your transport and lunch. Simple three day Salar de Uyuni tours average between Bs. 700-1,000 ($100-$150) and should include transport, meals, and all the sights on the trip (excluding the national park fee + Isla Incahuasi). If you’re looking for a nicer standard of accommodation or a brand new vehicle, expect to pay upwards of Bs. 2,000 ($180+).
Any extra Salar de Uyuni tour costs? Yes. Most tours will exclude the park entrance fee to Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve Bs. 150 ($21) and Isla Incahuasi Bs. 30 ($5). If you’re transferring onto Chile, you’ll need We also recommend tipping your guide between Bs. 20-30/day ($3-4).
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