Off the Grid South America

All Things Salty: Salar de Uyuni | Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni Tours - Andes Salt Expeditions

This post is in partnership with Andes Salt Expeditions. We received a discounted rate 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. But after traveling in Salar de Uyuni, I’d argue that the Bolivian desert and the rest of the natural spectacles 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 actually watching the 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.

Salar de Uyuni Tours - Salt Flats

There are nearly 100 operators in Uyuni (Red Planet Expeditions, Quechua 4WD, Salty Desert Adventures, etc.),  so how do you pick the best Salt Flats tour? You can choose between 1, 3, or 4-day tours that cost between $20-$500. Other considerations are the 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.

Salar de Uyuni Tours - Andes Salt Expeditions Vehicle

Salar de Uyuni Tours - Vladmir, an Andes Salt Expeditions guide

Salar de Uyuni Tours - Virgin Mary Sticker in the Car

Here’s a bit more detail about what I liked on my tour with Andes Salt Expeditions:

  • Andes Salt Expeditions is one of the least expensive operators in town, but they get excellent reviews. They keep things simple with basic accommodations and food, but never at the expense of the experience. Their Salt Flats 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 Vladimir. After a few stops with other guides taking shelter in their cars, it became apparent what made Vladimir 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.Salar de Uyuni Tours - Best Time to Visit

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 ChileIt’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 Tours - Crossing to Chile

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 10:30 am 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.

Salar de Uyuni Tours - International Flags

Salar de Uyuni Tour - Llama on Taylor's Shoulder

Salar de Uyuni Tour - Isla IncahuasiDay 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 at the simple refugio early with plenty of time to walk or relax before dinner.

Salar de Uyuni Tour - Viewpoint

Salar de Uyuni Tour - Bolivian Desert

Salar de Uyuni - Arbol de Piedra

Salar de Uyuni Tours - Laguna ColoradaDay 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.

Salar de Uyuni Tour - Sol de Mañana

Salar de Uyuni Tours - Sol de Mañana

Salar de Uyuni Tours - Vladmir, Andes Salt Expeditions Guide

FAQs

Should I take a one-day or three-day Salar de Uyuni tour? One-day tours visit the train Cemetery, the Salar de Uyuni, and Isla Incahuasi and return to Uyuni the same day so you’ll need to take care of your own dinner and hotel. Three-day tours have the same first day, but you’ll travel much further into the desert. Three-day tours visit 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 on the salt flats 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. 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). We also recommend tipping your guide between Bs. 20-30/day ($3-4).

Wanna book a Salar de Uyuni tour?

Website: www.andes-salt-uyuni.com.bo/

E-mail: 

Phone: (591) 72414748

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Thanks to Andes Salt Expeditions for showing us the Bolivian altiplano! Got any questions about finding a Salar de Uyuni tour? Have you been on one? Let us know in the comments!

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Monica L
    February 22, 2018 at 4:37 pm

    Thank you for the super helpful info! Especially about the prices.

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      February 22, 2018 at 10:09 pm

      So glad you found it helpful, Monica! Hope you enjoy your trip.

  • Reply
    Adriana
    March 7, 2018 at 5:43 am

    Hello there! Planning on heading to UYUNI to do a 3 day/2 night tour this Thursday… Can you recommend the hostel/ hotel where you stayed while on your tour? You mentioned it was Basic… Who choose the hostel/ you or Andes Salt expedition. Did room have Hot water? Did room have shared shower?
    Was ride uncomfortable in a more older model transportation?
    Thank you!!!!

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      March 12, 2018 at 6:42 am

      Hi Adriana! If you book a 3 day/2 night tour, the operator will set up your hotels throughout the trip. These were very simple! There was hot water (but not much), and the bathrooms were dorm style with a few toilets and a few showers for everyone to share. The ride itself wasn’t bad at all! Let me know if you have any other questions, and hope you enjoy your trip!

  • Reply
    Denise
    May 20, 2018 at 10:08 pm

    Hi Taylor,
    Thanks for your post it really helps! I was wondering did you had a english speaking guide?
    Thanks, Denise

    • Reply
      Taylor
      May 25, 2018 at 3:49 pm

      Yes, Denise, our guide spoke English! The guides don’t generally have perfect English, but enough to explain the basics. It’s also pretty likely you’ll have a Spanish speaker on your tour that can help translate 🙂 Enjoy your trip.

  • Reply
    Abby
    June 25, 2018 at 11:37 pm

    Hi! I was wondering if you have any advice on booking a tour in advance or booking one the morning you get there in Uyuni? I’m staying in La Paz for a while and taking a weekend trip down. The tours that you can book in La Paz seem to waver around 900-1000 bs. for 3 day tour without transportation to Uyuni, but I’m looking for the best deal possible haha. Thanks!

    • Reply
      Taylor
      June 26, 2018 at 6:38 am

      Hi Abby. I’d recommend waiting until you get to Uyuni (ideally one day ahead of your tour). Uyuni is practically all tour operators and you can probably get a deal for joining a tour that’s not yet full. Hope you enjoy your trip!

  • Reply
    Megan
    October 1, 2018 at 2:57 am

    Hey I am heading to Uyuni in two days time and was wondering if there is a difference in price of you 3days or opt for 4 days and end in San Pedro? I have heard it costs 850 for 3 days excuding the extra costs you mentioned…

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      October 3, 2018 at 8:44 am

      Hey Megan! Is it 850 Bs, right? My 4-day tour was in 2016, but I imagine the most you’d be looking at is an additional 50-100 Bs. to cross into San Pedro. If you’re planning to go there by bus anyway, this saves you a lot of travel time and might be equal cost of accommodation.

  • Reply
    Jessica
    October 6, 2018 at 2:04 pm

    Hi there,
    thanks for your article!
    Could you tell me at what time the tour ends on the last day in uyuni? I was wondering if I could fly back to la paz on the same day.
    Thanks!

    • Reply
      Taylor
      October 7, 2018 at 6:57 am

      Hi Jessica. I just took a look on the Andes Salt Expeditions website, and they said 17:00PM. Might be a little late to fly back to La Paz, but if you can find something after 20:00PM you could probably swing it! Good luck.

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