Salar de Uyuni tours – Uyuni Salt Flat, Bolivia
If you like visiting unique, one-of-a-kind places on this planet that have only recently become open to tourist visitors, then the Salar de Uyuni tours through the salt flats in Bolivia is somewhere you should be considering. With so much of the natural beauty of South America, you have multiple options competing for your attention. You can visit the Amazon in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador or Brazil. The Andes mountains encompass those same countries, plus Chile and Argentina. Even Patagonia stretches across two countries.
But the ethereal majesty of the Salar De Uyuni salt flats is not something that can be replicated elsewhere. There are other bone-dry deserts in South America, it is true. And they have their own charms and attractions. But the Salar De Uyuni salt flats are like somewhere not from this earth. An unique experience !
The Geography of the Salar de Uyuni salt flats
This enormous region covers 10,852 square kilometres / 4,086 square miles, at an altitude of 3,656 metres / 12,000 feet. Bigger than the countries of Jamaica and Lebanon. It is believed to have been a lake that existed 30-40,000 years ago but slowly dried out due to encroaching desert conditions over the millenia. With no access to the sea, all the salt and various other minerals were simply deposited in the dry bed that was left over, and viola you have an enormous salt flat, ideal for mining and Salar de Uyuni tours.
As well as 10 billion tonnes of salt, the salt flats also host a similar quantity of lithium, believed to be over half of the world’s known reserves. Given the vastly expanding demand for lithium, as it’s used to power the batteries that go in just about every gadget on the market, this is considered an economic bonanza by the Bolivian government. Of course, sudden resource wealth is not always the benificient boon that it at first appears. Ecological plunder, health concerns of the local people, plus the ‘Dutch disease’ of becoming economically reliant on resource extraction are often the negative consequences.
However, as this economic windfall has been developed, so the possibilities for tourism have grown as well. Just five years ago it was much harder to reach the Salar De Uyuni salt flats and do Salar de Uyuni tours. But now increased economic activity has paved the way for increased tourist accessibility.
Best Time of Year to visit Salar de Uyuni
The best time of year to visit the Salar De Uyuni salt flats is very relative. Between June and December the region is as dry as the surface of the moon, but with more agreeable weather. However, this dry season reduces the miraculous reflectivity that marks the salt flats out as so unique and incredible. It is the thin layer of liquid that creates the reflective magic, and the best times to witness this phenomenon is between January and April.
How to Get There
Options for doing Salar de Uyuni tours of the salt flats are now increased due to the lithium rush. Most Salar de Uyuni tours to visit the salt flats will start at the small town of Uyuni. The nearest hopping off point to Uyuni is commonly the town or Oruro, at a mere 7 hours by train or 8 hours by bus. This was the method of choice in the past. Other options are a bus from La Paz (12 – 15 hours) or Potosi (6 -7 hours).
Perhaps the best option of all is to catch a short flight from La Paz to the small airport at Uyuni, recently extended for the mining industry, and which also serves tourism. A flight takes less than two hours and brings the Salar De Uyuni salt flats into much more convenient reach. However, it is also this development that hastens the tourism torrent. Now is a very good time to visit the Salar De Uyuni salt flats; while they are still relatively pristine and under-visited.
Best Way to See the Salar De Uyuni salt flats
Most Salar De Uyuni tours of the salt flats will involve hurtling around in 4x4s. These are not conditions in which you would want to do much distance hiking. Within the Salar De Uyuni salt flats themselves, there are areas of interest worth visiting, including rocky outcroppings, national parks, cactus islands, geyser fields, clandestine lagoons, mountain peaks, and all manner of geographical features that belong more on Mars than Earth.
Sleeping arrangements used to be basic, isolated settlements, sometimes with local families and communities. But thankfully the recent tourism development means that more comfortable accommodation is available, with private bathrooms, hot water and heated rooms. There are also ‘salt hotels’; built from salt bricks. An interesting experience, though perhaps not a luxury one. Whatever accommodation you choose, it will be cold. The altitude and reflections enhance the effects of the sun’s rays during the day, and the same altitude and desert climate make it bitingly cold at night. Almost certainly you will end up sleeping in all the clothes that you bring.
If you like visiting unique, one-of-a-kind places on this planet that have only recently become open to tourist visitors, then the Salar de Uyuni tours through the salt flats in Bolivia is somewhere you should be considering.