Everything You Need to Know about the Uyuni Salt Flats.
The Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia is such a surreal and unique place that you would be forgiven for wondering whether you’d landed on a different planet. In the dry season, your world is divided into the perfect, dazzling white salt below and the perfect blue sky above. In the rainy season, these two halves combine as the film of water on the salt reflects the sky above and you watch fluffy white clouds scudding across the land. The glorious, bleak beauty of the Uyuni salt flats makes it one of the most awe-inspiring sights in South America. As a result, it is an unmissable stop in your journey through Bolivia!
Spanning over 4000 square miles, Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat. It is all that remains of a prehistoric salt lake that once covered much of south-west Bolivia. When the lake dried up millions of years ago, it left behind a thick crust of pure white salt, forming the Uyuni salt flats as we know them today! The salt is rich in different minerals, which create fascinating effects.
The Ojos del Salar (literally, the ‘eyes’) are small holes in the salt full of bubbling, brightly coloured water. In other places, the minerals have created coloured lagoons, standing out in stark contrast to the white salt and home to thousands of equally vibrant flamingos.
Seven Reasons to Visit Uyuni Salt Flats
1) It’s one of the most Instagrammable places on the planet!
Photographers flock to Uyuni to capture the ethereal beauty of this unique place.
In the dry season, the unbroken whiteness as far as the eye can see offers fabulous opportunities to have some fun with perspective, and take creative and surreal photographs.
In the rainy season, on the other hand, the ‘mirror effect’ created by the reflection of the sky in the water offers mesmerisingly beautiful photo opportunities.
2) The landscapes will constantly surprise you
Most Uyuni salt flats tours will include Incahausi island, a bizarre, cactus-covered hill that stands seemingly in defiance of the bleak, flat landscape around it.
Here, you can walk amongst the giant cacti and see fossils from the prehistoric lake that once covered the area.
You can also enjoy spectacular panoramic views of the salt flats from the summit of the island.
As your tour heads further south, the salt gives way to sand and the flatness to dunes and bizarre rock formations.
Let your imagination run wild looking for monsters and dragons in the rocks.
And don’t miss the Arbol de Piedra (stone tree), or the Desierto de Dalí, so called because the twisted rock formations resemble the surreal shapes of the Spanish artist’s imagination.
3) Witness nature reasserting its dominance at the Train Cemetery
During the silver rush in Bolivia in the 1800s, a huge rail network was set up through the country to transport the precious goods to the coastline.
These trains have long since fallen into disuse and have been abandoned in the so-called ‘train cemetery’ just outside Uyuni.
For the romantically inclined, there’s a certain poetry in the symmetry of the desolate landscape and the abandoned trains.
For everyone else, there’s the chance to climb on top of the trains and take fun photographs!
4) Sunset and stargazing on the salt flats is like no other place in the world
The Uyuni salt flats are a vast desert, and as such, there is very little light pollution.
The salar is also incredibly flat (only about a metre difference in height between any two points), so there are almost no obstructions to the panoramic views of nothingness.
This means that at sunset you can enjoy an awe-inspiring, uninterrupted 360 degree views of the fabulous spectrum of colours blossoming across the sky.
And when the sun finally sets completely, the sky is filled with more stars than you’ve ever seen in your life.
5) Stay in a hotel made completely of salt!
Your Uyuni Salt flats tour will include the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stay in a hotel built entirely of blocks of salt.
Salt walls, salt beds and even a salt restaurant; try licking the walls if you don’t believe us!
The perfect place for ‘seasoned’ travellers!
6) Meet the unique Andean wildlife
The Salar de Uyuni is home to herds of wild vicuñas, deer-like relatives of the alpaca.
Once considered endangered, there are now around 350,000 of the creatures roaming the Andes.
You can also spot the Andean fox, thousands of flamingos and the unique vizcachas: an indigenous rodent that looks like a cross between a rabbit and a chinchilla.
7) Be astounded by the crazy colours
Although most images of Uyuni focus on the blinding white salt flats, the minerals within the salt have created some contrastingly colourful effects.
The Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa features spectacularly bright lagoons, such as the Laguna Colorada.
This lagoon’s vibrant red colour is said to be due to the spilled blood of a dying goddess.
There is also the bright green Laguna Verde, set at the foot of a mighty volcano.
When to Go to Uyuni Salt Flats
There’s no ‘bad’ time to visit the salt flats; it just depends on the experience that you’re looking for.
Salar de Uyuni offers two completely different experiences, depending on whether you choose to visit during rainy season or dry season.
During rainy season (February to April), a thin film of water (a couple of inches) covers the flats and creates the famous mirror effect, as the water reflects the heavens and it is impossible to tell where the land ends and the sky begins.
During the dry season (May – January), the dazzling white salt stretches to the horizon, contrasting with the perfect blue sky above, and creates surreal optical illusions.
How to Get to Uyuni Salt Flats
The typical way to visit the Salar de Uyuni is with a three-day tour starting from Uyuni town.
Your 4WD vehicle will travel from the edge of the salt flats into the dazzling white centre, and then on to the colorful mountains and otherworldly rock formations of the sandy desert to the south.
Next, you’ll head into Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa to visit the fabulously coloured mineral lagoons.
These lagoons come in every colour from teal to pink to green, plus you can see the resident llamas and flamingos.
Finally, you’ll enjoy the spectacular sight of the geysers at sunrise, when the geothermal heated water clashes with the cold of the early morning to produce an ethereal, steamy effect, all with the backdrop of the beautiful desert sunrise.
Next, you’ll have a chance to warm up at the nearby hot springs, before either travelling back to Uyuni or continuing on to Chile.
Salt flats and Sajama
For those looking for a truly unique experience, a five-day Bolivia tour starting in La Paz and taking in the fabulous Parque Nacional de Sajama could be an excellent option.
This luxury tour hand picks the finest accommodation options in the region.
You are even guaranteed heating and hot water right in the middle of the desert.
Drive across the Bolivian Altiplano, through arid scenery reminiscent of the Wild West.
On day two, you will visit Parque Nacional de Sajama and experience some of the best trekking in the Andes.
Boasting snowcapped volcanoes, bubbling geysers and surprisingly few tourists, Sajama is truly off the beaten track.
The landscape becomes desert as you head south on day three, visiting brightly coloured lagoons inhabited by equally vibrant flamingos.
By day four, you will get your first glimpse of the salt flats with a visit to Salar de Coipasa, Bolivia’s second-largest salt flat.
The appeal of this peculiar desert is that you’ll have it all to yourselves; plenty of space to practice those perspective photographs.
On day five, you’ll finally enter Salar de Uyuni, just in time to catch an unforgettable sunrise over the salt flats.
Spend the whole day in the awe-inspiring salar, before finishing your tour in Uyuni town.
LA PAZ TO UYUNI
From La Paz, take the morning bus Nasser to Oruro. From Oruro, take a train to Uyuni. You can check train schedule here.
TODO TURISMO TOURIST BUS
Leaves at 8pm instead of 9pm for the return journey. Departure from outside their office (just a few blocks from the main plaza). Bus departure info here
FLIGHTS LA PAZ – UYUNI
Staying in the Salt Hotels
The fabulous Palacio del Sal is one of the world’s most unique hotels.
Everything – from the walls to the golf course to the beds – is made entirely of salt!
The use of salt blocks, which began as an innovative use of local resources, has become a much-admired novelty and a real work of art.
Hotel staff even shave the blocks periodically to keep the angles precise!
Perhaps even more remarkable than the hotel’s structure is its location: about as remote as you can get, in the middle of the salt desert.
Another charming salt hotel is Luna Salada with very modern amenities.
The igloo-like sleeping quarters boast fabulous views of the salar, and their own individual heaters and bathrooms.
In the dining room, tuxedo-wearing waiters offer Chilean wines and gourmet meals: lavishness that seems remarkable, given the hotel’s location!
What to bring
The weather in the salt flats is notoriously changeable.
Like any other desert, the sun in the salar is very strong during the day.
That being said, the cloudless skies mean the salt flats can get very cold at night.
Make sure that you pack lots of layers, so that you are ready for all weather.
It’s also important to bring sunglasses, plus plenty of sunscreen and lip protection.
The sun, reflected off the dazzling salt flats can be very harsh on the eyes and skin.
All salt flat tours will include adequate food, but you may like to bring some snacks to eat between stops.
In addition, you may also need to bring your own bottled water (approximately five litres for three days; soft drinks are provided with meals).
Please note that a number of entrance fees must be payable locally, and therefore cannot be included in your tour.
We suggest that you bring approximately 200 Bolivianos: 30BOB for Incahausi, 10BOB for the hot springs and 150BOB for the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa.
You may also like to bring more for snacks, drinks and souvenirs.
Some small change for public toilets might be useful, plus optional gratuities for your guide.
The Salar sits at 3650m above sea level, so it is essential to take precautions against altitude sickness.
If your itinerary permits, it might be wise to consider spending a few days acclimatising to the altitude before your tour.
You are likely to feel tired and get out of breath easily, so don’t plan any strenuous activities for the first few days.
Those who are short on time can combat altitude sickness by drinking at least three litres of water per day and avoiding alcohol (dehydration exacerbates the effects of altitude).
Also, try chewing coca leaves like the locals and carrying anti altitude sickness (soroche) pills just in case.
Both coca leaves and soroche pills are readily available in Uyuni.
Extra memory cards for your camera
You’ll thank us later.
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