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Reflections at Salar de Uyuni

1 day in the largest salt flat on Earth: Salar de Uyuni

If you are planning an extensive trip around South America, chances are you are including Salar de Uyuni in your itinerary. The largest salt flat in the world, located in Bolivia, is indeed pretty spectacular and shouldn’t be missed, particularly if you are into nature and adventure related activities.

But how to go about organizing a trip to the salar? Adventure companies tend to promote 3 and 4 day packages that include not only the salt flat per se but also the areas around it. But what if you don’t have that many days or do not wish to spend 4 days out of your traveling time just around this one location? Would you be missing out? Well, it depends!..

A&Z at Salar de Uyuni

A&Z at Salar de Uyuni

 

If you are traveling around the south of Bolivia but also plan to visit the north of Chile (or you’re actually coming from there itself, like many do!), then 1 day in Uyuni is more than enough to see and enjoy what this place is all about. The 4 day jeep tours are not for everyone: the accommodation you’ll find along the way is basic, it can get cold during certain times of the year, and you never know if you’re going to appreciate your driver’s skills (I’ve read way too many horror stories). Apart from this, the Atacama desert in Chile and the areas around Uyuni share a lot of similarities, making it redundant to visit both in a row, unless this is your thing and nothing else is! If you plan to visit the Atacama or come from there, you’ll already see plenty of lagoons, flamingos, geysers and gorgeous landscapes, not so distinct from those included in the places that 3 or 4 day tours around Uyuni will take you to.

Am I discouraging anyone from staying longer in Uyuni? NO. But if you need to save time or you’re looking for a variety  of experiences and if you have already visited Atacama in Chile, then you can head straight for the main thing about the Uyuni tours: the salt flats.

Salar de Uyuni is best visited with someone who knows what he/she is going. You could eventually drive around yourself, yes, but everything looks forever white, so how is one supposed to “stay on track”? Because there is no track! There are more than enough tour companies and drivers in town to choose from, so shop around before you book your day tour, as the prices tend to vary a lot! Whatever you do, do not book with your hotel, because the price will obviously have a mark up, and sometimes quite a generous one (for the hotel, that is…). Just to give you one example, inside the same vehicle we used for our day tour, there were travelers who had booked the trip from 3 different companies. Everyone was paying a different price, ranging between USD20 and USD60 per person! Talk about ridiculous margins…

Incredibly white landscapes

Incredibly white landscapes

 

Usually, a day trip around Salar de Uyuni includes

the following on the route:

 

- Train cemetery. If you stay near-by the salar like we did, as opposed to in town, you will not be picked-up for this – at least we didn’t!

- Colchani: enter the salt flat and see how people work collecting salt:

Collection of salt at the entrance of the salt flat

Collection of salt at the entrance of the salt flat

 

- The first hotel made of salt (right now a museum / stop point for travelers), which is cool, but not necessarily more interesting than any other salt hotel that came afterwards:

The original salt hotel

The original salt hotel

International flags giving coloring the area around the salt hotel

International flags coloring the area around the salt hotel

 

- Inca Huasi: a rocky island that stands out in the middle of a sea of white, with impressive old gigantic cacti and gorgeous views from the top:

View from atop Inca Huasi

View from atop Inca Huasi

Massive ancient cacti

Massive ancient cacti

 

Tunupa Volcano and its picturesque surroundings with lagoons, flamingos and even llamas and alpacas lounging around:

Tunupa Volcano - such earth colors, it almost looks like it's been painted!

Tunupa Volcano – such earthy colors, it almost looks like it's been painted!

Bolivian flamingos fishing mini prawns

Bolivian flamingos fishing mini prawns

"Hey you, stop eating alpaca steaks!"

"Hey you, stop eating alpaca steaks!"

 

- Ojos del Salar (aka Eyes of Water), where bubbling water comes to the surface breaking the crust of salt.

 

You can do in all of the above in 1 day at Salar de Uyuni…

… and still at a leisurely pace!

 

If you do not wish to spend several days driving around but think a day trip is also way too short to enjoy this unique place, then staying at a hotel made of salt right next to the salar is a good option too – and that’s just what we did! That way, you can spend a day driving inside the salar and some more time close by, from where it’s easy to go for walks or biking in and around the salt flat. And of course, you get to enjoy a hotel made of salt, which is an attraction on its own!

Ashray enjoying a salty stay at Luna Salada hotel

Ashray enjoying a salty stay at Luna Salada hotel

 

Do keep in mind that the “mirror effect” that you might have seen in popular Uyuni photos doesn’t always happen. Only under optimal conditions you”ll be able to see the sky reflected on the floor, giving the sensation that there is sky both above and under yourself. This is more likely to happen when there has been a little bit of rainfall but not too much either, because in that case accessing the muddy salar can be tricky and the mirror effect would be replaced by a messy effect.

Walking in Salar de Uyuni towards sunset

Walking in Salar de Uyuni towards sunset

 

Whatever number of days you stay around, Salar de Uyuni is very likely to give you an “out of this world” feel. The landscape looks like out of a movie – just the kind of thing photography lovers dig!

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11 Comments

  • Deepa J Says

    That’s cool. I am working out a 6-month South America trip soon. One quick question, did you get Bolivia visa on the road? I am on the infamous Indian passport as well but live in DC.

    I will be going to Bolivia from Brazil.

    • Zara Says

      Saw your comment on the article about Bolivian Visa for Indians – glad you got the info you needed!
      Don’t ever let that “infamous passport” stop you! ;)

      • Deepa J Says

        Thanks Zara. Been to a good 30 countries with that passport and I am sure we are inching forward and paving the way for the rest of 1.3 Billion :)

        Kudos to you both and a happy married life.

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  • Sibs Says

    I’m currently in San Pedro now and really eager to visit the Uyuni salt flats but the itinerary of the 4 days tour is really in attractive to me. Like you said, I have already seen a lot of lagoons, flamingos and geysers and I Only wanna go to uyuni for one reason – the worlds largest salt flats. Do you terribly mind sharing your transportation method from San pedro to uyuni? I’m looking into buses now but seems they only have it two days a week and doesn’t fit my schedule. Many thanks!

    • Ashray Says

      Hi Sibs! Awesome! San Pedro is such a beautiful place. I bet you’re enjoying staring at the stars! We didn’t actually go to Uyuni from San Pedro. Our plans took us to Peru and then Bolivia on a much later date. We ended up taking the train from La Paz to Uyuni (a beautiful journey by the way)!

      Since you’re not into the tour, bus would still be your best option to get to Uyuni. You might be able to go to Calama and get a bus across to Uyuni as well but I’d suggest you check into that online first.

  • helena Says

    Hi,
    would you recall what company did you do the tour with?
    thank you

    • Zara Says

      Hi Helena,
      We didn’t use a tour company as such. We book the trip with our hotel (Luna Salada) and they booked us into a 4×4 with a driver. Inside the car, there were people from 3 different companies! Basically, there are appointed drivers that do this type of day trip and different tour agencies book people until the cars are full.. but everyone is mixed. It’s not like the driver explains anything as such, it’s not really a “guided” trip in the traditional sense. He takes you to the hot spots and feeds you lunch and you roam around as you wish! For day trips, there is probably not a lot of difference between companies.. but for longer trips you’ve gotta be more selective. I have read HORROR stories from careless drivers in Uyuni.. have fun! :)

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