Bolivia’s Salt Flats – 3 day tour
Seeing the salt flats in Bolivia (Salar de Uyuni) was a top highlight of my trip around South America. I went on a 3 day tour from Uyuni to experience the salt flats, not realising there is so much more to see. The landscape in this area is empty, dramatic and unbelievably beautiful.
How to get to & from Uyuni
Buses are a cheap and easy way to get around Bolivia. I’d travelled by bus during the day from Sucre with a change in Potosi. Then took a night bus to La Paz after the tour. There are different bus companies and it’s worth looking for the company with comfortable looking buses – it makes a difference. There are plenty of options to pick from when leaving Uyuni. I was terrible at speaking Spanish but was able to figure out how to take the bus. Consider booking the bus before starting the salt flat tour.
Picking a Tour in Uyuni
Uyuni is the main town for getting to the salt flats. It’s a small town with nothing particularly exciting to do. There is a road with all the main tours next to each other. I’d read beforehand about 4×4’s breaking down on tours and finding companies with good cars. But all the tours were much the same, except for Red Planet which was a lot more expensive and went a different route.
The tour I picked ended up moving me to another tour company anyway! I was being very cautious with my money by this point of my trip. The company said it would be an extra charge to have an english speaking driver. When I found out the other passengers were from english speaking countries, I decided to chance it and see if I got lucky with the driver because of the other passengers. But when I arrived early the next morning, I had been shifted to another car, where everyone was from Chile or Barcelona and only one person spoke a little English.
After my initial ‘what have I done’ thoughts, I ended up really enjoying myself. The others in the car were extremely friendly and went out of their way to make me feel part of the group. It was fun trying to understand each other. Because I was travelling on my own, I was put in the front passenger seat, and found that no-one would swap with me. It became a joke with the driver saying I was his girl.
- I spent 2 nights in Uyuni before the tour started at the crack of dawn, but really only needed to spend 1 night. If I’d arrived earlier with time to organise the salt flat tour and bus to La Paz, it would have been enough time to spend in the town.
- I organised to leave my bags at my accommodation, and had a shower when I got back from the tour, then jumped straight onto the night bus.
- All the tour companies were on one road.
- It costs extra for an english speaking driver.
- It’s worth considering what props you want for the salt flat photos. I found a toy dinosaur in Uyuni, but there wasn’t much choice.
- You can only bring a small bag with you on the tour. My camera took up most of the room.
What is the tour like?
I found most of the tours took the same route, but when you were on the salt flat, everyone spread out. Sometimes the area is covered with water and the reflections are beautiful. I felt very lucky with my visit in March, where there were both dry and wet areas.
Tips for taking photos
- Check your camera settings! I had set my camera to auto and ended up with a lot of pictures where the camera automatically changed the depth of field and I became blurry. And I didn’t realise until I was back.
- Your camera will sit on the salt, which is not good for the metal. Have something to put it on. And consider bringing wet-wipes and your cleaning kit, as the salt got everywhere and my camera wasn’t the same afterwards.
- Spend time looking at other peoples photos for inspiration and bring some small props.
- If you are travelling on your own, don’t assume the driver is a great photographer.
What else is there
I was completely surprised after the first day as there is so much more than just the salt flats to see. We only spent one day at the salt flats and the rest seeing beautiful lakes, strange land formations, animals and enjoying the geothermal activity.
- Train cemetery. Where there are lots of old rusting trains and we had time for a few quick photos.
- Piles of drying salt. There is a big salt production industry and apparently there is also a lot of Lithium in the area too.
- Cactus Island. Also know as Isla Incahuasi, it is a random island in the middle of the huge expanse of flat white land. We were given plenty of time to hike to the top. I was told the cactus’s are extremely old and were planted there as sustenance for weary travellers walking across the flats.
- A collection of world flags. Very striking against the flat white landscape.
- Buildings made of salt bricks. Our accommodation was built with salt bricks with people from other cars staying at the same place.
- Flamingos, Vicunas and Llamas. A great surprise, as I hadn’t realised we would get to see wild animals.
- Red lakes. Yes, there is actually a red lake called Laguna Colorada and plenty of other stunning lakes and crazy earth structures in the area.
- Geothermal activity. Another complete surprise. There is a section with impressive geysers, steam and bubbling mud.
- Hot pool. On the last day, we enjoyed a hot pool. It’s set outside with views over the landscape and the odd flamingo dotted around.
Experiencing the Bolivian salt flats is a must if you are travelling around South America. I would say it’s in my top 5. South America is a huge country and my four months still felt rushed.
Have you been to the salt flats or want to go? Are there any tips you would add?