It is 4am on the salt flats of the Salar de Uyuni. As the stars fade, and the first sunrays fire up from behind the horizon, you find yourself in a fantastical but featureless landscape where the eye is tricked into thinking the ground and sky are seamless. The one reflects the other, perfectly. While you shiver in the light of the Bolivian dawn, it is as if you are staring into infinity. Shivering, with more excitement to come.
Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is one of South America’s most unique attractions. A trip to Salar de Uyuni is a once in a lifetime opportunity. If you are planning to see this enchanting place yourself, here is everything you need to know about visiting the Uyuni Salt Flats.
What to Expect When Visiting the Salar de Uyuni?
With its many natural phenomena such as the colorful lagoons, hot springs and steaming geysers, the unique Uyuni ecosystem is a truly unforgettable experience.
The vast white salt flats create an endless horizon without visual reference points in the background which makes it a fantastic place to capture funny perspective photos.
On a clear night, it is worth venturing out to see the stars and take in the magical atmosphere.
You will also get to see fascinating ways in which locals use salt and other natural resources in their livelihoods.
Ultimately, Uyuni is a place not only to unwind in nature, but also to satisfy your thrill-seeking soul.
When in the Best Time to Visit the Salar de Uyuni?
The Salar de Uyuni can be visited all year round and there is no good or bad time to visit the salt flats.
In order to see more mirrored reflections on the salt flats, the optimal time to visit is the wet season from January to April. However, keep in mind that the rain makes everything more unpredictable and if heavy rainfall occurs, your itinerary might need to be adapted and some parts become inaccessible, thus some degree of flexibility is especially important during this period.
Between May and November, the climate is more stable, but June, July and August are the coldest months of the year.
But whatever the weather, you will still have a marvellous time.
What’s the Best Way to See the Salar de Uyuni?
There are so many types of tours you are spoilt for choice. The day tours always seem to feel a bit rushed. The three-day tours, that come with a 4X4 driver will guarantee you to complete everything on your bucket list and really maximise your time. They always organize pick up and drop off to your hotel and have the logistics of your trip covered, leaving you free to enjoy every minute.
The standard of accommodation depends on the tour you have purchased. Accommodation of the cheaper tours usually is extremely basic, and overnights spent in shared dorm style rooms without heating. As nights in the desert might get extremely cold (up to -20 °C / -4 °F), in our 3 Day Jeep Expedition we opt for comfortable hotels with private bathrooms, hot showers and heating.
There is nothing more satisfying than coming back to the comfy and cosy eco lodges and hotels at the end of the day, with traditionally prepared food and friendly staff. Not only is the accommodation gorgeously authentic but it also widely supports sustainable tourism and gives back to the land and the local community. The eco hotels are made with ethically-sourced materials, use organic produce and renewable energy. It is certainly not your average accommodation. Perfect for those trying to avoid generic tourism!
How to Get to the Salar de Uyuni?
The most frequent starting point for tours to the Uyuni Salt Flats is the Bolivian town of Uyuni which is part of a great triangle route that allows you to travel between Bolivia, Peru and Chile. Transportation in and out of Uyuni is straightforward.
Uyuni airport can be reached from La Paz and Santa Cruz with airline Amaszonas and Boliviana de Aviación. Bus travel is the principle form of travel in and out of Bolivia. There are a lot of very safe and comfortable bus companies that come with reclining beds ‘cama’ or reclining chairs ’semi cama’. Just be sure to hold on to your ticket when getting off any bus as they may try to charge you again.
The bus journey through the desert landscapes completely transforms you into another world, giving you a little taste of life in Bolivia. Soak up the hustle and bustle at the bus stations, watching people get on and off selling weird and wonderful foods.
Will I Get Altitude Sickness at the Salar de Uyuni?
The town of Uyuni is located at 3,700 meters / 12,139 feet above sea level and during your trip into the Salt Flats you will reach an altitude of 4,950 meters / 16,240 feet above sea level. If you are traveling directly from a low altitude destination, it does take a day or two to adjust to the altitude and it may or may not affect you.
Common symptoms of mild altitude sickness are a shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, loss of appetite and sleeping problems as well as a general loss of energy.
To avoid getting sick it is important to get a lot of rest in between excursions and drink lots of water. Uyuni has plenty of pharmacies with some English speakers, that provide great remedies should you feel unwell. Also make sure to select a tour company that carries oxygen supplies to help anyone struggling with the change in altitudes.
What to Pack for Your Tour to the Salar de Uyuni?
It is recommended to bring a lot of layers as temperatures drastically change between day and night.
During the day, be sure to bring a hat, sunglasses and wear sunscreen that protects you from the high UV radiation. Nights are very cold, and temperatures often fall below freezing. Occasionally in the winter months, temperatures can drop to -20 °C/ 4 °F, so don’t forget to bring warm clothes just in case.
If your trip includes a visit to the hot springs, bring your swimsuit and if visiting during the rainy season bring some waterproof shoes or flip flops as well as a rain jacket.
By Anna Milligan