The Uyuni salt flat is the largest salt mine in the world. Located at 3,660 meters above sea level, its 11,000 km2 house huge amounts of salt. In the dry season, you can contemplate the immensity of the salt in a clear way, even losing the perspective of the size of any element. On the other hand, during the rainy season, a mirror effect is produced on its surface, reflecting the mountains and the sky with incredible clarity.
Here you will not only enjoy the impressive views of this immense salt mine, but you will experience a adventure in the Andean highlands. You will also see lagoons of bright colors hidden among the mountains, you will see geysers spitting hot water and steam, you will go through a train cemetery, …
This destination is, without a doubt, the main attraction of Bolivia and one of the most important in South America.
1. When is the best time to visit the Uyuni salt flat?
Between January and February is the rainy season. It is not the most appropriate to go over the salt flat, but it is when the mirror effect occurs because of the accumulated water of the rain.
However, between June and September the climate is dry, although it is colder because it is southern winter. In these months you can tour the highlands without rainfall. Of course, wrap up well because the temperature at night will drop 0 ° C.
2. How much time is necessary to visit the Uyuni salt flat?
If you are going to see only the Salar and the nearby places, with 2 days it is enough. However, you would lose places further away that are also interesting (especially after traveling to a place as isolated as the Uyuni salt flat).
Our recommendation is that you make the trip to Uyuni from San Pedro de Atacama (Chile). In this way, you will see several interesting places during the trip to Uyuni: altiplano lagoons, geysers, volcanoes, llamas, … These 4×4 tours usually last about 3-4 days.
3. How to get to the Uyuni salt flat?
There are several options to get there until here, depending on the trip you are doing:
- From La Paz city. From the capital of Bolivia you have 2 options to get to Uyuni:
- By plane: It is the most direct option. You have 40 minutes of flight to Uyuni airport.
- By road: Uyuni is 540 km away (about 7:30 hours).
- From San Pedro de Atacama (Chile). There is no direct road to cross to Uyuni from San Pedro de Atacama (only from Calama), so you will have to hire one of the agencies that make the tour in 4×4. The experience is awesome, because on the way you will live an adventure in 4×4 and you will see very interesting places.
- From Lake Titicaca (Perú). Uyuni is quite far, about 760 km, but if you are traveling through Peru, and you like the destination of the Uyuni salt flat, it can also be an option (we did it in one of our trips through southern Peru).
As you see, it depends a lot on the route you are doing. Our recommendation, by proximity and places of interest, is that you also see the Atacama desert on the same trip.
4. Where to stay in the Uyuni salt flat?
In Uyuni, which is the nearest town to the salt flat, there is a variety of accommodation. You can choose from hostels for backpackers, to luxury hotels, through medium-priced options and ecological accommodations.
5. How to move around the Uyuni salt flat?
The most simple and recommendable is that you hire a local agency to move. This way they will take you to the main places and they will explain all the history of this place.
In the event that you come from San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), the 4×4 tour includes both the visits to the Salar de Uyuni and the stops at the places of interest in the road: highland lagoons, geysers, hot springs, etc …
You can also go through it in an adventure plan. We met a Spaniard who was traveling this part of Bolivia by bicycle. Of course, for this, you should like the adventure very much and be very well prepared physically and mentally.
6. Altitude sickness
The population of Uyuni is at a high altitude (3,660 meters above sea level), so it is quite likely that you will feel the discomfort of altitude sickness. To avoid them, or minimize them, do not make sudden efforts, drink coca tea and, if you have a headache, take paracetamol.
In the event that you visit higher places, such as the Geysers Sol de Mañana (4,820 meters above sea level), we recommend that you take paracetamol since the ascent is not very progressive and it will surely hurt your head. In case you feel bad enough, talk with the tour guide to descend as much as possible until your body reacts.
We bought coca leaves in Uyuni and we chewed them along the way, as do the people who live at high altitudes in the Andes. The truth is that it did work and we felt something better.
7. Playing with perspective in the Uyuni salt flat
The salt flat is so wide, without any obstacles on the horizon, that it produces a loss of perspective. This optical effect causes the objects to lose their size reference, being able to obtain some very funny photographs …
There are people who carry even small dolls to make very funny pictures. So let your imagination fly and get a unique memory of this place.
8. Conditions of the agencies
When hiring a service from an agency you should check very well what is included and what is not. We were lucky, but our acquaintances had problems. There are agencies that are not very formal and try to cheat you in several ways:
- Compare prices and places included in the visit While most agencies offer the same options, there may be variations in prices and options included. Check carefully what foods are included, the places that are going to visit and the time in each of them, etc…
- Quality of the hotels: Confirm well with the agency in which hotels will accommodate you. There are times that they indicate a hotel of good quality and at the last minute they change it for another worse one.
- Informal guides: In some hotels there are people who offer to take you on tour for a lower price than the rest of the agencies. That is not usually the case. What’s more, you can be scammed with a mediocre visit to non-tourist places. We do not recommend it in any case.
- Hotel made in salt: In some agency packages they offer you the option of sleeping in the hotel of salt, paying a surcharge for being something different. The problem is that it is not possible if it has rained, so they include a clause in the contract stating that, if this happens, they will take you to a good quality hotel in Uyuni. The problem is that they sell you this option knowing that it is not possible to sleep there and then they take you to a cheap hotel.
- Breakfast in hotels: Check the breakfast times well with hotel managers. In some, they have a sign that indicates the schedule but then they do not. Finish before indicated and you lose breakfast.
- Light and hot water in the salt flat housing: The hostels outside Uyuni have light by an electric generator or solar panels, so there is no light or hot water all day, only at certain times. Check with the people in charge of the hostel the schedules, since they usually do not comply with it.
9. What places of interest are there in the Uyuni salt flat?
- UYUNI SALT FLAT. 11,000 km2 of flat and white surface. It is only interrupted by several “islands” inside. In the rainy season you can see the mountains and the sky reflected on its surface …
- INCAHUASI ISLAND. Mountain that stands out within the Uyuni salt flat. Here you will find a tourist reception center and a restaurant. It is the typical place where the tours stop to tour the island and have lunch.
- FISH ISLAND. Named for its fish shape, it is the largest “island” of the salt flat. Unlike the Incahuasi island, there is no tourist reception center here. You can cross it, respecting the place, and contemplate its huge cactus. If you can, visit it at sunset. At that moment you will lose the perspective of the plain and believe that you are on an authentic island in the sea.
- HOTEL MADE IN SALT. Accommodation built entirely by blocks of salt. Depending on the package contracted with the agency you can visit it, have to breakfast and even sleep there.
- MONUMENT TO THE FLAGS. Salt mound with flags from many parts of the world. It is located next to the salt hotel.
- SALTWORKS. Work zone where several companies obtain salt for industrial and consumer purposes.
- UYUNI CITY. A population of 30,000 inhabitants located very close to the salt. Although it has been modernized by tourism, you can still see the traditional way of life of the Andean communities. In addition to the markets of fruit and groceries in general, there are artisan markets where you can buy typical souvenirs: chullos (Andean cap), ponchos, scarves, …
- CEMETERY OF TRAINS. Here rest trains and wagons of the XIXth century that were used in the transport of minerals. Over time they stopped being used and were stored here, where only rusty remains of a past splendor remain.
… and, in the dry season, impressive views of an extensive flat…
10. Other places of interest close to the Uyuni salt flat?
In addition to the places that we showed you previously, if you arrive at the Uyuni salt flat from San Pedro de Atacama, in Chile, you can see the following natural wonders:
- HIGHLAND LAGOONS. Located at high altitude, more than 4,200 meters above sea level, they stand out for their color and for being home to thousands of flamingoes. The main lagoons are La Colorada and La Verde.
- STONE TREE. Rock sculpted by the wind in the area in the form of a tree. It is on the way between San Pedro de Atacama and Uyuni.
- GEYSERS AND FUMAROLES OF SOL DE MAÑANA. They are the geysers located at the highest height in the world (4,820 meters above sea level). It is quite a spectacle to see how they expel water and steam to the surface, the bubbles that come out of the silt, the smell of sulfur …
- POLQUES HOT SPRINGS. Natural hot springs overlooking an unbeatable landscape. After a long journey in 4×4, and the cold of the place, it is the best option to relax.
We hope you liked it. Also, if you want to know more, we show you our experience on this trip.
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Kiss and hugs.