Dry and desolate deserts cover the southwestern corner of Bolivia. At first glance, it may seem like a vast stretch of nothingness. But this area is home to some of the most unique and beautiful views we have seen. In fact, people flock to this area of the country to see the amazing landscape. The Salar de Uyuni tour was definitely one of our most memorable excursions during our year in South America.
There are many tour options in Uyuni, San Pedro de Atacama, and other cities that border the salt flats. We spent an afternoon walking around Uyuni and researching in order to find an optimal company to go with. We opted for a three-day, two-night tour ending in San Pedro de Atacama. For more information on finding a Salar de Uyuni tour, click here!
Day 1: Salar de Uyuni & Cementerio de Trenes
On the day of our tour, we checked out of our hostel and arrived at our tour company’s office. Once our guide and everybody in our group had arrived, we made introductions and packed up the Land Cruiser. Our group consisted of a couple girls from Japan, a guy from France, and a guy from Finland, which made the trip really fun. We all piled in the car and took off to the train cemetery that sits just outside the dusty city of Uyuni.
Climbing around on the battered, rusty shells of trains was awesome, and we were lucky to get there before many other groups arrived. The next stop was a small village out towards the salt flats. Our guide took us through a small shop where we learned about the harvesting and production of the salt. Afterwards, we had some time to wander the stalls to pick up any handmade goods that caught our eye. We didn’t pick up any souvenirs, but we did try a beer made with Bolivian cacti. It was really tasty and refreshing!
After some time in the village, we drove into the vast expanse of Salar de Uyuni, leaving the city behind. We made a few stops before lunch, learning about the world’s largest salt flat. The sun was blaring due to the strong reflection off the white surface of the flats. Despite the sun, it was still slightly chilly due to the high elevation.
Lunch was way better than we expected because we had read many bad reviews of various tours providing some iffy food options. But, we enjoyed salad, potatoes, quinoa, bananas, steak strips, sausage, and a beverage with our group in the middle of the salt flats.
Full, but ready for more adventure, we drove back out into the flats. This is where all the props came out of the car so we could take the famous, goofy perspective photos.
The Land Cruiser drove deeper and deeper into the flats until we hit water. We were really happy to be in Uyuni at the end of the rainy season in March so that we could experience the mirror effect on the flats. All of us changed into sandals and admired the giant mirror before us. Don’t go barefoot because the salt is actually pretty sharp!
The sun began to set and we drove to our hotel in a small town for the night. Our hostel was made almost completely from salt! This night, we had our own private room, but other single travelers shared a room. There was no heat in the hotel, so we were glad to have had warm layers for sleeping. We shared a delicious local dinner with our tour group before heading to bed fairly early for the next day. Note that if you want to take a warm shower, it costs a bit.
Day 2: Lagunas, Arbol de Piedra, Sol de Mañana, Hot Springs, & More Desert Landscape
We woke up at dawn and headed back into the desert after a filling breakfast. At such a high altitude, the nights get pretty cold, so we welcomed the sun’s warmth happily. The landscape kept us all captivated as we passed through quinoa fields and by volcanoes. Mid-morning, we made it to the first laguna. We strolled around the water’s edge, admiring the beautiful reflection on the surface and watching the flamingos as they warily eyed us.
Our group stopped by more lakes, taking a break to eat lunch at the third. We perched ourselves on a rock to enjoy our meal and take in the views. A flock of flamingos fed in the shallow, blue water, and a herd of vicuñas wandered across the orange earth in the distance.
After a satisfying lunch of chicken, pasta salad, veggies, and fruit, we all piled into the car, excited to see the Arbol de Piedra. First, we stopped at a small building to use the restrooms and pay the park entrance fee. It was a couple hundred Bolivianos per person.
From there, we sped into the desert. A field of large boulders sat in the middle of the sandy landscape. Each has been weathered into unique shapes since a violent volcanic eruption launched them to their current place. The most unique formation was the rock tree, and it was way larger than what we imagined.
The next attraction on the list was Laguna Colorada. We were all in awe as we pulled up to the lake. The water was a vibrant red with blue and white streaks running through it. Hundreds of flamingos went about their business as wind whipped across the water.
Our guide gave us some time at the lake before we moved on. The sun dropped lower in the sky. We were all tired from the day’s adventure, so we dozed off in the car, waking up at our next stop: Sol de Mañana. The steam exiting the geysers glowed in the afternoon sun. It was chilly outside, but the heat coming out of the ground kept us warm. Be careful when wandering around the edges of the bubbling pools. A few years ago, a couple tourists died after falling into the scalding liquid while taking a selfie.
Our group arrived at our hostel for the night and put our stuff down in the shared dorm room. The view was amazing as we watched it change from sunlit hills to starry skies while the sun disappeared below the horizon. We had another delicious dinner with our group and shared some wine. The stars were amazing, so we made the trek in the cold in our swimsuits to go to the hot springs. It was so relaxing to sit in the hot water while watching lightning in the distance.
Day 3: Salvador Dali Desert, More Lagunas, and Crossing to Chile
I woke up early to watch the sunrise and took some photos. We all ate breakfast, and some members of our group went to the hot springs for a morning dip. The first stop on the last day was the Salvador Dali Desert. This area gets its name from its surreal appearance. It really looked like Mars (or at least what we imagine it would look like). There were no plants and the sand was a vibrant orange in the morning sun.
As we came to our last stop before entering Chile, we all felt a little sad that the Salar de Uyuni tour was ending. However, we were excited for Chile and ready for a shower. We took a few photos at the lake we were parked at and headed a short ways towards border patrol. Here, we exited Bolivia and crossed into Chile on a shuttle with some of our group. One member of our group headed back to Uyuni in the Land Cruiser with our guide. Crossing into Chile was fairly simple. The bus dropped us off in San Pedro de Atacama after a 45 minute drive through the desert.
From the bus stop, we wearily carried our packs to our hostel. Despite being tired, we were incredibly happy and still excited with how the trip went.
Things to Keep in Mind for the Salar de Uyuni Tour
The Uyuni tour was an incredible highlight for us, and it is very important to come prepared. No matter the time of year, it can get freezing during the night while being warmer during the day. Pack layers for both adventure and sleeping. There is also no shade while outside for the whole duration of the excursion, so bring sunscreen and/or a hat.
If coming from low altitude, it is best to take a day or two to acclimate in La Paz, Uyuni, or other high-altitude location before setting out on the tour. Before embarking on the tour and during the tour, be sure to drink plenty of water.
Keep in mind, that this is not a luxury tour. Some of the people we heard complaining probably didn’t do their research. There are no luxury hotels, and you may have to sleep in a dorm room with the rest of your tour group. The meals were great on our tour, but there is not an extensive menu that you can pick from. So if you have any dietary restrictions, bring things that you can eat or inquire about options beforehand. Come in with an open mind and reasonable expectations.
That being said, it is so important to do your research to make sure you go with a company that ensures that the trip goes smoothly. There are many options in regards to time of year, duration, and other details. For more information on picking a Salar de Uyuni Tour, click here.
The whole area is incredibly picturesque and unique, so if you are planning on taking pictures, bring extra batteries or charging packs for your phone or camera because there may not be anywhere to charge your device for the duration of your tour.