Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is over 4,000 sq miles of salt flats, making it the largest in the world. The huge salt crust extends in every direction as far as the eye can see, making a fun photo op playground for the likes of you and me. Throughout January to April, the salt flat surface is covered in a shallow film of water. That’s when the flats become truly magical, creating a rare mirror effect that’s mesmerizing to witness. Salar de Uyuni is easily one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Here’s our experience of a 3 day tour starting in San Pedro de Atacama and ending in Uyuni.

The Salt Flats | 3 Day Tour

A tour is simply the easiest way to see the flats. We booked our Uyuni salt flats tour online with Denomades. We used this company during our trip to the Atacama and they were the best value online. The cost is $129.000CLP/person ($149USD) and includes all transportation, food and accommodation. We should point out you can book this tour for cheaper direct from a tour office in San Pedro de Atacama. The going rate is between $100-110USD.

Our travel window for the Atacama/Uyuni was tight and so booking online gave us peace of mind. There are many tour operators in San Pedro de Atacama and all pretty well offer the same package. Therefore, it would be highly unlikely that any Salt Flats tour, on your preferred day, would be sold out should you choose to wait until you arrive in San Pedro to book anything.

Group sizes are six person max and the only extra cash you’ll need is for the entry ticket to the Eduardo Avaroa National Park (150Bs/$22USD pp). A little extra for toilets along the way should you need is suggested too- generally 3-6Bs ($0.40-0.80US) each visit. It’s advised to carry a 6L bottle of water per person and your own snacks, which we did- it’s hungry work being driven around all day! Part payment for the tour is taken online, with the remaining balance paid at the booking office in town. Here they run through a breakdown of extra costs, so you can make sure you’re prepared.

Tour Preview

  • 1st Day: Laguna Blanca, Laguna Verde, Salvador Dalí Desert, Polques Hot Springs, Sol de Mañana Geysers and Laguna Colorada | Start: San Pedro de Atacama accom. | Finish: Refugio Huayllagara
  • 2nd Day: Siloli Desert, Lagunas Chiarcota, Honda, Hedionda and Cañapa |Start:Refugio Huayllagara | Finish: Hotel de Sal
  • 3rd Day: Salar de Uyuni, Incahuasi and Train Cemetery | Start: Hotel de Sal | Finish: Uyuni

As set out by Denomades tour company

DAY ONE- Laguna’s, Geysers & Flamingoes

The tour minibus will pick you up from your accommodation at around 6.30 am. You will usually be given a window of time in which to be ready, so it’s pot luck whether you will be first of the group to be collected or last. Once your four new companions have joined, you’ll be driven the 30 or so minutes to the Bolivian border crossing. There can be long queues here due to the numerous tours departing at the same time. Also, Bolivia is an hour behind Chile, and so you may find some of the waiting is caused by the border office not yet being open. Be sure to wrap up warm whilst you wait, it can be chilly. We were wearing shorts and made a very swift change into trousers!

Breakfast is provided whilst you wait. The other minibuses within our same tour group come together to lay out their spread. The cheese, ham and bread are basic but more than sufficient. There was also cake, which well, why not I suppose. Help yourself to tea and coffee, including Coca leaf tea to aid with any altitude issues you may experience.

The Uyuni Salt Flats Tour Begins

Once processed through immigration you’ll be transferred from the minibus to a 4×4 Jeep. Then you’ll meet your 3 day personal guide and properly begin the tour. This is where we met Simon. A super friendly, expert 4×4 driving and ultimately very sweet Spanish speaking Bolivian man, who clearly loved his job. Luckily our basic to none existent Spanish was helped out by the Brazilian and German couple sharing the tour with us. They kindly translated all the fun facts and general information Simon had for us, including timings to be back at the car when off exploring. Muy importante.

One after the other, jeeps speed off into the desert to begin the journey to the salt flats. They follow rough tracks laid out before them, but ultimately speed along with freedom through the desolate landscape ahead. Being driven by such knowledgeable and experienced drivers means you really can just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Laguna Blanca & Laguna Verde

Day one of the Uyuni salt flats tour itinerary begins with Laguna’s Blanca & Verde. They are two large lakes that sit next to one another, separated by a thin stretch of land. Their white and green colouring is caused by the types of mineral found in each. The lakes sit at over 4,000m above sea level, and so it is not unusual to feel the effects of altitude if you have not acclimatised correctly (more on that below). Licancabur volcano sits behind the lakes, most notable for its near-perfect cone shape.

A beautiful landscape of Laguna Blanca. The two mountain peaks are perfectly reflected in the lake below. The lake is still. The sky is blue with stripes of cloud streaking across.
Mirror effect at Laguna Blanca.

Salvador Dalí Desert

Next, you’ll drive through the Salvador Dalí desert, so called because the landscape resembles that from the work of the surrealist painter- melting clocks anyone? The sand is a rough, deep brown colour. Almost like the golden sand has been lightly toasted. Laid throughout are the winding tyre tracks of the constant stream of 4x4s. Even the sky seemed as surreal as the terrain. Considering it was day time, the deep blue of the sky felt as though you were just touching the outer reaches of the atmosphere, heading into space. The fluffy clouds hung low, like that of strung up candy floss at the funfair. They cast huge shadows across the desert floor, almost so close you could reach out and take a bite. The desert is as close as you’ll get to an interactive painting by Dalí himself.

The surreal landscape of the Salvador Dali Desert, Bolivia. The sand is dark golden brown, with the treadmarks of the passing Jeeps. There are three mountain peaks in the distance. The low fluffy clouds are casting deep shadows across the desert floor. The sky beyond is deep blue.
The surreal landscape of the Salvador Dali Desert.

Polques Hot Springs

Polques Hot Springs is a welcome stop from the car journey but also a busy one on the itinerary. Given the extensive volcanic activity in this area, it’s little wonder these popular thermal pools exist. Simon informs us we have 40 minutes to enjoy the pools before we continue our journey. The speedy turnaround hardly seems worthy of the effort of getting changed, and then back again, but we commit. We know we’d regret it otherwise. It seems all tours convene here at the same time. It makes changing, especially for women, a lengthy process. And by that same token, timing your exit from the thermal pool needs to be strategic. Hence, you’ll probably have around 10 minutes relaxing in the supposed healing waters of the pool. But again, it’s worth it.

Sol de Mañana Geysers

The highest point of the whole 3 day Uyuni salt flats tour will see you reach Sol de Mañana Geysers. The geysers sit between 4800m and 5000m above sea level. Again, if you follow the advice regarding altitude, you should feel fine. The area is a hive of geothermal activity. The ground is lumpy and potholed with mud pools. They bubble and spit as visitors walk by. The ground is a rainbow of vibrant colour set against the brown peaks in the background. The obligatory sulphuric smell fills the air around the plumes of steam rising from the crevices. It’s a pretty surreal place to be, especially knowing how high above sea level you are.

A woman dressed in black stands with the Sol De Manana geyser field. Around her is a yellow terrain with patches of grey, pink, red, orange and blue. The landscape is volcanic. Beyonf her are the dark brown peaks of surrounding mountains. The sky is blue with fluffy clouds across most of it.
Sol de Mañana Geysers.

Laguna Colorada

Lastly on the day’s itinerary is Laguna Colorada. The lake is famed for its pink waters and is home to hundreds of flamingoes. There is a short circular walk to do here. It takes you up a small hillside for great views of the lake before descending back down to the lake’s edge. Here you hug the lake closely as you view the many flamingoes out catching their shrimp supper. We found it cold towards the end of the day, so wrap up.

A lone pink flamingo stands on the shore line of Laguna Colorada innear Uyuni, Bolivia. The lake is pink and reflecting the hill top in the background. The sky is predominantly cloudy with a little patch of blue sky to the right of the image.
Flamingo at Laguna Colorada.

Refugio Huayllajara

By this time you’ll be hungry for dinner and so on to Refugio Huayllajara- the accommodation for the night. The hostel is basic but perfectly adequate. There is no wifi and electricity to charge your devices is only available between 6.30-9pm. Bring your own toilet roll, hand soap and towel. Oh, and no showers at this refugio either, that luxury will have to wait. Pleasantly, the beds aren’t as basic as we were expecting. They are made up with sheets, blankets and quilt, so no need to bring that sleeping bag along. The rooms are dormitories of four or six, so be prepared to share with your new travel buddies.

Dan and I opted for vegetarian meals for the duration of the trip. This was arranged when initially booking the tour so all the catering can be organised. Not that either of us is strictly veggie. More that Dan had, in fact, done this Uyuni salt flats tour a few years earlier, with a different company, and had fallen ill with food poisoning. So this was more precautionary. However, we’re glad we did. Our meals soon became the envy of our fellow tour buddies, who were hoping to convert over to the green side. However, that is not possible. So make your decision before the tour begins. All food is carried with your driver, and so brought along for the journey. Poor Simon had to procure more eggs to satisfy the new meat-free movement.

DAY TWO- Siloli Desert & Salt Hotel

A weird and wonderful sculpture park. After a decent breakfast at the Refugio, the jeeps are reloaded with your group’s supplies and day two’s itinerary commences. First stop is the Siloli Desert. A similar landscape to the Salvador Dalí Desert awaits. It’s home to an array of weird and wonderfully shaped rocks including Arbol de Piedra (the Stone Tree). This is the star attraction. The rocks here sit abruptly on the brown sand. They should look out of place but somehow belong in this vast desert landscape. You’ll be given the chance to wander amongst the rock formations by yourselves, like meandering through a sculpture park, before rejoining the group to continue.

Arbol de Piedra, Siloli desert, Uyuni salt flats tour. The pale sand coloured rock stands tall in the flat desert landscape. It is shaped like a tree. A woman in black stands beneath it reaching one hand up to its trunk. To the right hand side of the rock tree are two smaller rocks and beyond is a misty backdrop of snow capped mountains and hills. The sky is bright but dark grey in colour.
Arbol de Piedra, Siloli desert.

More Lagunas

Lagunas Chiarcota, Honda, Hedionda and Cañapa follow, where you’ll stop for lunch. There are more flamingoes to photograph also. Around the laguna, you’ll have the opportunity to take your own short walk and explore whilst lunch is prepared. Another simple yet tasty affair.

The landscape is serene and peaceful, even with the numerous tours making their lunch stop here over the course of a couple of hours. The flamingoes are shy and so tricky to capture up close if you don’t have a camera with a good quality zoom. Still, the little speckles of pink on the lake, scattered like hundreds and thousands on the top of a cake, looks remarkable.

A wide landscape shot of a lagoon in Bolivia. There is a man stood in the lower centre of the image, by the lakes edge. Surrounding him is low lying scrub land with small green bushes. In the lake are the tiny pink dots of flamingos. At the far end of the lake are two mountains, meeting in a low trough in the middle of the picture. The sky is deep blue and cloudy.
More Flamingoes!

Look Out for the Quinoa Fields

Vibrant plants in full bloom. En route to the second nights’ accommodation, you may be lucky enough to view in the surrounding landscape quinoa fields in full bloom. Quinoa is widely produced in Bolivia and is even made to make beer. It’s worth a try- when in Rome and all that! What we find most surprising is just how beautiful the flowers are. The jaw-dropping vibrancy of yellows, reds, oranges and pinks is nothing short of breathtaking. They resemble, in autumnal shades, the ever popular lupine fields so often seen in our Instagram feed. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled as you pass through.

The second nights’ accommodation is Hotel de Sal. It is an actual salt hotel located in Colcha K. More luxurious than the previous night’s stay, you’ll have a private room and a bathroom with a hot shower; most welcome at the end of a busy couple of days. The evening meal here is also good, including wine. We were also treated to a little late afternoon arrival snack of tea/coffee and biscuits to keep us going.

SIDE NOTE: It’s important to point out spending the day touring in a jeep is not half as uncomfortable as you might expect it to be. The back is surprisingly roomy, with only day packs kept on your person. The larger luggage is carefully wrapped and stored on the roof. Although we do recommend trying to shotgun the back two seats of the jeep if you can. You’ll understand why when you’re there. And props to our guide for keeping us stocked up with lollypops!

DAY THREE- Salar de Uyuni

Day 3 and at last we reach the pinnacle of the trip- Salar de Uyuni. We visited in February, giving us a rare opportunity to view the flats as a giant mirror. This is due to a thin layer of water covering the surface and only happens at certain times of the year- during the rainy season. If you can time your visit with this time of year, then we strongly recommend you do.

Salar at Sunrise

The final day has an early start. You need to be up and packed away ready to leave at 4.30 am. If you don’t leave this early, you won’t make it to the salt flats in time for sunrise. Your sleepy head will thank you later. Sunrise at Salar de Uyuni is categorically one of the most breathtaking sites we’ve ever seen. In fact, it is by far one of the most memorable parts of our wider trip. The perfect mirror reflection on the ground, the playful ripples as you walk through the shallow water, the intensity of colour as the sun begins to rise. My word, such an experience. One we will never forget.

It’s cold out on the flats, especially waiting for the sun to fully pop up, and so we can’t recommend layers enough. Dan wore his hiking boots, smart cookie. I, on the other hand, had just my trainers. Not so smart. Being stood out in the extreme cold on a wet surface in just trainers is not a good idea. You’ll find you’re treading carefully to avoid absorbing too much moisture into your shoes. Instead, you should wear a boot or welly. That way you can jump around to your heart’s content. Which you will.

Sunrise at Sale de Uyuni. The rising sun is intense in yellow and orange colours. The dark clouds are lit up by the light and the sky fades from pale blue on the horizon line to deep blue at the top of the image. All of the sky is perfectly reflected as a mirror image on the salt flat floor. It is magical.
Salar de Uyuni at sunrise.

Incahuasi- Cactus Island

Post sunrise, the tour stops for breakfast at Incahuasi; a cactus drenched island rising from the middle of the salt expanse. We thought it was much cooler than we imagined it would be. There’s a short walk around the small island to do whilst breakfast is prepared. It leads up to a viewpoint where you’ll be able to gaze upon the enormity of the salt flats, stretching before you in every direction.

Filling the majority of the image is a tall cactus with six prongs. It sits on a dirt hill with other cacti surrounding it. Beyond is the wide, white and flat expanse of the Uyuni salt flats. The sky is light blue and there are wispy clouds across the sky.
Cacti at Incahuasi.
View through a cave window out onto the tall cacti at Incahuasi Island, Uyuni salt flats. There is a narrow gravel pathway through to a stone wall where the cacti stand beyond. In the distance is the wide expanse of the salt flats and a blue sky.
Cave lookout at Incahuasi.

After breakfast, you’ll be driven to the salt hotel in the middle of the flats. Next to the hotel, you can marvel at the flag structure, which sits proudly in the white expanse surrounding it. Then you can take the walk to the Dakar monument, home to the famous Dakar rally driving. Next up, the trick photography fun begins.

Standing within the Uyuni salt flats are a group of multi national flags on poles. They are blowing in the wind. The ground is white and the sky is sunny and blue.
Flags at the salt hotel
A woman stands next to the Dakar stone monument at Salar de Uyuni. Written in the stone is the word Dakar, and it is painted in green, yellow and red. The ground surrounding is white and the sky is bright blue.
Dakar Monument

Photo Fun at Salar de Uyuni

The iconic photoshoot. You’ve probably seen pictures of the fun perspective shots taken on the salt flats; crawling out of the Pringles tube, being chased by a giant T-Rex, standing in the palm of your partner’s hand etc. This is the place for all those shots! The tour guide is well practised in these perspective photographs and takes care of everything. We know from our experience Simon was wonderful. The only thing you need to hope for is an enthusiastic group who want to have equally as much fun with the photoshoot as you do. The more animated you can be the better, so leave your inhibitions in the jeep. It’ll be worth it, we promise.

Be sure to bring some props too, you can’t always rely on your guide to have any. We had to spend a couple of dollars on an empty Pringles tube (yes, we know!) and borrow a dinosaur from the jeep next door. Never thought I’d be saying that! As keen hikers, we managed to have a bit of fun walking the tightrope shoelaces of our giant boots. Luckily for us, our group was happy to join in this fun too.

Sat on the expanse of the white slat flat at Uyuni is two hiking boots. Five people are pictured balancing on the shoelaces connecting the two boots. A fun perspective shot. The sky is sunny and blue.
Walking the shoelace tightrope.

Next up is a quick stop at nearby town Colchani for souvenirs en masse, before lastly ending at the Uyuni train cemetery. It’s an interesting place, and worth a look around, but in all honesty, by this point, you’ll just be thinking back to the magical morning spent on the salt flats.

A man stands at the front of an abandoned and rusted train in Uyuni. The train is brown, red and yellow in colour and stretches to the back of the image to the mountains in the distance. The ground is sandy with little patches of green grass growing around the train wheels. The sky is grey and cloudy.
Train cemetery in Uyuni

Guide to Uyuni

You’ll need a good coffee- Uyuni has you covered. As we said, we didn’t find much to be going on in Uyuni, so after 3 days with no internet or decent coffee, we holed up for a few hours at The Guardian Coffee Shop (Av Ferroviaria c/Calle Sucre, Uyuni). They serve an excellent brew in true hipster comfort. It was a lovely little find that we highly recommend! The Todo Tourismo office, from where we were to continue our journey, also provides wifi, charging stations and a lounge room. Here you can help yourself to tea and coffee whilst waiting to board the bus to continue your adventures. More below under getting to/from Uyuni.

Salar de Uyuni 3 Day Tour Recap

As you can see, the three day tour is jam packed with plenty to explore. The desert landscape is so wonderful to journey through, feeling very remote and off the beaten track. The tour we booked was planned and executed extremely well, with no complaints from us on that front. Perhaps day two was where we felt the biggest drag of the whole experience, but then the start of day three turned all that around. Salar de Uyuni is up there as one of the most beautiful places in the world, and we implore you to go see it for yourselves.

Acclimatisation

Take precautions to reduce the risk of altitude sickness. Sitting at over 3,500m above sea level, the Salar de Uyuni exceeds the threshold by which most professionals believe you start to feel the effects of altitude. Put simply, altitude sickness can occur when the body has not had enough time to adjust to reduced oxygen levels in the air. This of course happens the higher above sea level you go. Age, physical fitness and gender make no difference, anyone can be affected. That said, it is always good to be mindful before booking trips in and around Uyuni, as many attractions reach heights of over 4,000m. Good practice would be to give yourself at least 48-72 hours rest upon arrival.

Luckily, if like us you’re travelling from San Pedro de Atacama, then chances are you will already have acclimatised. But always take precautions. Sip water throughout the day and do take your time when walking.

Getting to & from Uyuni

Book a tour. There are always pros and cons of organised tours. You’ll inevitably pay more to have a guide, but sometimes it just makes sense. San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni is one such occasion.

Salar de Uyuni is the world’s biggest salt flat for a reason- it’s huge! It’s near impossible to drive and navigate yourself from San Pedro de Atacama, across a desert landscape, to the salt flats; best leaving that to the experts if you ask us. To travel directly from San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni takes 10-12 hours, with an online transfer price of $40,000CLP/person ($46USD). You can potentially find this cheaper if you book directly through a tour company when in San Pedro de Atacama- Cruz del Norte run a bus that, as of Feb 2020, charges $32USD/person.

However, that is a full day taken up with travel. So why not make a whole desert adventure out of it, meet fellow travellers and see some cool things along the way. Step forward a 3 day tour. As mentioned earlier, an organised tour takes you directly from your accommodation in San Pedro, all the way to Uyuni, with everything taken care of in between, making life very straightforward.

Uyuni to La Paz

Book an overnight bus to La Paz. The tour finishes early afternoon with lunch, and then time is yours again. The salt flats are the main attraction of Uyuni, so unless you desperately need extended time to rest after the tour, we recommend booking the overnight bus the same day up to La Paz, if travelling that way. Todo Turismo (located Av.Cabrera, Uyuni) depart Uyuni at 8 pm and arrive into La Paz at 6.30 am the following morning.

We’ve had the pleasure of experiencing a few overnight buses now, and this was by far the best. We’d done a lot of research into the best way to get to La Paz from Uyuni, reading some overnight buses and other local forms of transport can often be unsafe. At $33USD/person, Todo Tourismo is the most expensive option within our budget. However, the company did come with an outstanding safety record. Sometimes you just can’t put a price on that.

Additionally, there is a hot meal for dinner and a sandwich for breakfast. A blanket and pillow are provided for the night’s rest. Although seats are not full cama, we found they reclined enough to afford sufficient comfort to be able to sleep well. Also, we’d had difficulties completing our booking online, but a simple Facebook message to Todo Tourism secured our reservation. We were able to pay, by card, once we arrived at the bus office. Great service and very easy.

Accommodation

The 3 day tour we took included all accommodation. The hostels are Refugio Huayllagara and Hotel de Sal. Refugios are of course basic, hence why they are so cheap, however, we found both these accommodation options to be comfortable and more than adequate for food and a nights rest. If you are looking for something a little more upmarket, you will find tours offering more premium accommodation. Inevitably you will be paying a lot more for this though.

Local Supplies for Salar de Uyuni 3 Day Tour

As the tour includes 3 meals a day, plus afternoon snack, you don’t need to pack much in the way of food. Aside from the 6L bottle of water per person, you can pack your own snacks to nibble on throughout the day if you need. Meal sizes are decent though so don’t worry you’ll go hungry. We’re talking a three-course spread laid out. We bought our snacks and water in San Pedro de Atacama before we left for the tour. There are numerous grocery options there. Please see our Atacama Desert post for more information. The hostel locations are near a few local shops, but stocking nothing in-depth and generally quite expensive- so buy before you leave.

Total Costs

Salar de Uyuni: 3 day/ 2 night all inclusive tour

= $129,000CLP/person ($149 USD) + a small amount for snacks and amenities

Five Travel Essentials for Salar de Uyuni

Travelling to the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is a trip to remember. Here are five of our top travel essentials to ensure you have the perfect trip. For a more comprehensive packing list, please check out the Ultimate Packing Checklist. It’s a great general summary of everything you’d need for a trip. For even more information check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. We go in-depth into what hiking and camping gear we use. There, you’ll find specific recommendations for all the products we love.

  • Travel wallet – it’s such a good idea to have a place where you can keep your important documents together and safe. South America was the first place I used a travel wallet for such a purpose and I’ve found it so useful. Especially with multiple border crossings etc, the ease of access is great.
  • The North Face TKA Glacier snap fleece jacket – like we mentioned, it’s cold. Make sure you’re equipped with the necessary gear. I love this fleece as its unbelievably warm for such a lightweight sweater. Plus, it packs down very well.
  • Nikon D3400 Digital SLR Camera – camera opportunities at every turn. Need we say more.
  • Merrell Moab 2 Mid Goretex hiking boots – it’s wet on the salt flats, you’ll be glad to be wearing a good pair of waterproof shoes. Plus, hiking boots are generally warm too.
  • Lightweight down jacket – extra insulation should you need. No brainer.

Bonus Tips

  • Uyuni for the day: If the town of Uyuni is your starting point, then it is technically possible to get yourself to the flats direct from town. However, trying to navigate the Salar is extremely difficult. Again, a tour is a much better option. You can book day tours from Uyuni to the salt flats for $25-30USD/person.
  • Currency: If travelling from San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni you will require Boliviano’s if you don’t already have them (we didn’t). There are many exchange bureaus in San Pedro where you can swap your currency. However, it proves more economical to obtain Bolivianos whilst still in Santiago, or any larger city, as there is a better exchange rate.
  • Appropriate footwear: During wet season hiking boots or wellies are essential. Cold, damp feet are not fun.
  • Travel buddies: Spending 3 days with total strangers is not as easy for some as it is for others. General rule- if someone puts headphones in, they want alone time.
  • Good practice: Of course it’s always good practice to do a quick Google search of any tour company before booking online or in-person and always check other traveller reviews.

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