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Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia: The Desert Where Magic Happens

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Uyuni is a tiny place in Bolivia, small town that doesn't offer much, but what's amazing is the salt flats around it. Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia are literally the biggest salt flats in the world. They are so big that they can be seen in Google Maps even if you zoom all the way out (yes, we have tried).

You will discover that there's actually much more than just salt in here, and you can easily have one the best experiences ever. Let's start!

What are the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia?

Technically, Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia are a salt desert, formed by 10,582 square meters of salt (4,085 square feet) with an elevation of 3,650 meters above sea level. It is also the largest lithium reserve in the world (50-70% of the world's lithium).

Local craftsmen produce around 5,000 kg of salt every single day (around 25,000 tons of salt). You can imagine how many meals they are responsible for seasoning worldwide. Believe it or not, this doesn't affect the size of the salt flats at all; on contrary, it is in constant expansion, actually putting the town of Uyuni in danger.

Where are Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia

The Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia are so big that you can see them when zoomed out on Google Maps.

This place is magical

One of the reasons why we consider this place to be magical is because of the rain. When rain falls here, a thin layer of water on top of the salt creates a mirror-effect against the sky, and the line between land and the sky disappears, making you feel like you're in heaven.

You can visit this place by taking many different tours. The most common ones are the 1 and the 3 days tours. One will take you around the salt flats while the other will offer much more than just salt. We will show you both so that you can choose accordingly to your time & budget.

Getting to the Start of Uyuni Salt Flat Tours

To start your tour, you'll either have to go to San Pedro de Atacama, or to the town of Uyuni. The closest airport to Uyuni is Uyuni Airport, which has direct flights from La Paz. You can also take a bus from La Paz, Sucre, or other towns in Bolivia.

If you are starting from San Pedro de Atacama, there is also an airport there that has direct flights from Concepcion, La Sarena, and Santiago.

If you'd like to visit Uyuni by bus, here are a few options:

La Paz to Uyuni

Cochabamba to Uyuni

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The 1-day Tour to Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia

If you are short on time, money, or just want to see the main highlight by itself, we recommend you to do this tour. It covers the essentials and gives you a good peek at this natural beauty.

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Train Cemetery

You will leave on a van with other people around 10:30 am. The first stop will be Train Cemetery, 3 km away from Uyuni. Here you will have around 30 to 45 minutes to walk around.

In the late XIX century, there was a big purchase of trains to transport minerals around Bolivia. The goal was to export them to Europe. Unfortunately, this deal didn't work as planned so the trains became an abandoned and rusty, but interesting attraction.

Uyuni Train Cemetary

The first stop of every Uyuni tour starts with an area of abandoned trains.

Colchani, the Salt Producing Village

After this, you will stop in a little town called Colchani; where salt is mass produced and refined. You will learn the process through which salt is extracted, processed and packed to be sold. You will be able to purchase nice salt souvenirs to take home.

Colchani Uyuni

Colchani salt factory is where you can get your souvenirs.

Hotel de Sal

Once you're done in Colchani, you will reach the main point of the tour: Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia. The van will drive into it and take you to a hotel made out of salt called Hotel de Sal. Nearby there is a big Dakar sign (since Uyuni has welcomed Dakar competitors for the first time in 2014).

Enjoy a walk inside this incredible place before lunch. Some tours will eat inside, while most of them will actually bring the food in the van. A table will be set outside with meat, veggies and drinks for the group.

Uyuni Salt Hotel

The Uyuni Salt Hotel is where everyone will stop for lunch.

Picture Opportunities

After lunch, you will be given the opportunity to take pictures of the main salt flat area. You will see many people doing fun photos and getting really creative with it. It's interesting because the salt looks almost like snow, and due to it extending extremely far, and staying on a flat surface, you can create all types of optiocal illusions.

Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia- photo opps

There are so many fun photo opportunities to play around with at the Uyuni Salt flats in Bolivia.

Incahuasi island

After the pictures at the salt flats, you will visit Incahuasi Island (as crazy as it sounds). This place is the home of an infinity of giant cacti (10 meters/30 feet tall). There's a entrance fee if you want to walk inside the island, but it's not mandatory. So if you just want to wander around it's perfectly fine.

Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia
Incahanusi, Bolivia

Incahanusi is a large island made of cacti found in the middle of the salt flats.

Oh, Heaven is a Place on Earth

Before the tour finishes, and only if it has rained, you will have a chance of visiting an area of the salt flats where there's a thin layer of water. This way, you will be able to appreciate what we mentioned before. where there is the illusion of the land merging into the sky, and you will feel like you're in heaven.

Finally, you will return to Uyuni around 6 pm. This will end a memorable experience on the biggest piece of salt in the whole world. 

Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia- bucket list item

When it rains it appears that you can walk on water.

The 3-day Tour to Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia

The 3-day tour is meant for someone who isn't in a rush or that wants to experience something a little deeper than the salt flats alone. You may be thinking "am I really going to see salt for 3 full days?" and the answer is no.

This tour's main difference is that you will also visit different lagoons, hot springs and landscapes around the salt flats. The first day is very similar to the other tour, but the rest of it is completely different. Actually, to be more precise, you won't see salt after day 1.

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Day 1

As mentioned above, day 1 will start in the same way as the 1-day tour. You will see the train cemetery, Colchani village and Hotel de Sal. You will also have lunch next to it, and will have enough time to take all proper photos.

Before the sun sets you will start a long ride through the flats to get into Hostal Cachiwasi. The sunset is a breathtaking experience, so if your driver is cool enough, ask him to stop the van. This way you can take pictures along the way or even get out of the van and enjoy the view.

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Hostal Cachiwasi is a nice place, with walls also made with salt, but be aware that there might not be hot water or even electricity, as sometimes power goes off and the hotel is literally in the middle of nowhere. It's understandable, so be patient. You will also have dinner here with your whole group.

Salt hostel Uyuni Salt Flats

The entire hostel is made of salt!

Day 2

After breakfast, you will make a stop at the Ollague Volcano viewpoint, an active volcano whose height is 5,868 meters. The Ollague Volcano has a crater of 1,250 meters in diameter, which has been eroded in the southern part, and reveals traces of lava.

Let us make a comment about this, because it sounds way cooler than it is; the truth is that you'll see the volcano from, FAR. You won't notice any difference between the volcano and a mountain so, unless you bring binoculars, this won't be a fascinating moment (sorry to burst your bubble, but we want you to be as informed as possible).

You will go back to the van and will then visit the minor lagoons Cañapa and Hedionda. These lagoons have populations of pink flamingos that share the space with other Andean birds. Although they are a little far from the shore, you can still appreciate them from a proper distance, and this is also where you will have lunch.

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Continuing your journey, you will pass by Siloli Desert, the highest and driest desert in the world. With it being 4,550 meters above sea level, you don't want to go for a run here because you will run out of oxygen fast. The famous "stone tree" can be found here, and this huge rock is unique because it resembles a tree.

Finally, you will have dinner and sleep in Huayllajara camp. This location is pretty basic in terms of what it offers. You will be put in a 6 person room, with shared bathrooms. Showers are for an extra charge. The main thing to remember about this place is that it gets REALLY COLD at night, so make sure you bring a warm jacket with you.

Day 3

As Scar from The Lion King would say..."be prepared" (Big Lion King fan here, sorry not sorry). Your day will start at 4:30 am, after breakfast, Depending on the agency you take the tour with, you may go to the Colorada Lagoon view point first. The red coloration of its waters is due to the sediments and pigments of some types of algae.

Laguna Colorada, Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia

Laguna Colorada has a red tint to it.

After Laguna Colorada, (or if your tour doesn't include this) you will head to Sol de Mañana, a volcanic area where you will see geysers. This experience is another magical moment in your tour, because you will literally watch the sunrise through the natural gases. The geysers will be at their greatest activity, so we recommend observing them at a safe distance.

Geisers Sol de la Manana, Uyuni

The last day is a very early wake up to enjoy the steamy geisers.

Once the sun is up and shining, the van will take you to the Polques hot springs for a relaxing morning bath. They have a few pools available for the public, and they are literally on the side of the road so in a matter of minutes you can be having a nice hot bath (you can have your bathing suit already under your clothes to save time and from the cold).

hot springs Uyuni excursion
Hot springs Uyuni tour
Hot Springs, Uyuni excursion

The hot springs are the last stop before the group splits.

Finishing the Tour of Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia

This is where the group gets divided between the ones that will go back to Uyuni and the ones that will go to San Pedro de Atacama (Chile). Both groups will do the same activity, but the ones going to Atacama will have to leave earlier because they will have to catch a charter bus at the Chilean border.

Whatever your case is, you will stop at Salvador Dalí desert (it has its name because Dalí got his inspiration for his paintings here) and the Green Lagoon.

The Green Lagoon is located at the foot of the Licancabur volcano (5,868 meters above sea level). The intensity of the green color of the lagoon water depends on the wind of the area. If there's no wind, you can see the reflection of the Licancabur Volcano in the Lagoon. This is also the natural landmark that indicates the border between Chile and Bolivia.

Lastly, if you're going to Chile, and after crossing the border, a bus will drop you at San Pedro de Atacama around 1 pm. If you chose to go back to Uyuni, you will first have lunch, visit Dali desert & Green Lagoon, and head back to Uyuni, where the van will drop you around 6 pm.

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Things to Consider for the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia

Now that you know all about what to expect for the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia, here are a few other things to keep in mind.

Don't Book in Advance

If you're traveling through South America, you might notice that in almost every country and city it's better to show up than to book in advance. We already mentioned that important highlights like Machu Picchu are great excuses for locals to take advantage of travelers and overcharge them.

You will find that prices for Uyuni salt flats  in Bolivia (the 3-day tour) online are around $140 USD and $250 USD per person (we got charged $210 USD per person, and we're still shocked about the price difference), but the truth is that online agencies charge WAY MORE than they should.

Have you ever though what would your travel essentials be? when you're traveling, there's certain situations you want to be prepared for. Here you will find a list of what we found out to be absolute necessary items.What to pack? That's the biggest question when preparing for a trip. No

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The only highlight of this place is the Uyuni salt flats of Bolivia, so the town is filled with travel agencies. You can just show up to any of them, the same day you want your tour to start, and get charged between 600 and 800 pesos bolivianos (between $86 and $115 USD). You can imagine how annoyed we were after finding this out, right?

We understand that this option isn't for everyone! If you'd like a piece of mind, and just want a one day trip, here are a few options to choose from:

Bring Sunscreen, Flip Flops & Toilet paper

This can sound a bit obvious, but the reflection of the sun in the salt flats will burn you faster than you think, and even though temperatures drop very fast at night, it can get VERY hot during the day, so make sure you bring sunscreen with you.

Also, if it rains and you get to appreciate the beautiful reflection over the salt flats, you will want flip flops to walk in the water (unless, of course, that you wear mountain shoes that are waterproof).

Lastly, toilet paper will be more necessary than you think, since none of the accommodations offer free toilet paper. Yes, it's not that they don't have, it's that they will SELL it to you, so better be prepared and bring a roll with you.

Have Cash on You

If you happen to be short on cash, make sure you withdraw or exchange before arriving to Uyuni. ATMs are barely a thing here, and the exchange rate you can get should be punished by the law. So don't arrive to Uyuni without enough Pesos Bolivianos.

This is a Great Place for Props

A banana, a beer bottle, a book, a can or even dinosaur toys. Travelers use all these to create amazing photos in the Uyuni salt flats of Bolivia. Its 180 degrees flat surface combined with an infinite background, making it perfect to play with perspective and create some fun visual effects.

Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia
Uyuni Salt Flats, reasons to visit South America

The Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia are the perfect place to get creative with your photography.

Other Tours to Do

Even though we have explained you in detail about the two main tours, you can also find some other ones in Uyuni town to hire, like to go biking in a group through the salt flats, or to visit Tunupa volcano and have a star gazing session.

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The Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia are a true gift from nature. If you happen to be reading this because you are planning on going, let us tell you that you will see some unique landscapes and experiences, and if you are reading this because you want to learn more about it, we strongly recommend you to give it a chance and visit it.

As usual, we want to offer you as many travel guides & tips for free, to make sure you can travel smartly and having a lot of fun along the way, Check out our South American travel guides by clicking here.

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