Easily one of the most beautiful spots on the planet, the Uyuni Salt Flats are spread out over a whopping 4,086 square miles in southwest Bolivia. They are the world’s largest salt flats and well worth the trip.
While South America is a great place for backpacking, the Uyuni Salt Flats are the kind of place where you need a tour company. Since it’s such a massive area, you’ll want to have somebody with a 4×4 truck who knows how to get around. To maximize your time in Bolivia, it’s essential to come prepared…
here’s everything you need to know about visiting the Uyuni Salt Flats!
You can start your trip in Uyuni, Tupiza, or San Pedro de Atacama. Ultimately, the best route depends on where you are staying and how much time you can spend on the tour.
The majority of international flights will arrive at La Paz or Santa Cruz. From either city, you can fly into Uyuni or take the bus. I was staying in Sucre and took the bus to Tupiza to start my tour. The tour can also be done in reverse starting in Uyuni.
Bolivia is bigger than it might look on the map. The country is about the size of California and Texas combined so you’ll want to map everything out to have a clear picture of how long it’ll take to get around.
Picking a Tour Company
Not all Uyuni Salt Flats tour companies are equal. Actually, some of them are a bit scary. I’ve heard horror stories of a surprisingly high number of travelers getting stuck in the middle of the flats with a drunk driver. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for. I wouldn’t recommend going for rock bottom prices, and you’ll definitely want to read some reviews before booking.
I used Tupiza Tours and had a great experience. The tour guides were friendly and knowledgeable. The group offers an incredible four-day tour either to or from Uyuni that will take you through all of the best spots.
What to Expect
This isn’t a five-star experience. None of the tours are very comfortable or luxurious, and the trip out to the salt flats it long. That said, you’ll forget about every bump and hassle when you see the view.
The Uyuni Salt Flats are completely surreal, and you will have an AMAZING time.
You 100% want to get to the Uyuni Salt Flats before sunrise and most tours plan to leave well before the sun comes up. You’ll be able to snap some amazing pics as the sun rises over the land. The very first light of day is the best opportunity to get photos without any shadows.
Most tour operators set up far enough apart from one another so that all you see in every direction is an endless blanket of white.
During certain times of year when there is rain, the sky reflects in the puddles and creates an incredible display.
Our tour guides brought coffee and tea and breakfast in our cars so that we could enjoy the salt flats for a few hours before heading back to town.
What to Bring
Uyuni has a wet season, from November to March, and a dry season, from May to October. If you travel during the winter, which is from May to August, expect cold weather. It’s not unusual to see weather barely above zero on the coldest nights; be sure to bring layers at any time of year.
- Lots of layers!
- There are hot springs along the salt flats tours, so you’ll also want to pack a bikini, towel, and some flip flops.
- While many tour companies offer meals, might want to bring your own snacks and drinks. It’s also advisable to bring along one two-liter bottle of water per person per day to stay hydrated!
- Most of the bathrooms are paid toilets, so bring plenty of small change and some extra TP.
- It can get very dark at night, and some of the more basic accommodations turn off their lights at night, so bring a flashlight or headlamp.
- Bring all of your photography gear! This is easily one of the best photo ops on earth, so don’t settle for phone photos. Grab your tripod, lenses, and camera to get photos that you can treasure for a lifetime.
Other Packing Essentials
The Uyuni Train Cemetery
Aside from the salt flats, Uyuni is also home to a cool train cemetery playground. The metal is rusted (so be careful not to cut yourself!), but you can visit and swing, seesaw and slide your way through an old, abandoned train!
Another Helpful Tip
Altitude sickness is a very real thing in Bolivia. If you are coming in from the coast, you will want to plan on a few days to adjust.
While it might take some extra planning, it’s best to spend time gradually increasing your elevation. Jumping up too high too quickly can leave you feeling miserable with flu-like symptoms.
The good news is that there are endless impressive sites to see on the way up.