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Uyuni Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni), Bolivia - Experience A 3 Day Tour

Bolivia travel blog by a backpacker - April 2008 November 2011   » View Photoset (65 Photos)

Mark Berman, South America backpacker for nearly 10yrs!
I arrived in Uyuni in the early evening from Tupiza. I found a room for myself in a hostel for about $40 Bolivianos which was $5USD in early 2008. It was
Bolivia Photo - Flags of the world at the salt hotel in the Salar de Uyuni.
Flags of the world at the salt hotel in the Salar de Uyuni.
quite cold. Uyuni is at an altitude of 3675 meters. I went out to a restaurant and hung out with a whole bunch of people, some that were in the jeep from Tupiza that day and had a great meal. Beside my hostel at a tour operator I booked a 3 day tour to the Salar de Uyuni, the cost was $70USD all inclusive, the tour, accommodation and food.

The 3 Day Tour

The next morning being a Saturday, there were markets. I found a place to sit outside and have some nice pancakes and tea. Kids came to my table to sell me a couple of wrist-bands. There was a lot of backpackers gathering around the tour operators offices and jeeps along the street with people loading baggage and supplies onto their roofs. I went and got some supplies from the markets like warm socks, a cowboy hat, a woolen hat and very importantly lip balm. I was lucky to be here on this day because there was a huge kids parade through the streets and the army band were playing. The childrens parade was very colorful with amazing costumes and accessories including balloon children and cowboys. 3 Bolivian ladies sunbathed their legs on this beautiful hot day on a street corner. The jeep I was in ended up leaving a lot later in the day than it was supposed to. We ended up leaving town at 1pm due to problems with drivers, over-bookings and who knows what. There were a bunch of people waiting until then.

Train Cemetery

Finally the show got on the road and we headed to the train cemetery not far away on the edge of the salt desert - big rows of rusty old skeleton trains.
Bolivia Photo - The Salt Hotel in the Salar de Uyuni.
The Salt Hotel in the Salar de Uyuni.
That was cool and didn't take long.

Lunch at the Salt Hotel

After the trains we headed into the salt flats for about 45 minutes to where some locals were cutting up the crusty salt with pitchforks and creating little salt mounds. A short drive more and we came to the famous Salt Hotel to have some lunch. The Salt Hotel is made of salt bricks and everything inside is made of salt - the chairs, the tables and there are some nice large salt sculptures too.
Bolivia Photo - Mercado Antofagasta with boat monument in Uyuni.
Mercado Antofagasta with boat monument in Uyuni.
I made a walk through video of the hotel. I don't think the hotel is actually used to sleep in anymore, it is more of a monument.

Passenger Swapping

At this point I was told that I would be changing to a different group and that I had to come to the jeep right away before I had even had lunch. They told me I would have my lunch at the next stop and then join a new group. The tour people wisked me across the very flat salt plains for about half an hour to what turned out to be Cactus Mountain. I had a really nice lunch in the restaurant there on them and after that was introduced to my new group which turned out to be a great bunch of young people - 3 Swedish guys and 2 Irish girls who were on a 4 day tour and I was joining them for their last 3 days. Sounded like fun to me!

Cactus Mountain

Cactus mountain is a great spot and a great sight. Its exactly that, a small mountain with thousands of cactus growing
Bolivia Photo - A hand-driven railway cart monument in Uyuni.
A hand-driven railway cart monument in Uyuni.
all over it. All the tour groups come here and there were several jeep loads of people sitting on park benches eating lunch in the sun. If you pay a few Bolivianos you can walk to the top for views and photos of the salt flats that surround it or you can walk around the back and climb up without them seeing for free. Out on the salt around the mountain is a good place to take those photos that create the illusion of size and space. I have seen some very funny and awesome photos taken in this style where one person is close and another is far back and it looks like the far one is being held in the others hand or about to get stood on.
Bolivia Photo - Children in the parade in Uyuni, nice headgear.
Children in the parade in Uyuni, nice headgear.

Hostel 1st Night

After quite a while at Cactus Mountain it was time to travel through the salt desert towards the hostel we would be staying at in the desert which are run by local families. Our driver and cook were husband and wife and they had their 18 month child with them. They were really nice people and it was their full time job taking people on tour around the desert. The jeep was full with 2 rows of 3 of us in the back plus the driver, cook and child. The driver and child were constantly chewing coca leaves each day to help with the effects of the altitude which in the desert is 3653 meters. The bag of coca leaves was certainly passed around the jeep a few times too. We arrived at our accommodation just as it was
Bolivia Photo - BBQ chicken on the streets of Uyuni.
BBQ chicken on the streets of Uyuni.
getting dark and it was starting to get rather cold. There were 3 groups staying here, each with their own cook. The rooms were spacious and had about 4 beds made of salt in each. We had salt beds, a salt floor and plenty of thick blankets. After showers, during which dinner was prepared we ate a beautiful hot meal of soup, chicken and rice as well as desert. The cook, she was fantastic! I had thought we would be eating bread rolls and cheese out here, seriously. My group and I were pretty well bonded by this time and we had quite a few drinks that night, some more than others.

Lagoons and Mountains Day 2

Next day after breakfast would be a day of driving around in the south-west of the Salar de Uyuni seeing (and climbing) rock formations,
Bolivia Photo - Children in the parade in Uyuni, superheroes.
Children in the parade in Uyuni, superheroes.
admiring amazing mountains and lush lagoons. It was fantastic weather. We drove through no-mans land on a rugged track seeing the most beautiful mountains, some snow-capped, amazing rock landscapes and salty lagoons. One had pink flamingos, it was rare to see other jeeps on this day. The colors and shades of the salt, sands, rock, mountains and sky all made for an unforgettable visual experience. Our wonderful cook made a fantastic lunch for everyone and we sat on the edge of a lagoon to eat a full plate of great food.

Hostel 2nd Night

At the end of the day we headed for a different hostel for the night in another part of the desert close to our next days activities. The hostel again was run by
Bolivia Photo - Children in the parade in Uyuni, dressed in white.
Children in the parade in Uyuni, dressed in white.
a local family. Our whole group was in its own dorm with bunks. Each bed had about 4 thick blankets on it, it gets freezing here at night. Another great dinner that night from our cook, half the group including me had an early night, the others had a long drink and never slept.

Geysers and Thermal Pools Day 3

It was to be a 5am wakeup call in the morning before daylight and sunlight to load the jeep and take the group to the geysers and hot pool for an early morning dip. The temperature at this time of the morning was freezing and we were looking forward to getting to this hot outside pool in the hills. When we first arrived there we saw the geysers and hot lava mud pools bubbling away. A few other groups were
Bolivia Photo - Generosa Mujer de Uyuni monument close-up, holding cup.
Generosa Mujer de Uyuni monument close-up, holding cup.
there too. We were having fun running and jumping through one of the geysers, others were warming their already gloved hands in the steam. Our driver said to us that one of the lagoons we were going to see that day wasn't that great and that if we didn't go there we could spend an hour at the pool instead of just 20 minutes like the other groups were. We all agreed to stay at the pool, so after an initialy crowded pool, the other groups went for breakfast and it was just my group of 6 here which was great.

Road Back to Uyuni

After breakfast the plan for the day was to slowly make our way back to Uyuni while taking in the sights and stopping for lunch beside a
Bolivia Photo - A huge pile of salt in the Salar de Uyuni.
A huge pile of salt in the Salar de Uyuni.
rock bridge and stream. It was about a 5hr ride in our tightly packed and cosy jeep to Uyuni. Our cook made us an awesome lunch with salad, tuna, rice, bread and fruit. Apart from the scenery, the food made this tour great! We arrived back in Uyuni by about 6pm. We gave our driver and cook some nice tips, said muchas gracias to them and I went in search of a bus heading to La Paz for later that night.

Bus to La Paz

I bought a ticket on a bus to La Paz leaving at 8:30pm. I paid a little more to have a nice bus with a bathroom and a stewardess, as opposed to a bus without. It was to be about a 10hr all night trip. I had time to go to the tour office and pick up my large backpack that I had left with them while on the tour and
Bolivia Photo - Eduardo Abaroa Hidalgo (1838-1879), war hero, monument in Uyuni.
Eduardo Abaroa Hidalgo (1838-1879), war hero, monument in Uyuni.
have some dinner too. I went to the same restaurant as I did on my first night in Uyuni and had a great feed. But when the lady asked if I wanted my jugo (juice) with milk or water I let my guard down and said water. I suspect this is the reason I was sick 4 times on the bus up to La Paz that night. I was glad I had taken this bus, the stewardess cleaned up the couple of times that I didn't get to the bathroom in time. It pays to ask whether the water is bottled or from the tap I would say.

Just a Day Tour

I was in Uyuni again for a 2nd time in 2011. I wanted to show my girlfriend the salt flats, but we just did a day tour which was fine but it was nothing compared to the 3 day tour I had done 3yrs
Bolivia Photo - Snow-capped mountains of the Salar de Uyuni.
Snow-capped mountains of the Salar de Uyuni.
earlier. A complete tour of the Salar de Uyuni includes the Hotel de Sal, Isla del Pescado (Cactus Mountain), Volcan Thunupa, Laguna Colorada, Laguna Verde, Aguas Termales, Arbol de Piedra, Volcan Licancabur and geisers.

Train from Oruro to Uyuni

I had arrived in Uyuni this time by train from Oruro. If you plan to go to Oruro from Uyuni I have written about this on the Oruro page. From Uyuni this time I went to Potosi.

     

View all photos in the Uyuni Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni) Photoset


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Distances & times (if available) from Uyuni & the Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats) (Bolivia) to:


Map location: Uyuni & the Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats), Bolivia. Bolivia's must-see natural wonder! I really recommend doing the 3 day tour of the salt flats as opposed to just a day tour, you'll love it, it's unforgettable!
 A : Tupiza via Atocha to Uyuni - Bolivia 82 kms 82 kms straight distance | 2hrs 20mins 2hrs 20mins by car (102 kms) | 2hrs 48mins 2hrs 48mins by bus (102 kms) (102 kms)
 B : Uyuni to Potosi - Bolivia 82 kms 82 kms straight distance | 1hr 39mins 1hr 39mins by car (107 kms) | 1hr 58mins 1hr 58mins by bus (107 kms) (107 kms)
 C : Potosi - Bolivia 148 kms 148 kms straight distance | 3hrs 8mins 3hrs 8mins by car (202 kms) | 3hrs 45mins 3hrs 45mins by bus (202 kms) (202 kms)
 D : Tupiza - Bolivia 157 kms 157 kms straight distance | 5hrs 19mins 5hrs 19mins by car (207 kms) | 6hrs 22mins 6hrs 22mins by bus (207 kms) (207 kms)
 E : Villazon & Argentinian Border - Bolivia 220 kms 220 kms straight distance | 6hrs 36mins 6hrs 36mins by car (298 kms) | 7hrs 55mins 7hrs 55mins by bus (298 kms) (298 kms)
 F : La Quiaca & Bolivian Border - Argentina 223 kms 223 kms straight distance | 6hrs 43mins 6hrs 43mins by car (299 kms) | 8hrs 3mins 8hrs 3mins by bus (299 kms) (299 kms)
 G : Oruro - Bolivia 279 kms 279 kms straight distance | 4hrs 24mins 4hrs 24mins by car (328 kms) | 5hrs 16mins 5hrs 16mins by bus (328 kms) (328 kms)
 H : Sucre - Bolivia 225 kms 225 kms straight distance | 6hrs 11mins 6hrs 11mins by car (365 kms) | 7hrs 25mins 7hrs 25mins by bus (365 kms) (365 kms)
 I : Calama - Chile 311 kms 311 kms straight distance | 7hrs 40mins 7hrs 40mins by car (429 kms) | 9hrs 12mins 9hrs 12mins by bus (429 kms) (429 kms)
 J : La Quiaca to Jujuy - Argentina 341 kms 341 kms straight distance | 8hrs 32mins 8hrs 32mins by car (455 kms) | 10hrs 14mins 10hrs 14mins by bus (455 kms) (455 kms)
 K : Paso de Jama to San Pedro to Calama - Chile 308 kms 308 kms straight distance | 8hrs 41mins 8hrs 41mins by car (512 kms) | 10hrs 25mins 10hrs 25mins by bus (512 kms) (512 kms)
 L : Cochabamba - Bolivia 346 kms 346 kms straight distance | 7hrs 39mins 7hrs 39mins by car (515 kms) | 9hrs 10mins 9hrs 10mins by bus (515 kms) (515 kms)
 M : San Pedro de Atacama - Chile 307 kms 307 kms straight distance | 8hrs 25mins 8hrs 25mins by car (521 kms) | 10hrs 6mins 10hrs 6mins by bus (521 kms) (521 kms)
 N : Tarija - Bolivia 243 kms 243 kms straight distance | 8hrs 38mins 8hrs 38mins by car (534 kms) | 10hrs 21mins 10hrs 21mins by bus (534 kms) (534 kms)
 O : Iquique to Arica to Peru Border - Chile 343 kms 343 kms straight distance | 8hrs 30mins 8hrs 30mins by car (706 kms) | 10hrs 12mins 10hrs 12mins by bus (706 kms) (706 kms)
Driving times are accurate but approximate and are listed in the order of driving distance! Drive times are always affected by weather conditions, the terrain, time of day, altitude, dinner and bathroom stops, animals on the road, protests, a fast or slow bus driver, police checkpoints, border and river crossings, dropping off and picking up passengers etc. These drive times are obtained from Google Maps and are meant as a guide. Note however, times quoted in the main text of this page are exactly as the author experienced it.


My Hostel & Hotel Reviews for Uyuni Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni), Bolivia:

Hostal El Viajero, Uyuni, Bolivia - Large Photo
Hostal El Viajero, Uyuni, Bolivia (Oct 2011 - 6 nights) - Small but comfortable room with bathroom and tv. Friendly woman owner and nice atmosphere, a good price, nothing to complain about, I stayed 6 nights. Recommended.
Hostal Cactu, Uyuni, Bolivia - Large Photo
Hostal Cactu, Uyuni, Bolivia (Oct 2011 - 1 night) - A nice place in the very center of Uyuni. The bed was very good. But not really an outdoor area to hang out in. The owner was friendly and helpful. Nothing wrong with staying here.
Hotel Avenida, Uyuni, Bolivia - Large Photo
Hotel Avenida, Uyuni, Bolivia (Apr 2008 - 1 night) - This was a nice place to stay in the center of Uyuni for 1 night before the Salar de Uyuni tour the next day. It's fairly basic, but right in the middle of all the tour agents, restaurants and shops.

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