Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni salt flats are believed to be one of the most beautiful and remarkable vistas in all of South America, (maybe the planet). Stretching across more than 4,050 square miles of the Altiplano, it is the world’s largest salt flat, created by prehistoric lakes that evaporated long ago. We started our journey by flying into the capital of Bolivia. Sitting at an elevation of around 3,650 m (11,975 ft) above sea level, La Paz is the highest capital city in the world. This can be quite the shock to your body without acclimating, especially if your body is overly sensitive to elevation like mine.
Adventure Guide: 1 Day Tour Salt Flats in Bolivia
When to Visit Salar de Uyuni
During the wet season (January – April), a shallow layer of rainwater creates a mirror-like surface as smooth as glass. In the dry season (May – December), you’ll see geometric salt patterns imprinted into the earth, stretching beyond the horizon. Honestly, this place looks like a whole other planet. Visitors can take a day trip or a multi-day tour, with additional tours venturing further into the remote landscapes to see other worldly wonders. You can browse tours along with reviews on GetYourGuide.
Do you get altitude sickness in la paz bolivia?
La Paz extreme altitude affects almost every visitor to some extent. At higher altitudes, the air is much thinner, so the body absorbs less oxygen leading to altitude sickness. This includes symptoms such as breathlessness, nausea, headaches, fatigue, a lack of appetite, and insomnia. These symptoms tend to go away within a few days for most people. MOST people. Just not me… le sigh.
However, in rare cases, and when left untreated, altitude sickness can be deadly. Trust me when I say – we all felt these symptoms. Some of the girls acclimated after a day or so, but me? I was sick the entire 6 days we were there, not feeling well until we were in the plane’s pressurized cabin on our way to Santiago. If you’ve read my post on Rainbow Mountain you know how bad I struggle with high altitudes. But if you’re diligent about it, you can enjoy your time in this city without getting sick.
How to Acclimate to B Altitude
Do as the locals do and chew coca leaves or drink coca tea. The coca plant is an age-old remedy for altitude sickness dating back to before Spanish colonization. I didn’t care for the taste of chewing the leaf, so it’s worth trying a cup of coca tea instead. It’s not hard to come by, almost all hotels will have coca tea readily available, it can also be found in restaurants, cafés, and supermarkets throughout the cities.
- Acclimate for at least three days in La Paz
- Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water
- Drink coca tea
- Avoid alcohol consumption
- Avoid Exercise for the first few days
Where to stay in Uyuni
If you plan on spending the night in Uyuni, these places to stay are absolutely gorgeous and some made of salt! At night, there’s also a sunset and stargazing tour at the train cemetery.
- Airport (UYU) 28 min drive
- Plaza Arce 29 min drive
- Clock Tower 30 min drive
- Train Cemetery 35 min drive
- Breakfast Included
- Free WIFI
- Free Airport Shuttle
Starting at $163 USD
- Airport (UYU) 52 min drive
- Archaeology and Anthropology Museum of the Southern Andes 54 min drive
- Plaza Arce 55 m drive
- Clock Tower 56 m drive
- Air Conditioning
- Free WIFI
Starting at $147 USD
- Airport 9 min drive
- Archaeology and Anthropology Museum of the Southern Andes 6 min walk
- Clock Tower 7 m walk
- Plaza Arce 7 m walk
- Museo de Trenes 17 min walk
- Salar de Uyuni 12 mi drive
- Breakfast Included
- Free WIFI
Starting at $147 USD
How to Get to Bolivia’s Salt Flats
There are several options to get to Bolivia’s salt flats. You can take a night bus from La Paz like we did, train, plane, or a combination of the three. Uyuni is the closest nearby town to the salt flats. Alternatively, you can take a tour from Tupiza, a town south of Uyuni.
Bus tickets can be booked online or bought in person. In general, most major cities in Bolivia offer bus routes to Uyuni, but they are not always direct. You can book online at Tickets Bolivia for most of the popular routes.
Ticket pricing varies depending on the distance traveled and bus class ticket. Some of the fancier buses include bathrooms, heating, snacks, and fully/or half-reclining seats. But no worries, the buses without bathrooms do make pitstops. Pick your bus company wisely, they each have varying reputations, some are notoriously worse than others.
Our tour package included round-trip transportation from La Paz so our tour guides handled all the logistics of the trip, which was really nice. It is worth paying for a better bus line that has good reviews from travelers because it’s a long 12-hour ride there and another 12 back.
Day trips to Uyuni Salt flats
If you’re short on time like we were, the day trip to Uyuni salt flats is a great option. It’s a long ride to get there and back from La Paz but it’s worth it. To be honest, the group decided that one day wasn’t enough and we regretted not doing the 3 days or longer tours to see more and make the journey for more than just one thing. But alas, that was the time we had and I’m grateful I got to check the salt flats off my bucket list!
Make sure your tour stays at the salt flats until sunset (the best time of day to see reflections!) as many tours head back to Uyuni before sunset. This specific tour from Uyuni guarantees a sunset on the salt flats and comes highly reviewed by other travelers!
You might like this Day Trip to Laguna Colorada from Uyuni tour if you have some extra time during your visit.
Salt Flats Night Tours
If you want to spend a romantic evening with your special someone, then this salt flat night tour is for you. How dreamy does this proposal picture look?
Half-Day Motorcycle Tour
This tour wasn’t available at the time that we went but it looks wicked cool. You would be able to cover more ground and drive through the clouds in the reflections.
Bike Rental at the Salt Flats
If motorcycles aren’t for you, what about a regular bicycle? For a small fee, you can rent bikes and ride them across the salt flats. As you admire their natural beauty your pictures will be taken to a whole other level.
Our tour came with a locally made lunch of delicious traditional Bolivian dishes. Check that your tour to the salt flats includes meals/snacks, otherwise, you will want to stock up in La Paz or the city that you came from. Granola bars, fresh fruit, carrots, sandwiches, whatever will keep you full for the day.
3-Day tour: Uyuni Salt Flats and Colored Lagoons
On this 3-day / 2 nights excursion to the southwest of Potosí-Bolivia, you will get to explore further into the magical Uyuni salt flat. Enjoy hot springs at different Lagunas like Laguna Polques, and Laguna Blanca. You’ll trek through inhospitable deserts such as the Siloli desert, and Salvador Dali desert. Then eat an authentically cooked homemade Bolivian meal with a stellar view.
If you think the only thing you’ll see on a Salt Flats tour in Bolivia is salt, you are in for a big surprise. The popular 3-day tours visit several deserts, a few different colored lakes, the train graveyard, geysers, flamingos, hot springs and more!
Our tour took us to the train cemetery outside of town, where you can see the remains of steam locomotives from the 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s a very unique scene and a great place to take artistic photos.
Several tours include a visit to Isla Incahuasi a former island in Bolivia situated in the middle of Salar de Uyuni. The island is full of huge cacti, some pretty hiking trails and is an interesting area to explore. You don’t need much time here, the hilly and rocky outcrop of land
Fun Fact: The Bolivian Salt Flats are part of the Dakar Rally
The Dakar Rally is known for being the hardest race in the world. Drivers come on motorbikes, quads, cars, UTV, or trucks. All ready to tackle the huge course.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Are the salt flat tours in Bolivia worth it?
Absolutely! The salt flats are one of the most beautiful places in South America. It is a humbling experience to be in a vast open space so large. Several unique features make the Uyuni Salt Flats well worth the trip.
Are the salt flats in Bolivia cold?
During the day, when the sun is out the salt flats can actually get hot which is why you should dress in layers. Because no matter the temperature during the day, as soon as that sun sets it gets bitter cold. Even in the warmer months, the nightly temperature will drop. You can see in the photo above how each of us is dressed based on the temperatures. On our visit, the sun was out and it was hot as we baked on the salt. So DON’T FORGET SUNSCREEN. But every so often a wicked breeze would hit and chill me to the bone.
How much does it cost to go on a tour of Bolivia’s salt flats?
The one-day tour typically costs around $100-$150 USD. The three-day or longer tours to Bolivia’s salt flats cost around $200-$300 USD.
How big are the salt flats?
The Bolivian salt flats are the largest in the world. They are 200 km long and 80 km wide, with a reserve of more than 64 one billion tons of salt, plus more than 21 million tons of lithium.
What can you do in Uyuni other than the salt flats?
Other than the salt flats there are so many unique things to do in Uyuni. Like riding a bike or motorbike across the salt flats. You can also take a day trip to Lagunas Colorada, or check out Geiser Sol de la Manana. Hiking Tunupa Volcano is popular too.
This looks like a beautiful destination. I think I would really enjoy renting bikes to ride across the salt flats. Thank you for sharing your guide!
I’m glad you enjoyed it! I hope you make it there one day.
I didn’t know you had to acclimate to altitude before visiting the salt lakes in Bolivia! Great tip! It’s also a lot bigger than I thought it was. I love your pics!
Acclimating is one of the most important things!
Wow! Salt flats looks like an amazing place to visit! Such incredible pictures! great tips to deal with altitude sickness. Your guide will definitely help plan this trip.
Thanks, Anu! I’m so glad you enjoyed it and found it helpful.
Altitude sickness is indeed real. I get such weird symptoms like ear pressure, nausea, headache..and the list goes on.
Thank you for sharing the tips.
Ugh, it’s so terrible. Altitude sickness can ruin a trip fast.
This has been on my bucketlist forever. Hopefully I can make it there in the next two years assuming Covid doesn’t spoil the plans of course!
I super recommend trying to make it a priority~ Bolivia is one of my favorite countries with so much to offer and so little explored.
The Salt Flats sound like so much fun! I would love to go on the half-day motorcycle tour. That sounds like such a fun way to explore the landscape. Thank you for sharing!
The motorcycle tour did look pretty cool. Certainly a whole new way to see the beautiful salt flats.
Loooove all your photos- it looks like you had a blast (especially the lama photos!) It is such a strange, eerie scenery! The train cemetery is pretty cool too!
Thank you!! We did have a blast, still one of my favorite trips to date. I think eerie describes it perfectly, it’s just so desolute and unhabitable.
I didn’t get to Bolivia but I was in Salta Argentina which is near to Uyuni. The Salinas Grandes salt flats near Purmamarca were similar (from what I’ve been told). I love the optical illusion of the photos you get.
I haven’t made it to Argentina! The Salinas Grandes would be interesting to see, especially in the rainy season!
The salt flats look amazing. I love the geometric patterns during the dry season. I took a salt flat tour in Sicily and found it so interesting to see how they harvest sea salt.
Me too. As amazing as the wet flats are, I still think the dry geometric patterns are so beautiful in their own way.
I’ve always wanted to visit the salt flats but didn’t know you could do it as a day trip! Also – didn’t know there was a train cemetery there as well. Really interesting!
There are so many different ways to visit them! The train cemetery is pretty neat to see and fun to photograph.
Uyuni is a fantastic place — as you said, another world!
Beautiful destination, I never would have thought of visiting before but now I’m intrigued. The salt flats remind me a little of Badwater Basin in Death Valley. Love the goofy pictures with your friends, so fun.
Yes, they were very similar to Badwater Basin just A LOT larger. The mountains were so far away you could barely see them in Bolivia. We were able to visit Death Valley in the wet season and Bolivia in the dry so I was able to see the flats two different ways. Very pretty both ways.
Such a great guide! It must be amazing to see the Bolivia Salt Flats for real – I’ve only ever seen pics or while watching the Dakar rally. Fascinating.