Bolivia for me, it has been a country of many discover: from the delicious Quinoa and Chuno (one kind of potato) soups to the incredible landscapes and natural spots that fulfill the country.
Of the many beauties, for now, let’s focus on what I have visited and experienced in these few weeks and give you the ultimate guide to Salar de Uyuni and the desert at the border with Chile.
If you are planning to visit Bolivia, the Saltflat is a unique experience you cannot miss in your list, and I highly suggest to opt for at least the 3 days tour (you have the option also for 1 day tour… but you would miss it so much!)
Reach the village of Uyuni
Wherever you are in Bolivia, you can plan your tour to Uyuni Saltflat ( the World largest Saltflat) : from La Paz, Copacabana, Oruro etc.. but it might cost you more money and more time, so If you are short on budget and you want to save time try to reach the village of Uyuni and book on spot your tour (agency, or even on line company, from other city would charge you up to the double real price).
If you are in La Paz, you can easily get on a bus from Terminal Terrestre to Uyuni : overnight bus will cost you around 90/100 BS and you will reach in around 10 hours Uyuni. You will pay 2 BS to exit the terminal bus of La Paz.
Mind that bus companies are not yet well organized, so they can easily go in over booking and you must wait at the station until they sort out the over booking arranging a 2nd bus.. but don’t worry, you won’t remain at La Paz
Once you reach in the early morning Uyuni, around 07.00 am at the bus station (is a simple road- not a terminal crossing with Calle Cabrara) you will meet many local people trying to sell you tour: without even negotiation tours here will be cheaper than the ones offered in La Paz for instance. If you are too tired to plan your trip right away , simply catch their flies and book a visit later on the day.
Try to visit at least 3 different agencies and choose not necessarily the cheapest one, but the one that has better reviews online: I went for Huracan expeditions based in Cabrera. Overall the service was great and the owner was very caring, but you must be lucky to catch their driver called Cristobal: we got him on D1 and it was the best.
If you are not tired enough from the overnight ride, you can reach Uyuni and go to one agency or 2 and book your trip starting on the same day (as tour leave Uyuni around 11.00). If you want to take same rest and overnight in Uyuni, try to not spend more than 1 night as it is not really worth it. Honestly not much around if you are short on time you want to make the most out of it.
What tours include
As I have mentioned above you can opt for 1 day tour visiting the Saltflats for a cost of around 130 BS or the 3 or 4 days tour.
I have opted for the 3 days tour, so I will be focusing on this on details: here what the tour included
- Jeep with a driver guide: generally drivers have lots of experience and are very friendly and flexible like the one I got on D1, but sometimes they might be a little lazy. In this case, try to connect with your agency right away and they will sort it out for you.
- D1 Lunch/ complimentary tea/ Dinner
- D2 Breakfast/Lunch/Complimentary tea/Dinner
- D3 Breakfast
If you follow a special diet make sure the agency knows that when you book: the meal generally vary from Bolognese Spaghetti to chicken with potato and veg. Very simple but they taste good, always accompanied by delicious soup generally vegetarian. On top, you will receive some bread and fruit and water plus Coca-Cola or wine.
- 2 nights accommodation: both very humble hostel with sharing room, so if you are alone you will end up with someone in your group.
The first accommodation will be at a traditional hotel with plenty of salt accessories, very cute: you will have electricity here until late and you can have a shower but with an extra cost of 10 BS. I personally enjoyed a lot my stay here, the atmosphere with all the other people also from other groups was great and made it special. The 2nd accommodation is even more humble but very comfortable: here you will have only 2 hours of electricity and the hot shower will cost you 15 BS (OUTSIDE the hostel).
In both hostels, you can find water or drink and snack to purchase for a decent price (ex. Water 2 liter 10 BS).
What tour DOES NOT include
Tour does not include:
Water daytime ( as you will be in the jeep you can easily buy some bottles of water at Uyuni and leave them on the jeep, the driver will accommodate them). Remember to keep hydrated, as you will walk and you will be at high altitude. As a matter of fact, Uyuni is at already 3,656 meters above sea level and part of the excursion will reach around 4800 meters.
Entrance at Island Incahuasi: 30 BS – only optional. You can opt to spend your hour enjoying the Saltflat if you prefer.
Entrance to the Eduardo Avaroa National Park: 150 BS (30 BS for Bolivian). This is compulsory, you will reach the park on the afternoon of D2 and with the same ticket, you can enter the park D3. Ticket last 4 days.
Toilet paper and towel: you want to take some with you.
Tour plan from Day 1 until Day 3
Meet up around 10.30 at the chosen agency: or they could either collect at your hotel. *check here to find your hotel: booking.com
Leave the Agency around 1100 (try to be flexible with time, as they will be) to reach the first stop the Trains Cemetery (Cementerio de Trenes)
About the Train station: you have around 45 minutes to walk around these lost trains from the 40s. From the end of the 19th century Uyuni was very important
for its transportation or minerals thanks to the rail lines built by British engineers, but unfortunately During the 1940’s many trains were abandoned outside Uyuni, forming the current cemetery. Feel free to walk around and enjoy the mystery of the Trains history and get some very cool picture.
Back on your jeep, you will reach in around 30 minutes the handcrafts village of Colchani: here a very quick stop of around 15/20 minutes where you will be surrounded by Kiosk selling locals handcrafts and salt bags from the Salt flats. Make sure you buy at least one to bring home with you.
Once you have left Colchani you have few hours of the drive ahead of you: unwind and enjoy the gorgeous view of your on the road trip and make sure to get along with your team 🙂 as you will spend plenty of time with them.
Next stop will be the little salt mountain creation: quick stop to admire these mountains salt sample to show you how the salt is accumulated and then brought to Colchani. Not much to see here, few minutes and back on your jeep for your next stop, the Salt Museum – Dakar Statue and Flag spot.
Here you will spend big part of the day for these reasons: you will reach with other groups that will also be interested to grab some picture on the front of the Dakar statue ( Monument to the Dakar Rally about 5 km into the Salar) so you want to wait for a little here or save time visiting few meters further the flag spot.. and maybe trying to find one of your countries 🙂
Also, you have around 45 minutes for lunch, consumed at the cool Salt museum: you can try to finish earlier and maybe use this time to have some pictures outside, and being lucky to find fewer people. Or simply embrace the energy of the humongous Salt flat around you. Don’t worry your driver will soon take you to a much more white salt for the prospective pictures.
Now you are ready for your next stop: The Island of Hincahuasi, a hilly and rocky outcrop of land plenty of gorgeous cactus. You will have here around 1 hour, so you can opt to visit the island for a cost of 30 BS or hang around on the desert salt.
Back on your jeep with your cool tour mates, you will soon stop on one of the white spots of the Saltflat and with the help of your driver-guide you will now try to have some of the coolest pictures ever in perspective of the salt desert.. have fun!
Now you are ready to reach in around 20 minutes your hotel for some nice hot tea/coffee and waiting for your dinner. Help yourself and enjoy conversation with like-minded people around you. Also, your driver will give you nice information about the Saltflat such the fact that this used to be a lake that afterward tried up and becomes a Saltflat, which reach depth point of 400 meters, with Lithium that together with the around the volcano have created 25 islands. The Salt flats are 12km squared large.. really the largest in the world.
Clothes: quite warm daytime, wear some short sleeves but can get bit chill at night, good to carry a jacket or jumper with you and long pants for the night.
You can choose to wake up around 05.00 am to watch the nice sunrise, but breakfast will be around 06.00 and then off to the desert bordering with Chile. It is a long way, so make yourself comfortable and once more enjoy the view around you.
On the way to the desert, you will have few stop like the Mirador of active Volcan Ollague, on the border with Chile and the Rocky Valley a long road bordered with nice rocks creation.
You will then carry on through the Silioli desert: more rocks formation thanks to the regional wind, with impressive colorful mountain and the first flamingo watching. Loved this place.
The on the road trip will take you through more desert and fascinating mountains and lagoon view: my suggestion here, just look outside the jeep’s window.. do not open them tough as will be very dusty.. you are in the desert.
Lunchtime, can be vary mine was gratefully by one of the most beautiful desert’s lagoon: The Honda Lagoon… such a stunning view whilst I was eating up all my delicious food… but it made difficult for us to leave.. so we decided to have a stroll by the lagoon and a few minutes later our driver collected us.
ready for the next stop? as you will next reach the Stone Tree, where you can hang around for around 20 minutes and try to climb on some of the stone formation, so to better enjoy the desert view.
The drive will carry on through amazing landscape until you will reach the Eduardo Avaroa National park entrance, where you must pay your 150 to get your ticket. Bring your passport with you as they need to check and you can also get a funny stamp on it (why not???)
Not more than 15 minutes later and you will finally be in the most waited spot of the whole excursion: The Colorful Lagoon. Mind that not even the best picture can resemble the beauty of this lagoon, well known to be one of the most beautiful of the world, and I must agree.
Here take your time, walk by the lagoon, watch the funny flamingos splashing around and lost yourself on the many lagoon’s colors in front of you and you won’t see this anywhere else. Here can be bit windy so you might want to wear a jacket.
After such a long yet gorgeous day, you are now 20 minutes away from your 2nd hostel: here take your time for a hot shower and tea, as you will have soon after your dinner and wine. Ok to be late… if you manage but remember to set your alarm at 04.00 am as you will leave the hostel around 04.45 am soon after the breakfast.
Clothes: warm daytime once more, but will get far chiller night time, jumper and a scarf or warm hut are suggested.
After your early morning breakfast, you will be off to 1-hour ride trip that will lead you to the amazing Sol de Manana: Geyser all over the place and the sunrise on the background… what you can ask for more???
Well, you have always more when you follow my tour plan ….
In fact, the next stop of the morning will be the amazing Salvador Dali desert, called like this because of the similar color and scenario used by the artist in his paints.
One more thing…
Have I forgot to tell you to pack your bikini??? as you will need it here on this next stop to Polques Hot Springs: entrance fee is just 6 BS all worth it for your 1-hour stay pampering in the hot spring.
Last but not least a stop at the 2 last lagoons, very close to the border with Chile: White and Green Lagoon.
Clothes: warm clothes as the early morning will be quite cold and of course…. your bikini!
Back to Uyuni or off to Chile?
Now you have to option here:
Opt 1: you are now back to Uyuni with a 4-5 hours ride, just relax and eat some snack you have carried with you… I never missed chocolate, as the chocolate here in South America is just…. delicious!
Opt 2: you have arranged with the agency to be dropped at the Bolivia border and after the passport check a minivan will take you and your belonging to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile for the Chilean passport check and start your Chile experience. This will have a supplement, around 50 BS more and remember also:
Exiting Bolivia you need to pay 15 BS, and here the border close at 1600 (not even open between 12.00 and 14.00 for the siesta).
Do not enter wooden stuff nor seeds (fruit and veg) to Chile, they will be confiscated or you might pay a huge fine. Clear that you cannot take with you Coca leaves.
- Take with you: at least 5 liters of water over the 3 days, sunblock, sunglasses, toilet paper, towels.
- If you are not taking your big backpack/ luggage with you pack only a few clothes change on a small backpack, it is always good to travel light.
- Bring with you warmer clothes for the night and D3 morning, such jumper or scarf/hut
- Take some change with you to purchase some snack or drink at the 2 hostels.
- Never drop toilet paper into the WC.
- If you have a 2nd battery for your devices will be easier for you in case you run out of battery daytime.
- You won’t do any sport activity nor long walk, but you will be still on high altitude so take your medication with you if required.
- Even if you are super tempted to take pictures every second as the landscape is one of a kind, try to relax and enjoying the view with your eyes and hearth.
- Embrace every single step of this adventure, as you are in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
thanks for reading and leave any comment, I will be back to you as soon as I can