Visiting Salar de Uyuni – How to get there, best time to go and everything you need to know before going.
24th of September, 2017 20°18’42.2″S 67°38’59.5″W
SALAR DE UYUNI
Let the magic begin – salt flats, flamingos, colorful lagoons, volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and more…
The landscapes and views this trip has to offer is keeping you speechless and forgetting time and place. It feels like you just arrived on the moon or a different planet and it won’t stop amazing you even after 3 days on tour.
“Where is the end?” You might ask yourself from time to time chasing the horizon and seeing nothing but huge fields of white salt laying ahead, behind and in any direction you face.
Salar de Uyuni is the biggest salt flat in the world and together with its surrounding national parks for sure one of our highlights in whole South America.
This tour is a once in a lifetime experience – seeing flamingos in colorful lagoons right in front of a volcano, sleeping in houses made out of salt, seeing the sunset and sunrise on the biggest salt flat in the world, taking a dip in hot springs, passing by geysers, standing on an island covered with huge cactuses (cacti) overseeing an endless seeming white salt flat.
Salar de Uyuni was formed by prehistoric lakes which evaporated a long time ago and left behind a thick crust of salt covering more than 10.000 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi) in an altitude of 3.600 meters above sea level (12,000 ft). The amount of salt is estimated about 10 billion tons from which each year 25.000 tons are being mined. The salt lake of Uyuni is home to one of the world’s largest lithium deposits which is a valuable resource being used in many electronic devices.
If you are lucky (and you will have better chances to be “lucky” when going in the rain season from December to April) the salt flats are covered with a small layer of water which turns the salt fields into a huge mirror. The sky with its clouds can then be seen as a huge reflection on the ground. NOTE: Concerning the seasons, during the rainy season you might have the chance to see this unique spectacle of sky and earth becoming one, but you might also experience excessive rain which will make the tour less enjoyable or might even lead to cancellations (December/January mainly). While going in the dry season the salt flats are hardened and you can drive to places which are not accessible in the rain season.
HOW TO GET THERE: In fact there are different ways to access Salar de Uyuni and the national parks in the south of the salt flats. The most common one – coming from Bolivia – is to start in Uyuni (from here you can do day trips to the salt flats or longer tours – mostly 3 days – to experience the salt flats & further highlights in the south). However, we would recommend to start in Tupiza and take a 4 days tour. This allows you to have one more day for several highlights on the way and you have a different “rhythm” than the tours starting from Uyuni which means there are fewer people at the same time at the same stops. Even though the salt flats and the national parks in the south are huge, most 4×4 guided tours head to the same highlights. Taking the option to start in Tupiza therefore has the advantage to arrive at these highlights when there are fewer people making it much more enjoyable. And then there is the option to start in San Pedro de Atacama when coming from Chile. (Apparently there is also the option to start from La Quiaca in Argentina). All these options can be planned as a tour with same starting point as well as destination or you can start for example in Chile and end up in Bolivia. We didn’t book a tour ahead and were simple talking to the several tour operators in Tupiza. NOTE: Don’t just go on a day trip to Salar de Uyuni! You don’t wanna miss out on the national parks with its flamingos, lagoons, geysers, hot springs and volcanoes as well as sleeping in accommodations made totally out of salt. Oh and not to forget that stargazing is pretty awesome out there!
END NOTES: 1. Definitely pack some warm clothes! While during the day it can get fairly hot and the sun is strong, in the night it’s getting freezing cold (-20 °C is not a rare thing during the night) 2. Salar de Uyuni and the national parks around are on 12.000 ft (3.600 meters), so prepare yourself for altitude sickness (if you haven’t had time to acclimatize before). 3. The salt flats offer unique photography options and almost everyone going there is taking some pictures playing with the perspective. You might wanna bring some cool stuff for some funny pictures. Be creative! 4. Make sure to have enough space on your memory card (you are going to take a lot of pictures) 5. Bring a spare battery for your camera or external battery to charge your camera or other electronic devices you might need. 5. Take some snacks and water. 6. Take a game such as a card game for the evenings. 7. Having a binocular is perfect for watching the wildlife (flamingos, vicuñas). However, we can understand that on a backpack trip you might not have the space for a binocular.