Bolivia offers countless attractions, but the largest and most impressive of them is Salar de Uyuni. A huge plain in the form of a desert located at an altitude of over 3600 meters above sea level. It was established on the site of a large salt lake, which after drying turned into a huge desert. But not in such an ordinary desert, because we will not find sand on it, but endless amounts of salt, which at first can be mistaken for snow. Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt desert in the world.
The views are really amazing and nowhere else you will find similar ones. Traveling around South America and generally around the world, Ive seen many beautiful places, visiting subsequent canyons, waterfalls, etc. The Salar de Uyuni would have to be one of a kind. Wherever you look, you can immediately say wow! The pictures are easy to make, no filters are needed, nature included them in the starter package;) Although the conditions can be harsh, I would even say extreme sometimes – when the temperature has dropped to -18 and you sleep without heating !!! it’s still worth it. The severity of the place and extreme weather conditions make visiting Salar de Uyuni alone is not an option, we must be in a group with a guide.
At the end of the post I prepare a list of things that you need to take with you and which you absolutely can not forget when going on a trip to this area. Bolivia itself is not the country well prepared for tourists or too familiar to tourists. Undoubtedly, Salar de Uyuni is the country’s largest tourist attraction. This can be seen when you come to the town of Uyuni, where a large number of organized trips to the salt desert set off every day. Although being in the desert has the impression that there is nobody here but the group of people your with. Only sometimes you can meet other groups at designated locations around the desert.
The endless white surface contrasts fantastically with the horizon and blends with the blue of the sky. Salar de Uyuni is not only a salt desert but a huge nature reserve (La Reserva Natural Eduardo Avaroa) where, in addition to salt landscapes, we find numerous lagoons, snow-covered volcanoes, geysers, thermal waters and vast plains inhabited by various species of wild birds and animals, which all together create unique landscapes.
Bolivia belongs to those countries where one should be very well prepared before traveling. It is not particularly difficult at the moment, so it’s really worth seeking for information before you arrive. Internet access in Bolivia is very limited. Similarly with the reception in the desert. It is also worth letting family and friends know that we can be “cut off from the world” for a few days.
How to organize an expedition to Uyuni?
Salar de Uyuni is located in southwestern Bolivia, not far from the border with Chile and Argentina. The most popular starting point to the desert is the town of Uyuni, located in the state of Potosi. Traveling around Bolivia, I also met people who were planning to cross the salt desert from the other side, starting in the city of Tupiza and ending in Uyuni. Choosing the option from the city of Uyuni we find there many tourist offices that organize trips to the desert. Most trips are divided into one-day and multi-day trips. You can return to the same city of Uyuni and you can reach the border with Chile, and see how the desert looks on the Chilean side. There, the same desert, which also forms the border between Chile and Bolivia, is called Atacama. In the town of Uyuni we can find tourist agencies that organize such trips practically everywhere. They specialize in desert expeditions and provide the necessary equipment, water and even food.
To get to the city of Uyuni itself, you can take the train from Oruro, heading for Villazón or take buses that run daily from Potosí. Another option is, as I mentioned, entering from the city of Tupiza or using the daily transport service to Laguna Verde from the Chilean city of San Pedro de Atacama, if we were on the Chilean side of the desert before.
Salar de Uyuni can be visited on one or several day trips. Usually, it is a team of six with a guide packed in a jeep like the picture below. Day trips are to explore the salt desert and return to the city of Uyuni the same day. During several-day trips you travel deep into the desert because Salar de Uyuni is not only a salt desert but has to offer many more attractions. The entire area has over 10,582 km². This is the largest salt desert in the world!
I decided on a 3-day trip from the city of Uyuni. I had the agency number beforehand, but many tourists decide to choose an agency on the spot. It is worth checking opinions about agencies before on the internet, e.g. on Tripadvisor. It is a trip where we will spend a lot of time in one car with other people, you will not have a supermarket or restaurant where you will be able to choose your preferred menu. It also depends a lot on what guide you have, whether he will be happy to tell you about what you see through the car window, take pictures or be just a driver. In the photo below one of the streets in the city of Uyuni.
When is the best time to visit Salar de Uyuni?
Very important information —> Due to the weather and the isolation of this place, conditions can change extremely and quickly.
Salar de Uyuni is one of the flattest areas in the world – the elevation difference is only 41 centimeters. As in any desert, it is very easy here for extreme weather conditions. It is believed that the safest and therefore the best time to visit the desert is the dry season, which in Bolivia falls from May to November. Although it is the rainy season that provides the most mirrored and therefore out of this world views, painted by nature in all its glory. The same water that creates beautiful mirror puddles in some places in the desert can change the way into muddy and hard to go through. I visited Salar de Uyuni in June, that is in the dry season, and yet during my three-day trip we were surprised not by water but snow!
On the second day of our 3-day trip to Salar, there was so much snow that even our guide, who has been visiting this place for years, told us that he had never seen so much snow! For this reason, we have been stuck “in the middle of nowhere” several times. And our driver was forced to stop and clear the road because the car literally sank in the ground. Some of the attractions we had planned such as geysers and hot springs had to be canceled due to the fact that they could not be reached. Icy wind and cold weather did not help. During the first night, the air temperature dropped to -18 degrees! Yes, nights and mornings on the Altiplano can be really freezing, with a strong knife-cutting wind. Later during the day, it is usually better because you can warm up with the sun’s rays.
PLAN FOR A THREE DAY TRIP THROUGH SALAR DE UYUNI
Now about the trip plan itself and what you see every day on a 3-day trip.
The first day of the trip
We set off in the morning from the city of Uyuni and spend a few hours on the ride, until the first stop which is the train cemetery. Where did the cemetery of forgotten trains come from? History dates back to the nineteenth century. At that time, the railway line connected the city of Uyuni with Antofagasta (now part of Chile) and was used to transport tin, silver and gold to Pacific ports from places like Potosí. The mining industry collapsed in the 1940s and dozens of trains were abandoned. Now they have become unique elements of the industrial age and create a landscape that can easily be part of Dali’s painting. Visitors can check the wagons by getting in, climbing or walking between trains. A few photos from this place below.
The next stop is taking pictures using perspective. Guides usually have different gadgets with them and they know very well how to take the best or funniest picture. They realize that for arriving tourists it is a real attraction and that it is these types of photos from Salar de Uyuni are the most popular on the internet. It is worth looking for inspiration for photos before the trip to be able to simply show what photo we want. Although in my case they were spontaneous photos, where the whole group really had a great time. For example, a picture was created with a protective lipstick that I had in my backpack with me.
The next stop is the Dakar memorial, built in 2014, it has become a symbol of the desert and a must-stop for tourists arriving every year. In addition, the region’s communities take advantage of the opportunity to sell tourists souvenirs made of salt in the form of the Dakar symbol. The Dakar Race, the toughest rally in the world in 2018, celebrated its 40th anniversary, the tenth in South America and the fifth in turn for the territory of Bolivia. Dakar first arrived in Bolivia in the thirty-sixth edition (36th), five years after its first trip to South America.
Second day of the trip:
The next day is a visit to the island of cactuses (La isla Inkawasi), getting to know different rock formations and lagoons. From this part begins the Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve (Bolivian National Hero) (Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa). The park is located opposite the Laguna Colorada, where you can collect information materials, pay a fee and learn more about the local flora and fauna. The mountains of the reserve are the highest Andean mountains on the border of Bolivia with Chile and Argentina. They are dotted with erupting volcanoes, hot springs, smoking geysers. To get there, the road was unfortunately not very pleasant, very bumpy but later the wonderful scenery was worth every blow to the head on the route.
In the entire reserve there are a lot of lagoons: Laguna Verde, Laguna Colorada, Laguna Salada, near Salar de Chalviri, Laguna Busch, Laguna Hedionda. The view of the lagoon, in particular the La Laguna Colorada (Colorful Lagoon) was probably my favorite from the whole trip. The photo below is of the Lagoon.
Third day of the trip:
On the third day, as a rule, you visit hot springs in La Laguna Salada and geysers – Géiseres Sol de Mañana but on my trip the second day we knew that we would have to change plans. As I mentioned earlier, the amount of snow that fell then surprised even our guide, and he said that the road to these areas is too dangerous but took us to a very nice orange rock formations. So we changed the plans but the views were beautiful, we also met a lot of llamas, alpacas and other wild animals typical of the region.
Finally, a list of things you should have with you when going to the salt desert.
WHAT TO TAKE:
- Baby or antibacterial wipes. Even if you have access to a shower, it is very likely that the water will be very cold
- Antibacterial gel and all cosmetics that will help you at least replace the shower.
- A good sunblock, the sun can be very sharp + strong wind.
- Heat-protective clothes (scarf, hat, gloves obligatory).
- Glasses with a good filter (the sun reflect from white salt is strong, that’s why glasses are a must, they also will help prevent tearing due to strong wind).
- The power bank and all the equipment you take should be fully charged before leaving Uyuni.
- A thermos and, for example, your own tea – at stops you can fill them with hot water to continue your journey.
- Snacks and packed food.
- Any gadgets that you would like to use for perspective photo shooting.
Salar de Uyuni is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places I have visited in South America and the world in general. Very popular among tourists but this popularity is completely justified because the landscapes created in this place are nature delight and remain in the memory for a long time.
How about you? Is Bolivia and Salar de Uyuni on your bucket list?
Let me know in the comments. If you have any questions about the trip and Salar de Uyuni, please also write in the comments. I will try to help.