Nestled high in the Bolivian Andes, Salar de Uyuni stands as a testament to nature’s awe-inspiring wonders. Spanning over 10,000 square kilometers, it’s the world’s largest salt flat, appearing as a vast white expanse that stretches to the horizon and merges with the sky.
Often referred to as the ‘world’s largest mirror’ (during the rainy season), this surreal landscape becomes a shimmering reflective surface during the rainy season, creating a dream-like setting that captivates travelers from across the globe.
But Salar de Uyuni is not just a visual marvel; it’s a destination imbued with history, geology, and cultural significance, making it a must-visit on any Bolivian itinerary.
Salar de Uyuni – A Trip Away From Earth
The Uyuni Salt Flats is the kind of place that makes your jaw drop when you see it and leaves you awe-stricken for the rest of your life. When I am asked to name a place that really, really struck me, the Uyuni Salt Flats (and the landscapes of the Eduardo Avaroa Reserve further south) immediately come to my mind.
It seems that it’s not just me. I remember meeting during my travels three couples who were on a round-the-world trip. These guys had seen the world. I met each of these couples on different occasions, and of course, they had never met each other. I asked them that same question – can you name one place in this world that really, really struck you: all of them promptly answered with a big smile, Salar de Uyuni. Coincidence?
This place has won the heart of every traveler who walked on it. How could it be otherwise? The truth is, we would not be too surprised to find this kind of landscape on some other planet, but on Earth? The Bolivian Salt Flats have the power to wake up the explorer inside every traveler.
And I know what I’m talking about. In fact, I have visited the Uyuni Salt Flats twice, during the same trip! I first took a classic group tour just like everybody else, to later realize that I hadn’t had enough of it, and went back on the Salar on a private tour. Yep, I can be that obsessive sometimes.
GPS (Isla Incahuasi): 20°14’35.30″S, 67°37’31.48″W
How to go: Group tour or Private tour from Uyuni or Tupiza
Price: 700-750 Bolivianos ($100-110) for a 3-day group tour with Spanish-speaking driver + 30 BOB ($5) entrance to Isla Incahuasi + 150 BOB ($25) entrance for the Eduardo Avaroa Reserve
Duration of the tours: Can be full day, 3 days (most popular) or more.
When to go: Possible all year long. December to March for the mirror effect.
Good to know: ATMs in Uyuni are not always reliable, better have some cash with you.
Where is Salar de Uyuni Located?
Salar de Uyuni, often referred to as the world’s largest salt flat, is situated in the southwestern region of Bolivia, nestled high in the Andes at an elevation of approximately 3,656 meters (or around 11,995 feet) above sea level. Specifically, it can be found within the Daniel Campos Province in the Potosí Department.
This vast expanse stretches over 10,582 square kilometers (or about 4,086 square miles), making it not only the world’s largest salt flat but also one of the most unique natural landscapes on Earth.
Its location, high in the Andean plateau, or Altiplano, contributes to its unique climate and geological formations. The town of Uyuni serves as the primary gateway to the salt flats and is the starting point for most tours and expeditions into this otherworldly landscape. Uyuni is accessible via bus, train, or plane from major Bolivian cities like La Paz and Sucre.
How Was Salar de Uyuni Formed?
The tale of Salar de Uyuni’s formation is as mesmerizing as the destination itself. Millions of years ago, this region was submerged under a vast prehistoric lake named Lake Minchin. As time went on, the lake transformed into two other significant bodies of water: Lake Tauca and Lake Ballivián.
However, due to climatic changes over millennia, these lakes eventually dried up about 15,000 years ago, leaving behind two primary modern lakes – Poopó and Uru Uru – and two major salt flats, with Salar de Uyuni being the most expansive of them.
The salt crust, which is several meters thick in some areas, overlays a reserve of brine that is exceptionally rich in lithium. In fact, it is estimated that Salar de Uyuni contains about 70% of the world’s known lithium reserves, a critical element used in electronic batteries.
The Legend of The Uyuni Salt Flats
Beyond its geological and economic significance, Salar de Uyuni has been an essential part of local indigenous lore. Legends speak of mountains – Tunupa, Kusku, and Kusina – once being giants who walked the Earth. As the tale goes, Tunupa’s tears and breast milk, after being separated from her child, are said to have created the salt flats.
Today, while visitors marvel at its vast beauty, the salt flat continues to be a source of livelihood for many locals who harvest salt and extract minerals from this unique terrain.
8 Surprising Facts About The Uyuni Salt Flats
- It is the largest salt flat in the world. 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi) of pure white salt. That means that it is very roughly 100 km (62 mi) from east to west, and also 100 km from north to south. It is so big that sometimes, the remote mountains seem to float over the horizon, like a mirage.
- It lies at 3660 m (12,000 ft) of altitude. The Uyuni Salt Flats are part of a large region called the Altiplano, shared between Peru and Bolivia. The Altiplano is the second-highest plateau in the world after the one in Tibet, and it also includes Lake Titicaca.
- The Salar de Uyuni was formed by the disappearance of an immense lake called Lago Minchin, about 15,000 years ago. The remains of this lake that exist today are the Uyuni and Coipasa salt flats, and the Poopo and Uru-Uru lakes.
- It has islands. An amazing feature of the Uyuni salt flats is its “islands” showing coral and algae fossils dating back from the ancient lake. One of these islands, the 24-hectare Isla Incahuasi (“House of the Inca”), has been developed for tourism, with the construction of a hiking trail and a restaurant to welcome tourists. The Salar’s biggest “island” is Isla del Pescado (Fish Island), 22 km (14 mi) away from Isla Incahuasi.
- The islands are covered with giant cacti. The most iconic plants of the region, these cacti are particularly concentrated on Incahuasi Island and Isla del Pescado. Some of them are believed to be over a thousand years old. Do you realize how unique, bizarre, and incredible this place is? “Islands” made of fossil coral formations, covered with giant cacti, in the middle of an immense crust of salt!
- It is covered with mysterious hexagonal shapes. These amazing shapes have been a mystery for quite some time, but it is now thought to be the result of a convection phenomenon below the salt flat’s surface. Below the surface, there is an accumulation of rainwater. The action of the sun causes the evaporation of this water. During its migration toward the surface, the water is accumulating more and more salt. Because its salt concentration increased, this water became heavier, which leads it to sink back down. During this process, some of the water evaporates, revealing the shape of the convection cells: the hexagons. The salt crystallizes as the water evaporates, forming the ridges of the hexagons.
- A world of salt… and lithium. It is estimated that the Salar de Uyuni contains about 10 billion tons of salt, and in some areas its thickness can reach 10 metres (33 ft). The locals of the Colchani village harvest around 25,000 tons of salt a year. Uyuni is also a gigantic reservoir of lithium, an estimated 15% of the world’s reserves. It is now extracted as well, from a site in the south of the Salar.
- The Salar de Uyuni is useful for calibrating satellites. Scientists consider the Bolivian salt flat to be one of the best places on Earth to calibrate satellite altimeters (used to measure land elevation) because the skies are often clear, and unlike the ocean, it has no waves.
When to Visit Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni offers distinct experiences depending on when you choose to visit. The vast salt flat undergoes remarkable transformations with the seasons, making each visit unique.
Wet Season (December to April)
Unique Experiences: The rainy season transforms the salt flats into a vast mirror, reflecting the sky so perfectly that the horizon seems to disappear. This ethereal landscape provides an unparalleled opportunity for breathtaking photographs, where the sky and ground merge seamlessly.
Pros: The reflective properties of the wet salt flats are a photographer’s dream. The landscape is serene, and the atmosphere is surreal, especially during sunrise and sunset.
Cons: Some parts of the salt flats can be inaccessible due to excessive water, especially after heavy rains. Additionally, the chances of rain and cloud cover can sometimes obscure views of the sky and surrounding landscapes.
Dry Season (May to November)
Unique Experiences: The salt crystallizes and forms hexagonal patterns on the ground, creating a mosaic-like texture. It’s the best time to explore the entire expanse, including isolated spots and islands like Incahuasi.
Pros: Better accessibility across the salt flats, clearer skies, and cooler temperatures. The crystallized salt patterns offer unique photographic opportunities.
Cons: The absence of the reflective mirror effect. The landscape, while still stunning, is more consistent and doesn’t offer the dramatic visual contrasts of the wet season.
How to Get There
Getting to the gateway of Salar de Uyuni, the town of Uyuni, is relatively straightforward, and there are various means of transport available based on your preferences and budget.
Uyuni has an airport, Joya Andina Airport, which connects it with Bolivia’s major cities. Airlines like Boliviana de Aviación (BoA) and Amaszonas operate regular flights from La Paz, Bolivia’s administrative capital, to Uyuni.
The flight is short, roughly an hour, and offers aerial glimpses of the salt flats. Prices can of course vary but are generally between $60 and $200.
For budget travelers, several bus companies operate overnight routes from La Paz to Uyuni. The journey takes about 10 to 12 hours. While buses are cost-effective, be prepared for a bumpy ride on rough roads. It’s advisable to opt for semi-cama or cama services for more comfort.
- From La Paz: Night buses leave La Paz at around 8:30 or 9 pm, and arrive in Uyuni 9 hours later, at 5.30 or 6 am. The price is roughly between $15 and $25.
- From Cochabamba: There is a direct night bus leaving at 6 pm and arriving at 6 am. Other options all have a connection in Oruro. Price $10-$15.
- From Sucre: There are some direct buses as well as options with a connection in Potosi. The ride lasts about 8 hours and costs around $10-$15.
You can easily find and book buses from the TicketsBolivia website.
Want to read a crazy story? You can read about my arrival in Uyuni in the middle of the night when I was saved by a drunk guy.
Another scenic option is the train. Trains operated by Empresa Ferroviaria Andina run between Oruro and Uyuni. International travelers can first take a bus or train from La Paz to Oruro and then board the train to Uyuni. The train journey offers picturesque views of the Bolivian highlands and is more comfortable than the bus.
Tips for Travelers
- It’s a good idea to book your transport in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons.
- If flying, be sure to account for potential altitude sickness, as Uyuni is over 3,600 meters above sea level.
- For those taking ground transport, pack snacks and water, as the journey can be long, and services en route might be limited.
Tours and Exploration
Salar de Uyuni is a destination that invites exploration, and there are numerous ways to experience its vast beauty, from guided tours to private expeditions. Here’s a breakdown of the options available:
Types of Tours Available
The classic way of visiting the Uyuni Salt Flats is to sign up for a group tour, usually done with a 4WD Jeep.
Day Tours: The first option is a day tour from Uyuni, which will take you to a famous train cemetery, before going on the Salar and exploring its main attractions, such as the village of Colchani, the Salt Hotel, and of course the Incahuasi Island and its giant cacti. Some tours let you watch the sunset from the salt flat, before taking you back to Uyuni.
Multiday Tours: A popular option is to go for a 3-day tour combining the Salar de Uyuni and the mind-blowing Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve, in the Sur Lípez Province. I took such a tour when I saw Uyuni for the first time. But I can already tell you it was one of the most breathtaking regions I have ever seen in my entire life.
The 3-day tour takes you to the Uyuni Salt Flats of course, then heads south, crossing smaller salt flats, and passing by stunning colorful lagoons. There are the famous pink waters of the Laguna Colorada, but also a whole series of smaller lakes inhabited by flamingo colonies, high-altitude deserts, and geysers, all the way to the Laguna Verde, at the foot of the majestic Licancabur Volcano.
The price for such a 3-day tour is usually around $100-$115 in a local agency with a Spanish-speaking driver. But if you want an English-speaking driver, the price can easily go over $200.
Sunrise/Sunset Experiences: There’s nothing quite like watching the sun rise or set over the vast expanse of Salar de Uyuni. Many tours are timed to capture these mesmerizing moments.
Consider group size when choosing a tour. Smaller groups offer a more personalized experience. Ensure that the company respects local and environmental guidelines.
An alternative is to visit it from Tupiza, some 200 km (125 mi) south-east of Uyuni. Visiting it from Tupiza can make sense if you are arriving from Argentina via the border town of Villazon. Often, you will be offered the same 3-day tours, with a reverse itinerary, ending with the Salar de Uyuni. Thus, these tours can start in Tupiza and end in Uyuni.
If you are in Chile, you can also find tours from San Pedro de Atacama, going over the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve and the Salar de Uyuni with a similar itinerary.
Private Car and Driver Option
For those seeking a bespoke experience, hiring a private car and driver can be the perfect choice. This allows for a flexible itinerary and access to lesser-visited spots.
I personally took this route during my second visit. It provided the freedom to explore hidden corners of the Salar, away from the usual tourist trails. This can be especially rewarding during sunrise or sunset, when you can find a quiet spot all to yourself.
What I did: In Tupiza, I got to know a local travel agent, and I went with him on a private 4-wheel drive tour on the Salar. It cost me $300 for 3 days. Alone in the Salar, where tourists usually don’t go, stopping wherever and whenever I want.
That’s how I got to hike on Isla del Pescado (Fish Island) and sleep in a salt hotel at the foot of Tunupa Volcano that I partially climbed the next day. When I go back to Bolivia someday, I will definitely do it again. I talk about this in greater detail further down this article.
Whether you are in Uyuni, Tupiza, or even San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, you can talk to a few travel agencies and they will most probably be able to offer you a private tour. Just talk to a few and compare prices.
Things to Do and Experience at Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni is replete with otherworldly sights and experiences. Whether you’re there for the landscapes, photography, or the sheer novelty of being in such a place, there’s something for everyone.
Mirror Effect During the Wet Season
Details: From December to April, the rainy season transforms the salt flats into an enormous natural mirror. Even a shallow layer of water reflects the sky perfectly, creating a dreamlike horizon.
Photography Tips: This optical wonder allows for stunning photography. Capturing sunrise or sunset during this time can result in awe-inspiring imagery where the horizon seems endless.
Experience: Walking on the flats during this time can feel like walking in the sky, a surreal experience that many describe as feeling like being on another planet.
Precautions: While the visuals are mesmerizing, travelers are advised to be cautious. Wet salt can be slippery, so ensure you’re wearing appropriate footwear. Make sure you are protected from the corrosion of the salt.
Perspective Photography Opportunities
Details: The vast and uniform backdrop of the Salar makes it an excellent canvas for playing with visual perspectives in photographs, where objects in the foreground seem disproportionately large compared to those in the background.
Props and Ideas: From creating scenes where it looks like you’re holding or kicking the sun, to using everyday items for exaggerated size comparisons, the possibilities are limitless. Some travelers bring small toys or props to make the photos more playful and memorable.
Tips: Ensure you have a camera with an adjustable lens or a smartphone with a wide-angle setting. Remember, the shadow can play a pivotal role in these shots, so mind the sun’s position. The best shots often require a low camera angle, so be prepared to get down on the ground!
Incahuasi Island Visit
Details: Also known as the “Island of the Cactus,” Incahuasi Island is an ancient coral reef transformed into a hill, surrounded by a sea of salt. Rising from the salt flats, Incahuasi Island is a bizarre sight, dotted with giant cacti and offering panoramic views of the Salar. It’s a must-visit, both for the landscape and the unique ecosystem.
Flora and Fauna: This island is home to some of the world’s largest cacti, with some estimates suggesting they’re over 1,000 years old! Along with the cacti, you might also encounter native species like the viscacha (a type of rabbit-like rodent).
Viewpoint: There is a trail you can follow to explore a part of the island and its cacti. The hike to the island’s top is worth the effort as it provides panoramic vistas of the salt desert, especially enchanting during sunrise or sunset.
Entrance Fees: Note that there is usually a small fee to enter the island, which contributes to its maintenance.
Another Idea: If you are visiting Salar de Uyuni with a private driver and/or you happen to have some time to kill at Isla Incahuasi, I recommend going for a little hike all around the island. It takes around one hour, and you will have the immensity of the Salar all to yourself.
Venturing to Isla del Pescado
Details: Less frequented and less commercial than Incahuasi, Isla del Pescado offers similar breathtaking views but without the crowds. This island offers serene beauty and a sense of solitude, making it an ideal spot for those seeking tranquility.
Unique Landscape: Its distinctive fish-like shape can be appreciated when viewed from a distance or from an elevated position, which has earned it its name (‘Fish Island’ in Spanish).
Flora: Like Incahuasi, this island is populated with tall cacti and features unique rock formations, offering a mix of desert and oasis-like views.
Tips: Since it’s not on every tour itinerary, express your interest to your tour operator in advance or, as you’ve previously mentioned, hire a private driver to reach this hidden gem. That’s what I did, and it was amazing to scramble up the hill to the top of this pristine, wild island. Just be careful with the thorny bushes!
VIRTUAL TOUR – Salar de Uyuni
Hike on and around the famous Incahuasi Island, and discover the off-the-beaten-path Fish Island (3 panoramas).
Copy the following code and paste it on your website:
You can modify the display size of the virtual tour by changing the “width” and “height” values in red (in pixels or percentage).
Embedding the virtual tour is completely free, you are just required to keep the attribution as provided in the code.
The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.
Visit the Palacio de Sal and the Flag Plaza
Details: The Palacio de Sal is the world’s first salt hotel, boasting walls, floors, ceilings, and even furniture made entirely from salt blocks harvested from Salar de Uyuni. It’s an architectural marvel and offers a unique accommodation experience, immersing visitors in the essence of the salt flats, and you can even check out salt sculptures.
Iconic Flag Plaza: Adjacent to the Salt Hotel is a spot where travelers from around the globe have planted their national flags, resulting in a colorful and vibrant display of international unity. It’s a testament to the universal appeal of the Salar de Uyuni and the shared journey of discovery.
Photography: The combination of the stark white salt hotel, the multi-colored flag plaza, and the vast salt flats horizon make for an excellent photography setting, capturing the essence of this unique travel destination.
Watch the Flamingos
Details: The salt flats near Coqueza are renowned for attracting several species of flamingos, including the Andean, James’s, and Chilean flamingos. These elegant birds flock to the region’s shallow waters, which are abundant in the microorganisms they feed on.
Best Viewing Spots: Apart from Coqueza and the Salar, lagoons such as Laguna Colorada and Laguna Hedionda (in the Eduardo Avaroa Reserve) are excellent habitats for these birds. The contrasting colors of these lagoons against the bright plumage of the flamingos make for spectacular photography.
Behavioral Observations: The flamingos’ unique feeding behavior, where they stir up the mud with their feet and filter-feed, can be observed here. Their graceful courtship dances during the mating season are also a highlight.
Tips: If bird-watching is a priority, consider hiring a local guide who knows the best spots and times to view these magnificent creatures. Also, visiting during the migratory season, from November to March, increases the chances of spotting large flocks.
Details: Salar de Uyuni, being far from major city lights, boasts incredibly clear skies. This, combined with the vast unobstructed horizon of the salt flats and the graphic shapes of the cacti, creates an unparalleled opportunity for astrophotography.
Milky Way Magic: The dense star clouds of the Milky Way, stretching across the sky, provide a stunning subject. With the salt flats beneath, photographers can play with reflections, creating mesmerizing compositions.
Meteor Showers and Celestial Events: Throughout the year, there are numerous meteor showers and other celestial events. Planning a visit around such occurrences can result in once-in-a-lifetime shots.
Tips: For optimal results, use a wide-angle lens with a large aperture (e.g., f/2.8 or wider) and a sturdy tripod. It’s essential to have a camera that performs well in low-light conditions. Shooting in RAW format allows for more flexibility during post-processing. Finally, familiarize yourself with the lunar calendar; a new moon phase ensures the darkest skies.
Wildlife of Salar de Uyuni
The salt flats might initially seem like an inhospitable environment, but a closer look reveals a surprising variety of life adapted to this unique ecosystem.
- James’s Flamingos: One of the rarer species of flamingos, these elegant birds can often be seen in the shallow waters of the Salar, especially during their breeding season.
- Vicuñas: These wild relatives of llamas and alpacas are known for their fine wool. They roam the areas surrounding the salt flats, grazing on the sparse vegetation.
- Andean fox: Also known as the culpeo, this fox can sometimes be spotted around the periphery of the salt flats, especially during the cooler parts of the day.
- Vizcachas: These rabbit-like rodents, belonging to the chinchilla family, are native to the Andes and can be seen around rocky outcrops near the salt flats.
Also read: 12 Incredible Wild Animals in Bolivia
- Giant Cacti: These cacti (Echinopsis atacamensis subsp. pasacana), native to Bolivia and Argentina, can grow up to 10-12 m / 32-39 ft tall. They bear rose-white flowers in spring and summer, and the fruits are edible. The pasacana subspecies is distinguished from the Chilean subspecies (E. atacamensis subsp. atacamensis) by the fact that is it usually branched. The Chilean subspecies is often unbranched and grows less tall. They are very slow-growing, only 1 cm / 0.4 inch per year on average.
- Quinoa: Not just a trendy health food, quinoa plants grow in the higher altitudes around Salar de Uyuni. The region is known for its many colored varieties of this crop.
- Llareta: These are dense, moss-like plants found in the high-altitude regions of the Andes. They grow extremely slowly and can be several thousands of years old. Their compact shape helps conserve moisture.
Salar de Uyuni Overnight Private Tour: Itinerary Suggestion
Here I will briefly describe what I have done for my own private tour to the Uyuni Salt Flats so you can gain some insight and ideas if you wish to do the same.
Day 1 – Uyuni Salt Flats: Uyuni → Colchani → Incahuasi Island → Fish Island → Coqueza
You will leave from the town of Uyuni and head to the salt flats. You can stop at the same places where tour groups go, but since you have your own driver, you can take the time to see these places more in-depth. For example, in Colchani, I could wander in the area where the locals harvest the salt.
Then, go to the Incahuasi Island. It is the most touristy spot on the Salar, but unmissable. You can follow the tourist trail that ventures inside the cactus forest to get a good idea of what the place looks like and amazing panoramic views of the salt flats;
While I was there, I decided to hike all around the island, it took me an hour. And for the first time, I was all alone in the immensity of the Salar de Uyuni, an amazing feeling! I would definitely recommend anyone to do the same!
After that, you can start going off the beaten track. My driver took me to the Isla del Pescado (the Fish Island), the largest island on the salt flat. This time, there was no hiking trail, no restaurant, and no one. Pure wilderness. I hiked up the island among thorny shrubs and another cactus forest to a high point, from where I could enjoy a fabulous panorama of the Salar and the nearby Tunupa Volcano.
It is at the foot of this volcano, in the village of Coqueza, that I spent the night, in a hotel built with bricks of salt. On the way, we stopped by other smaller “islands”. From Coqueza, a flock of flamingos was nearby as the sun was setting on the salt flats, a beautiful birdwatching and photography moment.
Day 2 – Coqueza & Tunupa Volcano → Crossing the Salar → Uyuni
On the morning of this second day, my driver and I climbed the slopes of the Tunupa Volcano stopping just before its colorful crater. After that, the climb becomes more technical and required gear that we didn’t have. But it doesn’t matter, the goal was to appreciate the sheer size of the Salar de Uyuni, from this high point. I could see all the islands I had visited, including the small Incahuasi Island, far away in the distance.
The way back to Uyuni was pretty cool as well, I asked my driver to stop when we were near the center of the salt flats, to experience its immensity. Your world is just divided into 2 parts. 360 degrees of pure white salt in the bottom half, and pure blue sky in the top half.
My driver left me in Uyuni to continue my journey in Bolivia. After having experienced this, I really wish to go back to Bolivia and do a much longer private tour around the salt flats and the Altiplano. The cost is not the same of course, but the feeling of exclusivity is priceless.
Practical Tips for Travelers
A trip to Salar de Uyuni is a journey like no other. To ensure you make the most of your visit, and to keep inconveniences to a minimum, here are some practical tips:
Altitude Acclimatization: Uyuni is located at an elevation of around 3,650 meters (almost 12,000 feet). Some travelers might experience altitude sickness. I recommend spending a day or two in a city like La Paz or Potosí before heading to the salt flats, to acclimatize. Drinking lots of water, avoiding alcohol, and consuming coca tea can also help alleviate symptoms.
Sun Protection: Given the vast, reflective nature of the salt flats, sun protection is essential. High SPF sunscreen, sunglasses with UV protection, and a wide-brimmed hat are must-haves.
Stay Hydrated: The arid climate can be dehydrating. Always carry a refillable water bottle, and drink frequently.
Footwear: Opt for comfortable, closed shoes. If visiting during the wet season, waterproof boots can be beneficial due to the water on the salt flats.
Cash and Supplies: Uyuni is a small town, and while it has basic amenities, it’s best to withdraw cash in a larger city beforehand. Additionally, stock up on any special supplies or snacks, as variety can be limited.
Where to Stay & Eat
Uyuni offers a range of accommodations, catering to various budgets and preferences.
Salt Hotels: Unique to this region are hotels made entirely of salt blocks. These provide a unique lodging experience, combining rustic charm with modern comforts. Some popular options include Palacio de Sal and Hotel de Sal Luna Salada.
Traditional Accommodations: Apart from salt hotels, there are several other lodgings available, from budget hostels to more upscale options. Hotel Jardines de Uyuni, for instance, offers comfortable rooms and a pleasant garden setting.
Eateries: Uyuni’s culinary scene, while not extensive, offers some delightful spots to savor local and international dishes. Places like Minuteman Revolutionary Pizza serve up hearty meals, perfect after a day of exploring.
For local flavors, the town’s central market is a hub of activity, with vendors serving Bolivian staples like salteñas (savory pastries) and llajwa (a spicy tomato salsa).
Whether you’re dining in a restaurant or enjoying street food, always remember to drink bottled water and ensure that any fruits or vegetables are properly washed or cooked.
Photographic Wonders and Tips
The vast expanse of Salar de Uyuni is a canvas for photographers, offering unparalleled opportunities to capture the beauty of nature and play with perspectives. Here are some phenomena and tips to make the most of your photo sessions:
- Mirror Effect: The wet season transforms the salt flats into the world’s largest mirror. Capture stunning reflections of the sky, especially during sunrise and sunset. A polarizing filter can help manage reflections and enhance colors.
- Perspective Shots: The uniformity of the landscape allows for creative forced perspective photos. Bring props or toys, and experiment with positioning to create fun, illusionary shots.
- Night Photography: With minimal light pollution, the salt flats are an astronomer’s dream. Capture the Milky Way, star trails, or even meteor showers. Use a tripod and a wide-angle lens with a wide aperture for best results.
- Landmarks: While the endless horizon is captivating, don’t miss out on photographing landmarks like the Dakar Rally monument, the Playa Blanca salt hotel, and the flags representing various nations near the entrance of the salt flats.
- Battery Backup: Cold conditions can drain batteries quickly. Bring extra batteries and keep them warm.
- Lens Protection: Salt can be corrosive. Ensure you have lens protection and clean your equipment after the visit.
- Golden Hours: As with most outdoor photography, early mornings and late afternoons offer the best light.
What To Pack For The Uyuni Salt Flats
Packing Checklist for Salar de Uyuni
Preparing for the salt flats requires a mix of essentials to deal with the unique climate and terrain. Here’s a suggested packing list:
- Layered Clothing: Temperatures can vary dramatically. Pack light layers for daytime and warm, insulated clothing for the chilly nights.
- Waterproof Boots: Especially if visiting during the wet season.
- Warm Hat and Gloves: Essential for nighttime and early morning excursions.
- Sunglasses and Sunblock: The reflective nature of the flats intensifies sunlight.
- Reusable Water Bottle: Stay hydrated in the dry climate.
- Camera Gear: Extra batteries, lens protection, tripod for night shots.
- Sleeping Bags: If you don’t trust the hygiene of blankets and sleeping bags provided by travel agencies and hotels, you can bring your own sleeping bag. (But I didn’t and it was fine). Again, make sure it can withstand low temperatures, if you go in June-August.
- Headlamps: It is always useful to have a good headlamp for evening and nighttime
- Personal Items:
- Snacks: While tours usually include meals, it’s good to have some personal snacks.
- Personal Medications: Including altitude sickness pills if you’re prone to it.
- Cash: Not all places accept credit cards, and ATMs might be scarce.
- Swimwear: Some tours include visits to hot springs.
- Biodegradable Wet Wipes: Useful for quick freshening up.
- Portable Charger: Ensure your devices are always powered up.
Frequently Asked Questions About Salar de Uyuni
How large is Salar de Uyuni?
Salar de Uyuni spans approximately 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi), making it the world’s largest salt flat.
Is Salar de Uyuni the only salt flat in Bolivia?
No, while Salar de Uyuni is the largest and most famous, Bolivia is home to several other salt flats, including Salar de Coipasa.
Why does the mirror effect occur?
During the rainy season, a thin layer of water covers the salt flats. This transforms the vast expanse into a giant mirror, reflecting the sky.
Is it safe to travel to Salar de Uyuni?
Yes, it is generally safe, but it’s vital to choose a reputable tour operator and be prepared for altitude changes. Always follow guidelines and respect the local environment and culture.
Can I drive on the salt flats?
While it’s possible, it’s not recommended unless you’re with a guide or have experience navigating such terrains. The vast, featureless landscape can be disorienting, and vehicles can damage the salt crust.
How deep is the salt crust?
The crust’s thickness varies, but it averages about 2 meters (6.6 ft) deep.
Are there accommodations on the salt flats?
Yes, there are a few salt hotels made entirely of salt blocks, providing a unique lodging experience.
How do the locals benefit from the salt flats?
Apart from tourism, locals harvest salt and extract lithium from the Salar. Bolivia holds a significant portion of the world’s lithium reserves, essential for batteries.
What should I wear?
Given the vast temperature variations, layering is key. Bring sun protection for the day and warm clothes for the chilly nights.